Let’s take a festive look at some unusual Christmas Eve traditions around the world.
On December 24th Santa loads up his sleigh with presents for boys and girls around the world. Powered by his magical reindeer he manages to hand out all those presents and be back at his home at the North Pole in time for a well-earned Christmas dinner. If you don’t believe us, you can track his journey on the NORAD website.
What you might not know is that while Santa is making his global gift giving trip, he also likes to check out some interesting Christmas traditions around the world.
Let’s hide in the back of his sleigh and see some of Santa’s favorite stops!
One of the first places in the world where children open their Christmas Day presents is Australia. As he flies over Sydney at the height of summer, he may feel a bit over-dressed in his big red suit. Especially when he can see some surfers on Bondi Beach wearing Santa hats, or as he calls them – hats.
Christmas Falls In The Middle Of Summer In Australia, So it is not unusual for some parts of the country to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas Day. Christmas dinner is served outside since the weather is so nice, and block parties are a staple of the season. Families often pile into cars for road trips, go on hikes, or play Christmas games outdoors. Some of these games include a “decorate a Christmas hat parade” in which children decorate their Santa hats and parade them in front of family and friends. Another game includes “Christmas Tree Jenga” where families set up a game of Jenga in the shape of a Christmas tree. Some families even use paper cups instead of wooden blocks.
Santa now travels north through south-east Asia and surprisingly to Japan. Christmas isn’t a public holiday in Japan, but on Christmas Eve, as he flies high above the cities of Japan, he will see an image of an old man with a white beard everywhere – but it’s not Santa – it’s Colonel Saunders above KFC restaurants. These restaurants are packed with Japanese families buying a large bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to put on the table during the Christmas holidays.
One theory behind Japan’s custom of eating KFC on Christmas is that it was a foreigner’s food of choice for the holiday since turkey wasn’t available. This inspired the company to market it as a Christmas food, and a 1974 holiday marketing campaign called “Kentucky Christmas” launched a practice that is now celebrated by millions of Japanese people.
Pre-orders for meals like the “Party Barrel” or “Christmas Pack” begin around seven weeks in advance. The restaurant chain also sees its highest sales of the year between Dec. 23 and 25. The busiest day of the year is Dec. 24 — which is about five to 10 times busier than the annual average.
As he pulls the reins to fly west, Santa chuckles at his nickname in Japan – “Father Chimney”.
Santa’s route takes him to China. Like Japan, this isn’t a traditional stop for Santa, but Christmas is a public holiday in Hong Kong and Macau, and a holiday that is increasingly being celebrated in some of the larger cities and along the coast.
In Mandarin, the word Apple sounds like the word “Peace” in Mandarin and it has become a custom to exchange red apples called “peace apples” on Christmas Eve.
The holiday is seen by young people in China as similar to Valentine’s Day, when friends and loved ones can go out to dinner or exchange romantic gifts.
And a nice apple is a healthy dessert for Santa after all that fried chicken.
Santa heads west, arriving in Slovakia a few hours later. One custom he has is to count how many carp are in Slovak bathtubs! Central Europeans love having the freshwater fish as their Christmas Eve dinner. Most traditionalists allow the fish to live in the bathtub for a few days before cooking and eating it. There is a legend that the fish’s scales bring good fortune and luck for the new year.
Next Santa travels through Germany. This is always one of his favorite stops as it is home to the one of the most iconic images of Christmas – the Christmas Tree.
Although Decorating Evergreen Trees Has Been Part Of The Winter Solstice Tradition In Germany since pagan times, The First “Christmas Trees” To Be Decorated For The Holiday Appeared In Strasbourg, On The French-German Border, At The Start Of The 17th Century. After 1750 They Showed Up In Other Parts Of The Country, In The 1820s German Immigrants Decorated Christmas Trees In Pennsylvania, And In 1848 The Custom Spread To Nearly Every Home In America.
While Santa loves to see the beautifully decorated trees as he drop off his presents, these trees cause Santa some extra work in Germany as he has to hide a pickle in every tree!
This then becomes a game, and whichever child finds Santa’s hidden pickle gets an extra gift.
These days, it might not be a real pickle hidden in the tree, but a pickle-shaped decoration. Some say this is because the pickle will rot, hanging on a tree in a warm house. Santa laughs to himself at this idea – the truth is, that he gets a peckish about this time of night and often finishes off a few jars of pickles, so he has to use his back-up fake pickles when he gets to some houses!
There are numerous stories describing the origin of the Christmas pickle. Santa says it originated from the story of two boys being rescued from imprisonment in a pickle barrel by St. Nicholas.
After leaving Germany, Santa stashes the pickles at the back of the sleigh. He isn’t done with them yet, as when Germans emigrated to America, they also took this tradition with them, so he will have to hide plenty more pickles when he gets across the Atlantic.
A little while later, as Santa flies over Poland, he notices everyone enjoying their Christmas Eve dinner. He also notices that one chair is left empty at dinner. In Poland, one seat is left empty intentionally at the Christmas Eve dinner for someone who is alone for Christmas or is less fortunate and they are invited in.
Another belief is that the seat is left empty so Jesus, the Holy Spirit or spirits of family members who have departed can join in on the festivities. In a custom common to other nearby countries, the Christmas Eve dinner traditionally has twelve dishes, one for each of the Apostles.
Santa now swings up north to Scandinavia and Sweden to check on a straw goat.
The creation of the Gavle Goat is a famous Swedish Christmas tradition. But perhaps just as well known is how people attempt to burn the gigantic straw goat down and have succeeded 28 times.
Every year since 1966, the town of Gavle creates a massive straw statue of a Yule goat, which is a common theme for Christmas in Sweden.
Last year Santa never got to see the goat as it was torched just over a week before Christmas – the first successful attack since 2016.
Burning the statue down is illegal and carries a sentence of three months. This year, a man in his 40s was arrested, but Swedish reports said he denied arson.
If the goat statue survives, it is typically taken down sometime after Jan. 1.
If Santa doesn’t want to wait to check on the goat until Christmas Eve, he can take a look at any time here.
If he has time (spoiler alert: Santa always has time), Santa also likes to join almost half of Sweden’s population, and watch the 1958 Disney special “From All of Us to All of You,” featuring Donald Duck. The show has aired there every year since 1959.
Even though he was close to home in Scandinavia, Santa’s route now takes him down over Africa and closer to South Pole. He ends his African safari in South Africa where the smell of grilled food is everywhere as a Christmas tradition is for families to come together for a BBQ cookout known as “braaing.”
If you don’t fancy a big steak, you are in luck, as there is another option for grub… As part of the holiday feast, many South Africans eat fried Emperor Moth caterpillars as a part of their holiday feast – yum! A great source of protein the insects are harvested right around Christmas time and are preserved, to be consumed throughout the year.
Santa crosses the Atlantic and works his way up through South America. He likes to pause for a moment in Venezuela’s capitol Caracas to watch a unique form of transport – as if a magical sleigh with flying reindeer wasn’t unusual enough!
While going to mass on Christmas morning is a common tradition in many countries, the inhabitants of Caracas make it unique by the way they get to mass. Many streets in the city are closed to traffic on this particular morning, because most churchgoers get there on their roller skates!
Legend goes that kids in Caracas go to sleep with a lace tied around their big toe and the other end out of the window so that when people come skating by they don’t forget to gently wake the sleeping kids by tugging on the shoelace.
As he reaches the last leg of his journey he passes through the town of Oaxaca in Mexico. Christmas eve in this town is celebrated as Noche de los Rabanos, which means Night of the Radish. During this night hundreds of people try to make the most impressive and beautiful displays cut out of a giant radish. This weird way to celebrate probably originates from smart local farmers who wanted to make sure their radishes sold.
Not wanting to come home empty handed, Santa often reaches out and grabs a Poinsettia for Mrs Claus. A universal symbol of the holiday season, these plants with deep red leaves were originally brought from Mexico to the U.S. in 1828 by Joel R. Poinsett.
Finally Santa heads for home. On his journey he has eaten fried chicken, apples, pickles and maybe a few caterpillars, not to mention the countless cookies and glasses of milk left out by children worldwide. That said, he returns to the North Pole with an empty belly, so he always looks forward to a slap up Christmas dinner and putting his feet up afterwards with a box of chocolates.
Just go easy Santa, you only have 364 days to work off those calories, so you can fit down the chimneys next year!