You may look for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, but what if you had 13 Santas? Holiday traditions from around the world include floral abundance, door-to-door witches and more (like 13 Santas!). Read on to learn about some of our favorite global Yuletide festivities.
In Hopi culture, the Soyal Solstice Ceremony, held in December, is a time to pray to Father Sun for the renewal of light and welcoming back of the sun. It is a time to purify and to wish for good health and prosperity for one’s family and friends and the kachinas—spirit beings who guard over the Hopi—often bring gifts for children. The start of the celebration begins sixteen days before the solstice, when one of the chief kachinas makes an appearance, and dances and sings. Families make prayer sticks to bless their friends, neighbors, family, animals and plants alike. Children are sometimes given replicas of the kachinas to learn about them—there are hundreds that represent animals, plants, and other aspects of nature.
Flores de Noche Buena—Mexico
In Mexico, poinsettias aren't just pretty flowers for the holidays. Instead, the bright petals play an important role in the holiday story about a young peasant girl, who, after setting out for a Christmas celebration with no gift to give, sees (with the help of a heavenly visitor) her humble gift of collected grasses and weeds magically transformed into 'Flores de Noche Buena,' bringing her to understand the true meaning of giving from the heart.
The Yule Lads— Iceland
In the beautiful snow covered hills of Iceland, there isn’t just one Santa, there are thirteen. Yes, you read that right. There are thirteen Yule Lads that cause mischief and decide who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. These sons of the evil troll woman, Grýla, arrive in the thirteen days leading up to Christmas Eve, and each has a mischievous specialty including stealing meat, sausages, and candles. They also give small gifts, chocolate and other sweets to the good girls and boys, and raw potatoes to the naughty ones.
Kiwi Christmas Tree—New Zealand
We love our classic evergreen trees, but for the Kiwis in New Zealand it’s all about the pohutukawa tree. This beautiful tree has deep roots in New Zealand’s culture, with several songs, poems and other cultural items capturing it's significance. It is also part of Maori culture, and is thought to be a bridge to the afterlife.
The yuletide season is a bit more like carnival with these Latvian party animals, except, driving out the evil spirits from the home is the purpose of this riot of color and good times. The Mummers are hilarious jokers who love dressing up and travel around in full costume as everything from bears, to gypsies and even zombies. With their help, you’ll definitely be having a prosperous new year.
Mari Lwyd is a rare and special character. The name means Holy Mary, but it actually refers to the horse mascot that is carried door-to-door by singing groups in Wales during the holiday season. Traditional carolers usually stay beyond the threshold of your door, but, in Wales, they're trying to join the party. They sing small pieces of music as a way of asking to be let into each house, and will banter back and forth with the family before being welcomed inside to enjoy sweet cakes and ale.
Spider Webs in Christmas Trees—Ukraine
Celebrating Christmas in Ukraine started with a classic Christmas miracle. A penniless family decided to grow a Christmas tree from a pinecone. The excited kiddos spent months planning the perfect decorations for their special tree, but their parents didn’t have enough money to buy the extra decor. On Christmas morning, the family discovered that a group of helpful spiders had spun delicate webs through the tree’s branches. As the light hit the beautiful silk threads, their magically turned to silver and gold. Today, decorating Christmas trees with spider webs is a way to usher in good luck for the coming year.
In Italy, Santa is small potatoes compared to the arrival of an old woman on a broomstick named La Befana. She visits children on January 6th, to deliver gifts to the good little girls and boys and lumps of coal (usually lumps of black sugar) to the naughty ones. According to legend, La Befana was invited to travel with the Three Wise Men to celebrate the birth of Jesus. She was busy cleaning her house, so she decided not to go. When she realized her mistake, she began searching high and low for the child and still wanders the earth to this day.
Junkanoo —The Bahamas
The Bahamas brings a whole new meaning to the term “Christmas Party” with Junkanoo. This riot of music and vibrant colors was originally developed by slaves, who were given three days off for the Christmas holiday. They celebrated with music, masks and killer dance moves. Today, this festival includes massive dance troupes of up to 1,000 people, elaborate costumes and gorgeous music created with goatskin drums, cowbells, whistles and horns.
St. Lucia Day—Sweden
Nordic countries have long celebrated the Winter Solstice and in modern times, on December 13, Christians in Sweden, Norway and parts of Finland celebrate St. Lucia Day with a traditional festival of lights. In each town, a representative for St. Lucia is chosen to lead a large procession through the town with all of young girls dressed in white with wreaths of candles around their heads. The tradition continues at home, where the eldest daughter dresses in a white outfit and serves coffee and yummy biscuits to the family.
When you think of Christmas dinner, turkey or ham are probably your go-to dishes. Well in Japan, the ultimate feast is none other than KFC. The Colonel’s delectable Christmas Chicken started as a promotion in 1974, and the company has seen their sales peak every Christmas Eve since. So if you happen to be in Japan for the holiday, make sure to pop in to KFC for finger lickin' goodness. But, make sure to get there early because there's going to be a line.
Which holiday tradition is your favorite? Share with us in a comment below.
— Natasha Davis & Amber Guetebier