It’s that time of year again, the time of year we’ve all come to know as a time for family, friendship, and, of course, gifts. While certain Christmas traditions are so ubiquitous we’ve come to practically think of them as universal, there’s a whole another world out there filled with a myriad of other traditions just waiting to be explored. We’ll be taking a look at a few of the ways in which other countries celebrate Christmas, highlighting the funny, unusual and even wacky ways in which gift giving finds its way all over the globe this holiday season.
Many Brazilians participate in a “Secret Santa” type game with a twist during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Dubbed “amigo secreto”, this game involves them drawing out a friend’s name and corresponding with them in secret—using fake names—up until Christmas day, at which point they reveal their secret identities and exchange presents.
Rejoice! The country of Portugal takes a decidedly more food based approach to their holidays, during which they create their own Christmas cake dubbed ‘Bolo Rei’, or ‘King Cake’. Tradition dictates that a broad bean and a small gift are baked into the cake, so if you’re lucky enough to find the token you get to keep your prize, while a bean means paying for next year’s cake!
Many of Holland’s Christmas traditions center around Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas day, who makes a special appearance each year on December 6th. Families celebrate St. Nicholas’ triumphant return by baking a cake called a letterbanket, a type of cake shaped into the first letter of the family’s last name. At the end of the day children set out their shoes by the fireplace and fill them with goodies for Sinterklaas’ horse, with well-behaved children waking up to candy, nuts and various other gifts in their shoes the next morning.
In Italy Christmas begins with the first Sunday of Advent, a day which falls between November 27th and December 3rd and is greeted with a slew of bonfires, fireworks and holiday music. The spirit is complete with hundreds of manger scenes and Christmas carolers set throughout the country as children celebrate the nine days before Christmas (‘novena’) by writing letters to their parents asking them for what gifts they want. The parents then, in turn, read their letters and throw them into the fireplace in the hopes of ensuring their children’s wishes come true.
Surprisingly enough, Christmas isn’t considered a national holiday in Japan, though it’s a Western tradition which has rapidly began to gain popularity throughout the country each year. It’s a secular holiday that’s largely been spurred by a history of boisterous commerce, with a successful advertising campaign in the 1970’s making KFC the go-to food of Japanese folks everywhere for Christmas. Orders are in such high demand for the holiday that they have to be made months in advance, with certain packages even allowing for champagne with your KFC!
Sounds like a great way to celebrate if you ask us.
Other adventurous gift givers, however, aren’t afraid to go totally whimsical with their choices. German Christmas celebrations, for instance, may commemorate the holiday by gifting their families with a pickle ornament which is then hidden deep inside the Christmas tree. Whoever is the first to find it on Christmas morning is then rewarded with a present and a year’s worth of good luck!
While we’ve certainly talked about a few of the more interesting Christmas traditions around the world (drumsticks and champagne, anyone?), there’s an endless array of other customs just waiting out there to be explored, customs we’re just dying to know about.
What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? Tell us below in the comments.