Christmas is a time for giving, a time for receiving, and in various parts of the world a time for tossing shoes, roller skating to church and feasting on KFC.
Here are the strangest Christmas traditions from around the world:
Finland: a festive sauna
With more than two million saunas shared between just 5.5 million people, it’s no surprise that the famed Finnish sweatbox plays a role in the country’s festive traditions.
The peak of Finnish Christmas celebrations comes on Christmas Eve, when Finns head to the sauna to strip off and relax before the evening festivities. After a light lunch, almost everyone in Finland takes to the sauna, with famed sauna makers Tylo hypothesising that it could be “a great way to ease tensions before the Christmas dinner guests arrive”.
But they have to be quick: according to folklore, the spirits of dead ancestors bathe in the sauna after the early Nordic sunset.
India: Christmas banana trees
Given the lack of pine trees in India, it’s traditional for families to decorate a banana or mango tree in much the same way. While only 2.3% of the population of India is Christian, that still equates to over 25 million followers in the country. Many of those decorate their houses with Mango leaves and place oil-burning lamps on their roof-tops, symbolising the light of Jesus.
Czech Republic: shoe tossing for a husband
A Christmas Eve custom invites single Czech women to stand with their backs to the front door and remove a shoe. They hurl it over their shoulder towards the door and how it lands predicts their romantic prospects for the year. If the toe of the shoe faces the door, the thrower is destined to marry. If it’s the heel, it’s another painful 12-month wait.
According to folk lore, all women should get a kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas time in order to be guaranteed a successful love life throughout the next calendar year.
Ukraine: web-savvy Christmas
The traditional Ukrainian Christmas tree is draped not with tinsel and baubles, but with spiders’ webs – or in most cases, an artificial substitute. The tradition grew up around the legend of a family so poor that their tree would have gone bare, had it not been for a spider spinning a beautiful web over it in time for Christmas morning.
Japan: Kentucky Fried Christmas
Over the past few years, it’s become customary for the Japanese to tuck into a festive feast of KFC on Christmas Day. Thanks to a successful advertising campaign, KFC branches throughout Japan report that families will queue around the block to pick up their battered thighs and wings. The tradition has now become so popular that orders for the KFC Christmas Party Barrel are taken as early as October.
In Japan only around around 1% of the population is Christian, and Christmas is not an official holiday, writes the BBC. “So the idea that families are going to spend all day cooking a ham or turkey and side dishes just isn’t practical.
“Instead, they show up with a bucket of chicken.”
Venezuela: Christmas roller skating
Every year between 16 and 24 December in Caracas, Venezuela, roads are closed to traffic to let people roller skate to the early morning Christmas mass. On their way, skaters will tug on the ends of long pieces of string tied by children to their big toes and dangled out of the window.
Netherlands: Black Peter
Every November in the Netherlands, Father Christmas – or Sinterklaas, as he’s know to the Dutch – arrives from Spain by steamship, bringing with him an escort of Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters), all with blackened faces, red lips and curly hair. The role of the Black Peters is to assist Santa and perform impressive acrobatic feats to amaze the children who turn out to see them every year. The tradition has led to controversy, with the UN condemning it as “a throwback to slavery”, although its supporters insist that it’s a harmless Christmas tradition. Read more