Lots of countries celebrate Christmas, but not all of them mark the holiday in the same ways we do. Here are some of the more unusual Christmas customs.
In England, children write their letters to Father Christmas and then throw them into the fireplace, hoping they will float up the chimney and fly to the North Pole. If the lists catch fire first, they have to rewrite them. It is no surprise that English children lead the world in writer’s cramp.
At Christmas dinner, a plum pudding is served with little treasures hidden inside. These bring their finders good luck, and their finders’ dentists vacation homes in Spain. England also originated the custom of hanging mistletoe, as well as the tradition of stealing a kiss underneath it. Given the state of English dentition, this is the only way many English men would ever get a kiss without paying for it.
In Ireland, it is tradition to leave mince pies and bottles of Guinness as a snack for Santa, which helps explain both Santa’s girth and his red nose. In Northern Ireland, a traditional surprise for Santa is a pipe bomb disguised as a cheese log.
In Spain, Papa Noel delivers presents by climbing up balconies – or at least that’s what he tells husbands who come home unexpectedly. On Jan. 6, the three wise men come and leave gifts for the children. By waiting for the post-Christmas sales they save a bundle, proving that they are not only wise men, but also smart shoppers.
In the Ukraine, Father Frost visits all the children in a sleigh pulled only by three very tired reindeer. He brings with him a youngster named Snowflake Girl, who wears a fur-trimmed costume and a crown shaped like a snowflake. This speaks volumes about Ukrainian child-labor laws.
In Italy, on the evening of the day after Christmas, children are visited by a good witch named Strega Buffana, who flies around on a broom leaving treats for good children and
coal for naughty children. It is tradition to give a bag of dried lentils to friends to make soup. This bean soup reminds recipients of their humble beginnings, and also helps propel the witch on her journey.
In Austria, on Dec. 6, Heiliger Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) rewards good children with sweets, nuts and apples. Bad children get a bag of dried lentils.
In Lebanon, families plant seeds of grain in small pots a month before Christmas. When Christmas arrives they have little pots of green to place around the traditional Christmas cave. The Christmas cave houses the Batmobile and … no, wait – that’s another cave. The Christmas cave actually houses a nativity scene.
In Australia, Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight white kangaroos. Since it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas dinner is eaten outdoors and is often followed by a visit to the beach and many, many cans of Foster’s lager. Projectile vomiting traditionally takes the place of caroling.