Christmas Traditions from Around the World | Ep13 | History & Myth

For this Christmas special episode, I have got together some Christmas traditions from all over the world with interesting facts, to get you all in the festive mood.

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First weird quirky thing I have for you is from Spain. Now, most Spanish people in spain play the lottery around this time of the year, the lottery is drawn on the 22nd of December. Hoping to win the ‘El Gordo’ The fat one or big one. The Spanish Christmas Lottery or Loteria de Navidad is a special draw of the Loteria Nacional, which is the weekly run national lottery in Spain. And the first or final prize drawn is the El Gordo. Sometimes whole families or villages enter together as a group, so they can share the profits if they win it. The lottery pot is 70% of the ticket sales which is usually in the billions, with the top prize El Gordo being around 600 million euros or over depending on the sales of the tickets.

For our next one, lets go to Ireland. 6th of January, for most of the people celebrating Christmas, this is usually the time when the Christmas tree comes down. But in Ireland, tis the Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Little Christmas. It is one of the oldest and most archaic Christmas tradition from around the world or Ireland as far as I am aware. So, this was the day, that the female community in Ireland, tired from all festive cooking, hosting and housework, could put their feet up, let their hair down and a token annual day off. Of course these days, that is stretched to everyone, since we don’t specify all those activities around the house to just women, so we all that day as a much needed time off.

In Mexico, people display nativity scenes instead of Christmas trees. Ofcourse some families still go for the Christmas trees but its mainly nativity scenes. The beautifully crafted nativity scenes make the festive period more vibrant. They are called ‘nacimientos’, locals proudly display these elaborate Nativity scenes in their homes or gardens throughout the Christmas season, while local communities create public ones usually designed by local artists and craftspeople. Characters are added throughout the days to Christmas countdown, with baby jesus being added on Christmas eve and the three kings on January the 5th.

From Mexico now to Russia. As far as Christmas traditions around the world go, Russia has plenty – from swapping Santa Claus for Father Frost to a meatless Christmas Eve feast, but none more fascinating than the country’s celebration of Christmastide. Hailed as ‘the most unholy time of year’, ‘Svyatki’ as the Russians call it, runs from the Orthodox Christmas Eve on 7th January to the Epiphany on 19th January.

This a pagan tradition involves, feasting, Russian Christmas music, fortune telling, theatre, local pranks and… diving into the country’s freezing lakes and rivers.

Christmas Eve Supper, known as wigilia, is one of the most longstanding and widely cherished of Polish rituals. In the vast majority of homes, both among believers or non-believers, a formal meal is celebrated and served on the table which is covered with a white tablecloth. Hay is traditionally placed under the cloth covering the table and an extra empty place is set for an unexpected visitor. Polish foody traditions vary depending on the region, but traditionally 12 dishes are served to reflect the number of Apostles. The dishes may include fish or red beetroot soup, carp, pasta with poppy mass, jellied fish, herring in cream or oil, or Kutia – a wheat pudding with poppy seed, honey, and nuts. Just before the dinner, family members share the wafer and wish all the best to each other. At midnight following Christmas Eve many Poles attend the Midnight Mass to commemorate the prayers of shepherds on their way to Bethlehem. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are known as the First and Second day of Christmas and are spent visiting relatives.

Now Iceland has a Christmas myth about the Yule cat. Apparently, there’s a terrifying Christmas cat who prowls the snow then EATS ALIVE anyone who’s not got the appropriate clothing to handle the harsh winter weather. So, families celebrate this by coming together to protect one another and ensure that nobody gets taken by the Yule Cat. It’s meant to scare kids into good behaviour. I guess it ties in with this Scandinavian sayings that there is no bad weather only bad attire or clothing. Its probably to get that message across early in the kid’s head.

In the town of Christmas in Florida, it is Christmas all year round. Plenty of tourists flock here to get their holiday cards and letters stamped at the post office, I guess it’s fun for your postmark to read ‘Christmas, FL’?! Unsurprisingly, the street names are Christmas-themed too. Bethlehem, Comet Street, Cupid Avenue and of course, St. Nicholas Avenue. It is the town’s American Christmas tradition to display a decorated, evergreen Christmas tree year-round.

From America, lets jump to Japan. In December 1974, KFC Japan, created its KFC Christmas ad, where it suggested that KFC is the traditional Yuletide feast in America. Reservations have to be made to eat at a KFC on Christmas Day. During the run-up to Christmas, Colonel Sanders statues outside KFC’s Japanese outlets wear Santa gear. The chicken is served in special holiday packaging. Demand is such that an online service has been created: order your Xmas Family Bucket in advance and have it delivered. Apart from it being a very clever and successful marketing campaign, this probably took off due to the small oven sizes during those times in Japan. It also coincides with the time when Ramen instant noodles were pushed on to the middle class women and children, as a nutritious, time saving luxury. So it makes sense.

A quick Christmas thing now about Venezuela. In the week leading up to Christmas, Venezuelans attend a daily church service called Misa de Aguinaldo (Early Morning Mass). In the capital, Caracas, it is customary to travel to the church service on roller skates. The practice is so widespread that many roads in the capital are closed until 8am to provide Christmas worshippers with a safe passage.

In Austria and Germany, St Nicholas has an evil counterpart called Krampus. He is the bad cop to St Nick’s good cop, a demon-like creature with one task: to punish bad children before Christmas. Men dressed in devil costumes roam the streets, carrying chains and a basket for abducting especially bad children and hauling them to hell. Other traditions linked with Germanic traditions and ancestry have anti Klaus concept as well – Krampus iterations. Or anti St Nicholas, to keep the kids in check. Santa in other traditions have obviously developed to have a list of good and bad kids, doing the job of both. The concept of Santa originates from them anyway, from across the german speaking Europe. St Nicholas, was probably born around 245 C.E. in the port city of Patara in what we now call Turkey. Very little solid historical evidence exists for the man who later became the Bishop of Myra and the patron saint of children, sailors, students, teachers, and merchants. He is credited with several miracles and his feast day is December 6, which is the main reason he is connected with Christmas. In Austria, parts of Germany, and Switzerland, der Heilige Nikolaus (or Pelznickel) brings his gifts for children on Nikolaustag, Dec. 6, not Dec. 25. Nowadays, St. Nicholas Day (der Nikolaustag) on Dec. 6 is a preliminary round for Christmas.

Somewhat connected to that, is the Switzerland tradition of Schmutzli – santa’s sinister sidekick. ‘Samichlaus’ pops up around 6th December and shares treats like mandarins, cookies and of course delicious Swiss Christmas chocolate. And ‘Schmutzli’ is basically the anti-Santa. He wears a black robe and has a dark beard. Originally, his ominous appearance  – complete with a whip and empty present sack – served to deter children from being naughty throughout the year. Nowadays, he helps Samichlaus hand out treats and presents at markets and events.

In southern Italy and Rome in particular, you’ll find shepherds playing the bagpipes. Usually performing in pairs, they break out the tunes in squares and piazzas across the regions, all while everyone goes about their festive business. Dressed in traditional sheepskins and wool cloaks, they do this in honour of the traditional shepherds in the nativity.

Christmas cracker was invented by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith back in 1846. Apparently, his original idea was just to wrap up his tasty sweets in a twist of fancy-coloured paper. But the idea took off and became one of the best-known Victorian Christmas traditions in England. His packages began to sell out when he added festive notes, paper crowns and made them go off with a BANG!

England is also home to the Guinness World Record for the longest Christmas cracker pulling chain ever, with 1,077 people in a school in South London.

That is a lot of traditions and facts. But let’s do some more quick ones and then we can wrap this up.

Norwegians believe that Christmas Eve coincides with the arrival of evil spirits and witches. And that is why they hide all their brooms before they go to sleep in their homes.

In Guatemala, cleanliness really is next to Godliness. Locals believe that the devil and other evil spirits live in the dark, dirty corners of your home. It’s called La Quema del Diablo, the ‘Burning of the Devil’. The idea is to burn all the bad from the previous year and start a new year from out of the ashes. They spend the week before Christmas sweeping up, collecting rubbish and then piling everything in a huge heap outside. Finally, an effigy of the devil is placed on top and the whole thing is set on fire.

In Ukraine, along with other Christmas decorations, they like to decorate their tree with a fake spider and spiderweb. The tradition has its origins in an old tale of a poor woman who couldn’t afford to decorate her tree and woke on Christmas morning to discover a spider had covered it in a glorious, sparkling web.

On Christmas Eve, unmarried Czech women stand with their back to the door and toss one of their shoes over their shoulder. If it lands with the toe facing the door, it means that they’ll be married within the year. If it lands with the heel facing the door, well it is another year of waiting.

During consoda, the traditional Christmas feast in Portugal, families sometimes set extra places at the dining table for deceased relatives. It’s thought that the practice will ensure good fortunes for the household. In some areas crumbs are left on the hearth as well.

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