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Christmas Around the World

It’s no secret that Filipinos love Christmas. We are even known to have the longest period of celebrating the holiday season. As soon as September arrives, radio stations start playing familiar tunes of Jose Mari Chan, stores start selling Christmas decorations, and people start having countdowns to December 25.

When we think about Christmas, what comes to mind are usually the traditions Filipino people practice, like noche buena dinners and simbang gabi.

While our traditions are truly unique, people all over the world celebrate the holidays differently and in their own ways:

In Japan, Christmas remains as a novelty of sorts, celebrated mainly in small ways such as gift exchanges and light decorations. A very unique tradition has sprung up in recent years: a Christmas feast from KFC. While it may seem strange to us, KFC Japan has been releasing a festive menu year after year and it’s become an annual hit.

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In Sweden, they build a 13 meter tall Yule Goat in the center of Gävle’s Castle Square for the Advent season every year. This tradition started in 1966 and continues on to this day. This tradition has led to the practice of people trying to burn the Yule Goat down. Since 1966, this fiery tradition has occurred 29 times with 2016 being the most recent occurrence.

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In Colombia, they mark the start of the Christmas season by celebrating Little Candles’ Day or Día de las Velitas. This celebration is in honor of the Virgin Mary and they celebrate it by placing candles in their windows, balconies, etc. This tradition has grown to grander displays over the years with different towns and cities all over the nation participating.

In Ukraine, their traditional Christmas Eve supper has twelve different courses. Each one is dedicated to one of Christ’s apostles.

In Greenland, their traditional Christmas dish called kiviak takes seven months to prepare. The dish consists of seal skin stuffed with 500 auks, which is a type of sea bird. When the holiday season arrives, the fermented bird is then served straight from the seal. The long preparation time certainly makes noche buena preparations seem so short.

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In Oaxaca, Mexico, they celebrate an annual Christmas custom called “The Night of the Radishes.” Every December 23rd, citizens carve various Nativity scenes into large radishes. These radishes are then displayed at the Christmas market and judged in a competition. This custom is taken quite seriously given that Oaxaca has even set aside certain land for the cultivation of special vegetables for it.

In Italy, their legends have their own version of Santa Claus. They tell that a benevolent witch by the name of “La Befana” flies around on Epiphany Eve and bestows gifts to good children while giving lumps of coal to misbehaving ones.

In Brazil, children receive gifts on Three Kings Day and Christmas Eve. With no use for chimneys in the tropical climate, they believe Papai Noel enters through their front doors and travels by flying a helicopter rather than a sleigh.

All around the world, the Christmas season is commemorated through different traditions. Some are unique and quirky while some are homey and familiar. But no matter where Christmas is celebrated, it marks the time for everyone to spend time with friends and family, and to simply be thankful for the year.

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