With the Christmas countdown well and truly underway, many people´s thoughts will be turning to celebrations, opening presents under the tree and attending church.
Most parts of the world celebrate Christmas differently, and some of the most unusual traditions include:
All Night Celebrations in Croatia
Christmas in Croatia is one of the liveliest annual events on the social calendar.
Christmas Eve is celebrated with a family meal before midnight mass. After the church service the streets come alive and the bars open all night as Croatians party until the early hours. It is a tradition to stay awake from Christmas Eve until Christmas Day.
On Christmas Day Croatians traditionally cook roast pork, turkey, lamb and cabbage stuffed with minced meat. Home-made Christmas desserts, including strudel and poppy seed cakes also grace the table.
KFC Christmas in Japan
If you think sushi may be on the menu in Japan over Christmas, think again.
After a cutting-edge marketing campaign which began in Japan in 1974, Kentucky Fried Chicken has been associated with Christmas.
The Colonel´s famous chicken is eaten widely throughout Japan over the Christmas period. Over 240,000 barrels of the stuff will be sold during Christmas – almost 10 times its normal monthly sales.
The ´Caganer´ in Catalonia, Spain
Strange but true, the Catalonian ´Caganer´ is a figure of a Catalan man wearing traditional clothes, squatting with his trousers around his ankles. Dating back to the 18th century, his poo is a sign of good luck as it is said to fertilise the earth and ensure a good harvest for the coming year.
Closely associated is the ´Caga Tió´ which is a small log with a smiley face wearing a traditional Catalan hat. Small children ´feed´ the ´Caga Tio´ with nougat and fudge and keep it warm under a blanket so that he will ´poo´ out lots of treats on Christmas Eve.
Saint Nicholas and the Devil in Austria
A traditional Christmas story is told in Austria every 4 December. Saint Nicholas is said to visit children along with the devil. The two ask the children if they have been good or bad. If the children say they have been bad, the devil tries to strike them with a stick. St. Nicholas sends them running so he can protect them from the devil. On December 6, St. Nicholas´ Day, good children receive fruits, sweets and toys.
Midnight mass is held on Christmas Eve and a traditional meal is baked carp. A nativity scene is displayed in most homes.
Shoe-tossing in the Czech Republic
Single people in the Czech Republic who are looking for a partner stand with their backs to the door on Christmas Day and toss a shoe over their shoulders. If the shoe lands pointing to the door they will get married soon. If not, they will have to wait until next year.
Remembrance in Finland
Families in Finland enjoy a day of remembrance on Christmas Eve when they visit the graves of their ancestors and light candles. Cemeteries throughout Finland are lit up, presenting a beautiful and emotional scene.
Christmas Day & Boxing Day in England
Much less emphasis is placed on Christmas Eve in England than in other parts of Europe, and although midnight mass is still well attended, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are widely celebrated.
Christmas Eve, however is still an exciting time for the youngsters as it is the 24th night when Santa Claus ´delivers the presents´. Children hang up their stockings then go to sleep, hoping to find them stuffed full with goodies the next morning.
Mince pies and sherry are traditionally left out for Santa Claus and his reindeers who deliver the gifts.
Christmas Day is traditionally a family day, where presents are opened and lunch or dinner is prepared. Some families prefer not to open their gifts until after the Queen´s Speech which is traditionally broadcast at 3pm.
Christmas turkey with all the trimmings, copious amounts of alcohol and plum pudding are served up, along with plates of cheese, sweets and chocolates to keep you going until bed time.
December 26, Boxing Day is also a public holiday in England and the UK and is often celebrated by visiting family and friends or joining them for a meal.
Saving the Goat in Sweden
In 1966, a 13 metre tall goat was made of straw and erected in Gavle town square. The goat went up in flames at midnight on Christmas Eve. Local carried on building the goat, year after year while vandals continued to burn it down. By 2011 the Gavle goat had been burned down 25 times, including in 2001 when a USA tourist was jailed for the offence.
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