Most of you are familiar with American, Canadian and English Christmas customs, which are largely the same, including Santa bringing presents that sit below a lit up tree. But have you ever wondered just how Christmas is celebrated in China, or in Finland? Whether you’re just interested in learning more about other cultures or want to incorporate some new traditions into your holiday celebrations, this article is filled with all you need to know about international Christmases.

Greece:
Saint Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in Greece because he is the patron saint of sailors. For this reason, their Saint Nicholas is hardly the fur-wearing man celebrated by other cultures. Instead, he is depicted as being soaked with seawater and sweaty from working too hard to save ships.

Like France, Christmas trees never really caught on here. Instead, residents will fill a shallow bowl with water and then tie wire with a wooden cross and a sprig of basil over the bowl. Once a day the cross and basil are dipped into holy water, which is then sprinkled through the house. This ceremony is used to keep out goblins, known as Killikantzaroi out of the house. These mischievous goblins that come from the center of the earth only appear during the twelve days of Christmas. While bratty, they’re not really evil and tend to do bratty things like souring milk and extinguishing fires. Because they are said to enter the house through the fireplace, fires are left burning all day and night during this time of year.

Iceland:
Icelandic children were once told to behave or they would be eaten by a pair of ogres that lived up in the hills. The characters were considered to be so terrifying that a public decree banned the use of these stories to scare children into behaving. Instead of talking about the ogre couple, parents instead started telling stories of the ogre’s children, the Jolasveinar, who are bad, but not nearly as evil as their parents.

Jolasveinars were originally said to play tricks on people and steal food, but now they are responsible for giving gifts to children. Bad children don’t get presents though, they get potatoes or other items that remind them that they weren’t forgotten, but don’t deserve real presents.

Italy:
In Italy, there is no Santa, but instead there a woman called a Befana that performs the general duties of Saint Nick. The story is that the three wise men stopped during their travels and asked a woman for food and shelter. She said no, but later realized her mistake when it was too late. She now travels the earth looking for the baby Jesus and on Januaray 6th, she leaves kids a sock filled with candy or a lump of coal.

Japan:
While most Japanese residents are not Christian, the majority of people still celebrate Christmas just for the fun of it. Unsurprisingly, the rituals are slightly different than those we are used to. Because KFC has marketed the idea that fried chicken is the traditional meal for the holidays, the restaurants are so busy on Christmas Day that reservations are required.

Most of the holiday celebrations revolve around romantic love more than family relationships and bakeries even sell cakes for sweethearts.

Children still have a Santa figure though, only in this case, he is a traditional Japanese god who is known for his generosity. Hoteiosho is a heavy-set Buddhist priest who carries a large sack of presents. Children know they have to be good because Hoteiosho has eyes in the back of his head.

Netherlands:
The Netherland’s Christmas traditions are subject to a lot of controversy as their version of Santa, Sinterklaas, is accompanied by a one-time slave known as Black Peter. These days, the Dutch try to play down the racism of the matter by claiming that Black Peter’s cartoonish appearance is a result of his going down dirty chimneys all the time and he’s no longer referred to as a slave, but a “helper.”

The naughty man in blackface is a mischievous character who may kidnap naughty children and whisk them away to his home in Spain.

Norway:
Norwegian folklore says that Christmas Eve is kind of like Halloween and brings about a number of evil spirits and witches. The brooms of the houses are hidden to keep them away from witches and men will often go outside and shoot their guns to ward off evil spirits.

Pagan winter celebrations used to revolve around Thor’s pet goat and a person would arrive at the parties wearing a goatskin and carrying a goat head. He would eventually fake his death and then return to life. As Christianity started to take over the area, the goat was recast as a form of the devil and he was eventually banned. Since then, the goat character was morphed into Julebukk, a “yule goat.” The new story of the goat involved him traveling from door to door where he would get gifts for keeping the evil spirits away. Nowadays, kids dress up and play the role of the Julebukk, where they get treats as they visit the houses.

Slavic Europe:
Most Slavic countries don’t rely on Saint Nick for presents, but instead count on Ded Moroz, which translates to “Grandfather Frost”. He’s a magical character who delivers presents on New Year’s Eve. He was banned at the start of the Communist Revolution, but because he wasn’t officially a Christmas character, Stalin allowed him to come back, only he was required to wear blue so he wouldn’t be confused with Santa Claus. In modern times, this ruling has been reversed and he can wear any color he wants.
Spain:

Spain’s celebrations vary greatly depending on the region. In the Basque regions, the Santa role is filled by Olentzero, a fat man in a beret who smokes a pipe. He used to be an enforcer against naughty children who was said to throw a sickle down the chimney to cut the throats of kids who didn’t sleep. Nowadays though, he is a positive character like Santa that only brings good presents.

In the Catalan region, families “feed” a little log called a “Caga tio” every night from the 8th to the 23rd. On Christmas Eve, the family hits the log with a stick to release sweet treats that have been hidden in his hollow center. If you hadn’t guessed yet, “Caga tio” translates to “pooping log.” The celebration ends when the log poops out something decidedly not sweet, usually a dried herring, an onion or a head of garlic.

Catalans must enjoy poop jokes because aside from their pooping log, they also celebrate with a “Caganer,” a nativity scene character that is seen to be pooping in the corner of the scene.

Ukraine:
While the story about German families hiding a pickle ornament on their tree is false, Ukrainians actually do hide a spider web ornament on their tree and it is supposed to be good luck for the person who finds it. The story behind the tradition is that an old widow had no money to decorate her tree and went to bed upset that her children would have an undecorated tree the next day. While she was asleep, a spider decorated the tree with a beautiful web. When the first light of day hit the webs, they turned to silver and gold and the widow and her children never went longing again.

Venezuela:
Venezuelans celebrate Christmas similar to many other cultures, in that they generally go to mass early on Christmas Day. The difference is that Venezuelans go to church in roller skates. In the capital, Caracas, streets are even closed off to traffic in order to keep the skaters safe. On Christmas Eve, children tie strings to their toes and let them dangle into the street, where they are tugged on by skaters as they go by. It’s certainly a different way to wake up on Christmas morning.

Remember that in all countries, celebrations and traditions can vary greatly by region, so if you have lived in any of these countries and not experienced a tradition named on this list, it may just be experienced elsewhere.

All Christmas Celebrations Around The World You Need To Know (part 1)

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