Like the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of the year and easily the most mystical holiday celebrated around the world. It’s a winter wonderland straight out of a fairy tale, which is probably why it’s adored by so many people near and far. Whether it’s the giving spirit, the vibrant decorations or the abundance of hope it brings (translation: presents) – Christmas has it all, including some of the best and most diverse cultural traditions.
So let’s break down the best Christmas traditions (some you may know, others probably not) that are celebrated around our little earthly snow globe.
Germany – Christmas tree
The origins of decorating with greenery has held a special meaning for civilizations over the ages. The Vikings and Romans both had different yet similar decorative uses for evergreens, as they symbolized life and the eventual return of a fruitful summer. But the Christmas tree tradition as we know it today stems from Germany around the 16th century when Christians would bring decorated trees into their homes. It’s an origin best documented by Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who wrote about trying to recreate the picturesque scene of stars shining in the evergreen needles outside his home. The odd tradition was first displayed in America in the 1830s by German settlers of Pennsylvania – and the rest is history.
Ukraine – spider webs
Spider webs aren’t typically synonymous with Christmas tree décor. Tinsel, sure. But spider webs? No. Yet in the Ukraine, it’s tradition to hang web-shaped decorations from the tree in honor of the Ukraine legend of the poor widow who didn’t have enough money to decorate her tree so she used cobwebs; however, when she awoke on Christmas Day the webs had turned into shimmering strands of gold and silver.
Great Britain – mistletoe
This kiss first and blush later tradition of mistletoe was first hung in Great Britain in the 1800s. However, the origin of mistletoe as a sign of love and friendship dates way back to Norse mythology. Being British and all, maybe “I saw mummy kissing Santa Claus” would have been a more appropriate song title.
Holland – The legend of Sinterklass
We all know Santa Claus, but have you heard of Sinterklaas? He’s essentially the Santa doppelganger of Holland. On December 5th (not Christmas Eve or Day), children receive presents from Sinterklaas (not Santa Claus), and if they leave him carrots (not cookies) for his horse (not reindeer), he’ll leave them sweets. It couldn’t be more similar and incredibly different than our American tradition, all at the same time.
Japan – a very tooth fairy Christmas
For children in Japan, Christmas presents are stacked under the tree. Instead, they’re tucked under or on their pillows during Christmas night, like money from the tooth fairy. Good news is, they don’t have to give any teeth in return. Bonus custom: Traditional Christmas meal in Japan is fried chicken. Who would have thought?
Norway – Witches and gnomes
This may be the best Christmas tradition of them all – or at least the most creative. Norwegians hide all the brooms in their houses on Christmas Eve to prevent witches from stealing them for a midnight ride. And if it couldn’t get any better/weirder – just wait. It’s also customary for them to leave a bowl of porridge in the barn for the gnome who protects the farm. Yep, you read all of that correctly.
America – Elf on the shelf
Elf on the shelf is a new tradition based on a book written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell explaining how Santa sends his elves to keep a watchful eye on children so he knows who has been naughty or nice. The young tradition has led to families buying little elf dolls to place inconspicuously throughout the house giving kids the illusion that he is popping up in different locations, reporting his findings back to Santa. Elf espionage.
Germany – the candy boot
On December 5th, it’s tradition for children across Germany to place a single boot outside their doorstep, which when they awaken will be magically filled with their favorite chocolates and sweets. It’s important to make sure the wrappers are still on the candy, if you smell my drift …
Russia – the ol’ Babouschka
This Russian tradition references the biblical story of what happened to the sweet little old grandma (babouschka in Russian) when she didn’t give a gift to baby Jesus. Overcome with guilt and looking to repent, she vowed to give gifts to all the little children come Christmas time.
Ireland – beer and cookies
Leave it up to the Irish to want to get Santa drunk. As Irish tradition goes, families leave out mince pies and Guinness stout as a snack for Santa. Maybe cookies and milk just wasn’t hearty enough for the big red guy. Just don’t drink and sleigh, Santa!