Christmas is a bit of a strange holiday. For Christians, it’s obviously a meaningful holiday celebrating Jesus’s birth — even if He wasn’t technically born in December. But it’s also celebrated around the world by many who don’t necessarily follow Jesus, and with mixtures of various traditions that come from a variety of backgrounds: some religious, some pagan, some civic.
For example, Christmas has been a big part of the American lifestyle, becoming a federal holiday in 1870. Many ideas about Christmas in the United States have to do with Western traditions and even the season associated with the holiday.
We gathered some fascinating traditions and practices from around the world to see how this holiday is celebrated globally.
1. Christmas at the beach
Have you ever seen the 1954 film White Christmas? When some people think about Christmas, they associate it with winter. But there are a lot of countries where Christmas happens in the peak summer season.
You might enjoy a Christmas barbeque in Australia and spend the day at the beach watching people in Santa hats surf. Other countries where Christmas is a summer holiday include Bolivia, South Africa, Argentina and Madagascar.
2. Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas?
If you’re in Japan during Christmas, you might be surprised to eat a holiday dinner of Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC. Colonel Sanders isn’t the white-bearded gentleman generally associated with the holiday—except in Japan.
Takeshi Okawara, an enterprising manager of Japan’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken, helped kickstart the tradition in the 70s. Another account shares that a KFC sales employee overheard an American expat lamenting his inability to get a turkey for the holidays. Because of a lack of many Christian traditions associated with the holiday in Japan, it was reasonably easy to establish a KFC tradition that makes up a third of the company’s annual profits in Japan.
3. Joseph and Mary’s long journey
In 1586, Augustinian friars wanted to celebrate extra masses and teach the Mexican people about Catholicism. This evolved into Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration symbolizing Mary’s pregnancy.
Las Posadas means “the inns” and commemorates Joseph and Mary’s long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. During the festival, children dress in robes—with Mary, Joseph and angels represented. There is a procession through town which stops at homes. The travelers ask for lodging and are offered refreshments and sing carols. At the end of the celebration, children break open piñatas that look like stars.
4. Celebrating Christmas for as long as possible
Over 80% of the Philippine population belongs to the Christian faith, so it’s no surprise that Christmas is a big deal in the Asian nation. The formal Christmas celebration kicks off on December 16 and ends on the first Sunday in January for the celebration of Epiphany.
They enjoy Western traditions like Christmas trees, cards and carols, but there are also unique Filipino traditions like the parol, a popular lantern decoration of a star made of cellophane or Japanese paper that represents the star followed by the wise men. And Noche Buena, a special Christmas Eve open house celebration where family, friends and neighbors drop by to share food and wish each other a Merry Christmas.
5. Christmas spiders?!
The Ukrainian legend goes like this: A poor widow lived in a small hut with her children. They couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree, but overnight, a spider covered it in cobwebs. When they opened the windows in the morning, the sunlight hit the cobwebs, and they were beautiful, bringing good luck to the family.
This story is why many Ukrainian families put bejeweled spiders on their Christmas tree to this day.
Jesus is the reason for the season
No matter how you celebrate Christmas, it’s centering to remember the true and most joyful reason for the season: celebrating the birth of the world’s Savior. If you’re interested in learning more about the life of Jesus, check out the JESUS film. You can watch the clip on the story of Jesus’ birth below.