'Tis the season for warm fireplaces, time spent with loved ones and finding out who has been naughty or nice. It's almost Christmas! Across the world, there are many ways to celebrate the holiday, but some traditions are truly special! From festivals to beach barbecues, you can discover a thousand different cultural Christmas customs. Let's take a look at some of them, starting in the Caribbean...
Junkanoo, (also written Jonkanoo or Jonkonnu) celebrated between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a Caribbean tradition that brings an energetic joy to several islands. Observed since the 18th century, Junkanoo infuses West African culture with modern Caribbean culture in a festival of music with native instruments, dancing, and celebration. One of the most captivating parts of this annual event is the costumes, with their vibrant colors and intricate designs and accessories. Junkanoo is not just a representation of culture and history, though. It has also become a more environmentally friendly event, with participants opting for reusable materials, such as cardboard, to construct their costumes. Fun and sustainable!
Christmas on the Beach
Not every country has a white Christmas. That’s why in Australian cities, such as Perth on the southwestern coast, Christmas is celebrated in thongs and board shorts. With temperatures sometimes reaching the high 30s, it’s only right that Aussies flee to the shores for a little bit of fun in the sun and lunch in the sand. Some even wear special swimwear that is designed to resemble Christmas sweaters. It’s not just natives who enjoy a nice warm Christmas, as plenty of tourists from Europe and the United States donning Santa hats can be found catching a tan, as well!
What could be better than a Christmas feast? That’s exactly what you can expect if you are celebrating Christmas in Ethiopia. During Ganna, or the Ethiopian Christmas traditions, one is required to fast for 40 days, which means a diet without meat, dairy or alcohol. A religious celebration, Ganna consists of traditions such as walking around the church three times with a candle that represents that star of Bethlehem. Afterwards, the 12 -day celebration begins! The fast is broken with a Christmas dinner of injera (Ethiopian flatbread), meat and vegetables. Coffee is also roasted and passed around so that everyone can smell it. The celebration also includes plenty of dancing, sports, and other games. Those who are extra athletic take part in a sport called yeferas guks, which involves shooting “spears” while horseback riding.
Night of Radishes
If you’re a fan of edible art, you may want to celebrate your next Christmas in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the city center is decorated in replicas of celebrities, dragons and even the Virgin of Guadalupe – entirely made of radishes! The red and purple masterpieces are apart of a 125-year tradition that began when two Dominican monks discovered a crop of oblong radishes that resembled “monsters.” When locals displayed interest in them, wood carvers began making intricate designs with them, such as the Nativity scene. Thus, the festival was born and became a festival with cash prizes! It takes places on December 23rd and prizes are awarded based on beauty, technical skill, and creativity. Those are three words you would’ve never though to associate with a vegetable!
You may have heard of Spider-Man, you may have read Charlotte’s Web, but do you know about the legend of the Christmas spider? If you have ever visited the homes of some Ukrainian families (as well as some Polish families), you may have noticed a bejeweled spider hanging from the Christmas tree. He’s not just there because he was late for Halloween! The Christmas Spider originatesfrom a centuries-old tale of a spider who is given a warm home to stay in by a poor family. As a thank you, he spins them some beautiful decorations. Today, the tradition is kept, as the spider is thought to bring good fortune to the family throughout the holiday season. (See, the spider was right on time!)
KFC for Dinner
A Christmas feast is standard in many cultures, but in Japan, they feast with a bit of a twist. In many Japanese families, it is quite common to have a bucket of KFC on Christmas Day. Why? Apparently, the manager of the first KFC falsely claimed that fried chicken was a traditional American Christmas food in the 70s, a time when Western influence and globalization ran rampant throughout the entire world. Families (and their children who fell in love with Santa) caught on and slowly but surely, the Colonel became the highlight of the Japanese Christmas in some families. Although less than 1% of the country identifies as Christian, Santa still makes an appearance every year, offering a flavorful meal.
Roller Skating Mass
Just when it seemed like Christmas couldn’t be any more fun of a holiday, Venezuela has entered the building (on roller skates)! That’s right, in Venezuela, it is tradition for some to roller skate to Christmas mass. This is thought to be and alternative to sledding on Christmas Day, as done in colder countries and what a cool alternative it is. As the country is mostly catholic, many people attend this 5AM mass and they have certainly found an exciting way to be up before the roosters. The rest of Christmas (which lasts for nine days) is filled with food, fireworks, music, and dancing, so there are plenty of smiles to go around even after the skates are hung up.
Whether it's celebrated in Jamaica, Mexico, or Japan, Christmas is a special time of the year for many. These traditions are what make the holiday a time of joy and maybe they will inspire you to create a new tradition of your own. Happy Holidays from KLU!