Beyond the usual customs of wreaths, trees, and stockings, some countries celebrate the holidays in very interesting ways. A witch? KFC? Discover the multitude of ways those around the world ring in the season!
While children in Italy celebrate Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) and receive gifts on Christmas day, many also look forward to the arrival of La Befana, a friendly witch who delivers gifts on January 6th, the day of Epifania (Epiphany). It is said that this is the day the three Wise Men brought gifts to Bambino Jesu (Baby Jesus). Parents leave out food and a glass of wine for La Befana, making it a more Italian custom than cookies and milk for Santa!
Many people in Japan go to KFC (yes, the restaurant of Kentucky Fried Chicken) on December 25th! The tradition began in 1974 when KFC first unveiled a Christmas meal to travelers in Japan who wanted something that resembled a traditional Christmas dinner in the United States. Nowadays hundreds locals enjoy KFC on December 25th, whether Christian or Buddhist, and in some cities, it’s even encouraged to place orders for fried chicken two months in advance!
For those celebrating Christmas in France, a very up-scale dinner is enjoyed with foie gras, seafood, and Buche del Noel (a rolled, log-shaped cake with whipped cream). Whereas Americans make quite the feast for Thanksgiving, those celebrating Christmas in France indulge very seriously. Christmas is France is called “Noel,” meaning birthday, and a nativity scene is the traditional form of house decoration instead of a Christmas tree.
In countries like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, many celebrate the season with a warm wishing of “God Jul!” On Christmas eve, Santa knocks on the doors of homes instead of coming through the chimney in the middle of the night, and he delivers gifts to the children in person! Families enjoy a Julbord smörgåsbord with meats, fish, breads, cheeses, and glögg (mulled wine). Some also celebrate with a gnome-like creature (called a tomte or nisse) – a helpful elf that children prepare porridge for to welcome them into their homes.
On Christmas Eve, Spaniards traditionally eat truffle-stuffed turkey and seafood before going to church. Afterwards, many walk through the streets, playing music and carrying torches to celebrate. Similarly to those celebrating in Italy, Epiphany Day on January 6th commemorates the 3 Kings or Wise Men who brought gifts to the newborn Jesus. In Spain, the Three Kings are named Gasper, Melchior, and Balthazar.