Christmas, which is celebrated on December 25, is a secular celebration that incorporates national rituals and traditions, many of which date back to the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which honors the agricultural deity Saturn. Christmas is also a religious holiday, marking the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is a time of happiness and celebration for nearly 2 billion people in more than 160 nations, with family and friends. From the sun-warmed beaches of Australia to the frigid landscapes of Scandinavia, the way different communities celebrate the holidays is vastly different. These are the origin stories of six distinct Christmas customs from throughout the globe.
Krampus in Austria
A legendary entity with origins in Alpine folklore, Krampus serves as a sinister foil to the cheerful St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. He is frequently portrayed as a long-tongued, anthropomorphic, goat-like demon with horns. His main responsibility is to go with St. Nick throughout the Christmas season and beat mischievous kids while giving gifts to the well-behaved ones.The winter solstice celebrations of the heathen people are combined with the Christian customs of St. Nicholas in the Krampus mythology. The night before the Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated, December 5, is known as Krampus Night (Krampusnacht) in many Alpine towns, particularly in Austria, Bavaria, and other regions of Central Europe. An annual Krampus Run, or Krampuslauf, is held in a number of European towns; the custom is thought to date back hundreds of years. Adults in gory costumes walk to the streets during the run, frequently escorting a St. Nicholas figure, to jokingly threaten onlookers.
Japan's version of fried chicken
Since just 1% of people in Japan identify as Christians, Christmas is observed more as a cultural than a religious celebration there. Japan shares many other countries’ Christmas customs, such as gift-giving, lively markets, and displays of vibrant lights. Fried chicken, nevertheless, is a dish that is only eaten in Japan during the holiday season. A few years after KFC initially opened in Japan in 1970, the store manager—who would later become the CEO of KFC Japan—introduced the concept of a KFC Christmas “party barrel,” which is when the tradition of eating fried chicken on Christmas Eve began. After the concept gained traction, millions of Japanese people now celebrate Christmas with fried chicken.
In Italy, the Good Witch of Christmas
The official Christmas holiday in Italy ends on January 6 with Epiphany. The 12th day of Christmas, when the three Magi arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the infant Jesus, is celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany. On December 24, Babbo Natale, the Italian equivalent of Santa Claus, brings gifts to children. On January 5, Epiphany Eve, the witch La Befana rides a broom and leaves gifts for the young ones.Though her tradition may have originated in the Neolithic age, La Befana is now associated with the Nativity story, making her older than Babbo Natale. According to Italian legend, La Befana declined the three wise men’s invitation to travel with them. Subsequently, she had a change of heart and went about gathering gifts to give to Jesus, but she never did. La Befana thus keeps looking through homes for the baby Jesus while leaving presents for other kids.
The Welsh Grey Mare
Though its precise origin is uncertain, the Welsh tradition of Mari Lwyd, or “Grey Mare,” is observed in December and January. It may have its roots in paganism. A horse’s skull is typically adorned with lights, festive greenery, and ribbons in vibrant colors. It is then placed on a pole and carried by someone wearing a white sheet. After that, the spectral horse head is taken throughout communities and used to attempt to enter people’s houses. At the Mari Lwyd processional, participants don traditional Welsh attire and sing as they compete by rhyming insults in Welsh, a sport known as pwnco. According to tradition, people who invite the naughty Mari Lwyd into their homes will be lucky in the upcoming year.
The Icelandic Yule Lads
The 13 Yule Lads, or Jólasveinar, who visit kids on the 13 nights before Christmas, are part of Iceland’s gift-giving custom. Kids put one shoe on the windowsill every night in the hopes of receiving goodies from the Yule Lads. Good children will discover candy in their shoes, according to folklore, whereas mischievous youngsters will find a raw or rotten potato. The Yule Lads are descended from Grúla, a troll who is said to gather mischievous children in her bag to bring back to her lair and turn into stew, according to Nordic legend. The Yule Lads aren’t as dangerous as their mother, but they are all known for their naughty behaviors, including licking spoons and slamming doors, or stealing milk from sheep and cows.
Venezuelan roller skating
Community block parties are a common holiday custom in Venezuela, where the majority of the population is Roman Catholic and the country’s tropical climate encourages people to congregate outside. Venezuelans may not be able to go ice skating or sledding in December, but they do have an equally enjoyable Christmas custom: the week before Christmas, they don roller skates and sprint through the streets to get to early mass, or Misa de Aguinaldo. This custom, known as las patinatas, or “the skating,” dates back to the 1950s and was first observed in Venezuela’s largest cities, notably Caracas, the country’s capital. It’s possible that the custom originated as a warm-weather substitute for ice skating, however this is uncertain. In order to protect skaters, the government has closed certain streets to automotive traffic due to the surge in popularity of mass skating.