International Ways to Celebrate The Holidays

To me, Christmas means getting together with family, eating a huge meal including turkey and stuffing, and exchanging gifts. But that’s not what it means to everyone who celebrates the holidays. So I just wanted to take a look at some of the ways people around the world celebrate Christmas time in all the wonderful and diverse traditions!

Mari Lwyd

This a tradition from Wales, and learning about it prompted this whole article. This tradition involves someone wearing a hobby horse or a “mari lwyd.” It’s the skull of a horse attached to a stick with a sheet hanging down from it, covering the wearer. The more ambitious villages would ever have the jaw of the skull open and close with a lever. Starting at dusk, a group of seven men, including a fancily dressed leader, would begin walking around the town. Stopping at the houses, they would sing a song requesting admittance and the house would try to come up with excuses to not let them in. This is known as the pwnco would repeat until the house conceded and let the party in. The mari lwyd would prance around, neighing and basically cause a scene. The leader would pretend to reign it in but fail.

Gävle Goat

SONY DSCIn the same theme of large barn animals and imposing on your neighbours, Swedish people have one involving a goat. Originally, there was the Yule Goat which is a symbol from Pagan ceremonies. In some more modern interpretations, the goat is a gift giver, similar to Santa Claus. There was an activity called Julebukking which involved dressing up in a yule goat costume and going door to door, singing songs. The residents of the house had to try and guess who was under the costume and the visitors were usually given candy, too. It’s somewhere between trick or treating and carolling. Starting in 1966, the Yule goat was honoured by a giant straw figure in the middle of Gävle, Sweden. It was 13 meters tall! And over the years another tradition was started…trying to burn that sucker down! Just look at the history of the thing:


It’s apparently not easy to be a giant straw goat. People kinda suck too much.

KFC Dinner

What does Christmas mean to the Japanese? Delicious fried chicken! Apparently, it’s a huge thing in Japan to eat a dinner of KFC on Christmas day. Since Christianity isn’t the majority religion in Japan, Christmas has little religious meaning and is mostly a commercial event (unlike in North America…#waronchristmas). Anyways, it all started with an advertising campaign by KFC in the 70s. They started selling the “Christmas barrel” as part of their Kentucky for Christmas campaign. They had one thing to say: “At Christmas, you eat chicken.” Apparently, Japanese people were desperate for an eating tradition for the holidays and it caught right on!


Specific Meal Prep

In Bulgaria, they have some interesting quirks in their Christmas traditions. First of all, the legend there is that Mary started her labour on Ignazhden (December 20th), gave birth on Christmas Eve (December 24th), and the birth was announced on Christmas Day (December 25th). To them, Christmas Eve is the more special day and when they have their holiday meal. It’s important that the table has an odd number of dishes served and an odd number of people sitting at the table. They also place straw under the tablecloth to bring good crops in the next year. One dish will be the round loaf of bread called a pita, which should be cut and served by the oldest at the meal. If you get the lucky coin baked into the bread, you’ll have a lucky year. Walnuts will also have bearing on the new year since if you eat yummy walnut you’ll have a good year but if it has a small nut? Keep dreaming.


Other smaller traditions:

  • In Norway, they hide their brooms on Christmas Eve so the witches that come out that night don’t steal them for a ride
  • In Ukraine, you can’t start eating dinner until the first star of the night comes out
  • In Zimbabwe, people pull their speakers out to the front of their houses and blast music, and not just Christmas carols
  • In Venezuela, wearing yellow on Christmas Eve means good luck in the new year

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