For many of us Down Under, Christmas means putting up that tree, holding a backyard BBQ and having plenty of fun in the sun. But around the world, it gets quirkier: Some traditionally listen to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, others rollerskate to church, and in Croatia, they decorate their trees with spiders!
1. Merry Christmas, Beethoven
Throughout the Christmas season in Japan, orchestras and other musical groups give performances of Beethoven’s famous 9th Symphony, locally referred to as Daiku. Hearing it played is a must for the Japanese, who see it as an integral part of their Christmas season.
2. Sweating it out
In Finland, Christmas Eve is the predominant day of celebration. And many Finns will head to a local sauna either before festivities begin or at the end of the night. Saunas have come to represent places of purity in Finland, and it was once believed that the spirits of the dead also came to relax in the sauna on Christmas Eve.
3. Batter up
Children of Mexico get a special treat on Christmas Day. Piñatas hang from the ceiling, and the kids are welcome to smash at them until they break open, showering everyone with candy and money. There’s often a mad scramble as each kid races to get a handful of treasure. Feliz Navidad!
4. Delicious feasts
Forget Aussie staples like ham, turkey and seafood. In South Africa, a traditional Christmas feast consists of rice, fufu (a kind of yam paste), okra soup, meats or stews and Malva pudding for dessert. Yum! Lunches and dinners will often be held outdoors in the warm weather and going for a swim somewhere is a popular Christmas Day pastime, too.
5. Ships ahoy
Planning Christmas in Greece? Expect to see lots of karavákia, small ships and boats beautifully decorated in lights. Around the country, some people also keep their fireplaces burning over the twelve days of Christmas (others will burn incense or trickle holy water around the house) to keep the hobgoblins (known as kallikántzari) away.
6. Rolling it in
If you happen to be in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, for Christmas, remember to bring your rollerskates. In the mornings leading up to Christmas, many of the roads are closed off so that locals can rollerskate to church!
7. Help from the dead
In Portugal, there’s a strong emphasis on family at Christmas time. So, at the Christmas morning feast, known as consoda, families will often set places for relatives who have passed on so that their souls can come and feast with them. In thanks for the food, it’s hoped that the spirits will bestow good luck upon the household for the coming year.
8. Bananas and mangoes
You won’t find any pine trees at Christmas in India. Not even those fake, plastic ones. Instead, Indians decorate banana and mango trees and put these in their homes. Leaves and poinsettia flowers are also often used for decorations, as are oil-burning lamps.
9. The itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the Christmas tree
Running out of ideas for decorating your tree? Why not try an artificial spider and web? In the Ukraine, it’s traditional to place one on your Christmas tree. This is all thanks to the old tale, usually known as the Legend of the Christmas Spider.
It tells of a poverty-stricken widow and her family who woke one morning to find their bare tree covered in cobwebs. When the sun touched the webs, they turned into silver and gold (which is said to be why we hang tinsel on our trees). Today, those who hang a spider on the tree hope it will bring good luck and fortune for the year ahead.
10. Here comes Santa Claus
In Toronto, Canada, attending the Santa Clause parade has become a big part of the Christmas spirit, even though it takes place in November. The first ever parade in 1913 actually featured real reindeer tugging a Santa sleigh. Today, it’s more about themed floats and Celebrity Clowns, and it’s known to be the longest-running children’s parade in the world.