A Trip to the Sauna
In Finland, it’s customary to head to the sauna with the family on Christmas Eve. These hot spots are a major part of the country’s cultural identity, important for physical and spiritual cleansing as well as group bonding. There are more than 2 million saunas in Finland, according to some estimates—more than enough to accommodate the country's population of 5.5 million!
Crispy Christmas Chicken
Thanks to a clever promotional plan, families in Japan gather around the table on Christmas to enjoy a meal from fast food giant KFC. Christmas isn't a national holiday in this country, where only 1 percent of the population is Christian, so marketing teams cooked up the idea to fill a void for foreigners who longed for Western-style comfort food at this time of year. Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, or Kentucky for Christmas, has become a Japanese phenomenon. It's so popular that families need to order weeks ahead to reserve their bucket of chicken!
The traditional nativity scene in Catalonia includes one character who definitely wasn’t present at the birth of Jesus—Caganer, which crassly translates to “the defecator.” The small, crouching figurine is hidden somewhere in the nativity, but never in the front. While the origins of this unlikely guest are still unclear, his popularity has spawned many celebrity spin-offs that are sold at Christmas markets.
Popping Out Presents
Catalonia strikes again with bathroom humor. Starting on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, families bring out their Tió de Nadal, or Christmas Log. The log has a smiling face, little wooden legs, and a tiny red hat. Every day, the children must take care of the log by feeding it raisins and nuts and wrapping it in a blanket to make sure it stays warm. Then, on Christmas morning, the family places the log partially in the fireplace and takes turns bashing it until it defecates Christmas goodies of candy, nuts, and small toys.
Related: 25 Handy Stocking Stuffers Under $25
Naughty or Nice?
While Santa is always watching to find out who's been naughty or nice, kids in Austria have much more to worry about than getting a lump of coal. On December 5, the night before St. Nicholas brings his presents, the evil character Krampus appears. Children are warned to be good, or else the devil-like Krampus will come for them. Many villages in Austria hold well-loved festivals and parades in which this creepy character tries to give the kids—and some adults—a fright.
Ever wonder why we hang tinsel on trees? According to Ukrainian folklore, it started when a poor family couldn’t afford decorations for their evergreen. When they woke up on Christmas morning, though, a spider had covered the tree in cobwebs, which sparkled silver and gold in the sunlight. In honor of this tale, many Ukrainians hang a spider and cobweb ornament on their tree.
A Hidden Surprise
For some families in the United States, there’s a very important ornament that always gets saved for last: a pickle! Tradition says that the first person to find the carefully hidden ornament on Christmas Day gets to open the first gift and will have good luck for the rest of the year. While there’s confusion about how and where this tradition started (legend says it hails either from Germany or Civil War-era America, or it may have just been a sales scheme to sell ornaments), the custom has lasted for centuries.
How about this for a way to burn off holiday calories! The citizens of Caracas, Venezuela, lace up their roller skates on Christmas Eve and head to church early in the morning. Roads are closed to make way for the scores of people who choose this method of transportation.
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