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Christmas Around the World

Written by Hetty Waite

Hetty is a local mum and author who is currently writing a trilogy of dystopian novels for young adults.

For many, Christmas is a time not only for family, friends and food, but also traditions. From pulling crackers at the dinner table, leaving out a sherry for Santa or kissing under the mistletoe, the festive season wouldn’t feel quite the same without the quirky little rituals that we indulge in year after year.


One which has gained increasing popularity in recent years is the addition to family households of ‘The Elf on the Shelf’. Every December, one of these mischievous imps enters the home to keep an eye on the children’s behaviour in the run up to the Big Day. Each night, the cheeky elf thinks up increasingly elaborate (and time-consuming!) antics to get up to, much to the delight of the small person discovering them in the morning. Perhaps they’ve made snow angels in spilt flour, or pooped out Christmas candies. Less delighted are the exhausted parents, up until one in the morning arranging the elf, wracking their brains for inventive scenarios for their tiny visitor, which hopefully won’t take all morning to clean up after.


It’s not just the UK that has weird and wonderful Christmas traditions. Across the world, local folklore and legends give a unique spin on festivities. Here are a few of the more unusual Yuletide rituals:


  • In Austria, they have a creature called Krampus, whose job is to punish naughty kids before Christmas. Men dress up in demon-costumes, complete with chains and baskets, and roam around looking for bad children to cart off to Hell. Terrifying, yes, but definitely worth considering as a replacement for the cheeky elf!

  • In Japan, the traditional Christmas dinner is actually replaced by… KFC! So instead of Santa and turkey, you’ll be met with a Christmassy Colonel Sanders and fried chicken. Festive family bucket, anyone?

  • In Ukraine, it is typical to hang a spider and cobweb on your tree alongside the baubles. This tradition originates from a story about a poor woman with no money to buy decorations, so a kindly (and probably quite scary, as it must have been huge!) spider wove a sparkly, glittering web over her tree instead.

  • In Caracas, Venezuela, it has become customary to travel to the Christmas Early Morning Mass by roller skates! Perhaps not one to try in the snow and ice…


So, it seems we are not alone with our collection of strange ways to celebrate. Whilst you might not fancy demons or arachnids as part of your festivities, a final ritual can be found in Colombia. December 7th is ‘Little Candles Day’, where candles are lit and displayed in windows, yards and gardens to celebrate the Immaculate Conception. As the nights draw in and we are all looking for a bit of light, this seems like a simple yet hopeful way to welcome the Christmas period.


Now where did that pesky elf get to…

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