Here in America, we think Christmas is one way and one way only. But around the world, Christmas is celebrated in very different and unusual ways.
Christmas is not a holiday celebrated as widely in Japan. However, many traditions and customs have come from the U.S. to Japan such as Christmas cards and presents. Since Christmas is not considered a national holiday there, schools and businesses are usually still open. In Japan, parties with games and dancing are often held with Christmas sponge cakes decorated with flowers, trees, and a Santa figurine.
To top it off, fried chicken from KFC is eaten very often on Christmas Day. It is a very busy time of year for many restaurants like KFC. It gets so packed that you must book reservations months in advance! In Japanese, Merry/Happy Christmas is said “Meri Kurisumasu” and Santa is known as “Mr. Santa.”
During the holidays, houses in every part of Sweden will have a straw goat in their windows and underneath the Christmas tree. The Christmas Goat is a very big part of the festive holiday and is said to bring presents for children.
It is unknown where the Christmas Goat originated from other than the possibility of it being from Norse mythology as part of Thor’s entourage. Some think that its origins are from the Scandinavian tradition, when they would butcher goats around Christmas time.
Italy’s story of the birth of Jesus has a different twist to it. According to legend, before the Wise Men arrived at the manger, they stopped at a shack belonging to an old woman. They invited the woman, La Befana, to join them on their journey to see the baby Jesus, but she declined. Later that night, she looked into the sky and saw a great light and decided to attempt to join the wise men. But it was too late, and she got lost on her way and never found the manger.
Now, La Befana flies around on her broomstick every year, dropping gifts for all the children in hopes that she will find the baby Jesus. Children in Italy hang their stockings on January 5th and wait for the witch to drop goodies into their stockings.
In Spain, it is common to display part of a nativity scene, or “belen” in your house, which depicts the night the Wise Men arrived at the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Except, among the figurines, there is a character named “El Caganer,” which translates to “Great Defecator.” In Catalonia, Spain, this figurine is unusually popular. He is quite literally defecating. The “fertilizer” means there will be good harvest throughout the rest of the year.
Here in America, we celebrate Christmas with Santas, stockings, snowmen, nativity scenes, and wintery items. But around the world they celebrate the Christmas holidays with fried chicken, witches, and strangely positioned figurines.