It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, you have heard those words. For those who celebrate Christmas here in the USA, traditions vary, but for the most part involve the birth of Jesus, trees, lights, carols, families, presents, etc. Like those who celebrate Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa; Christmas traditions trace way back through time. The rituals and customs known to us in the US that celebrate these religious and cultural holidays help our piece of the world to take on a magical glow. People seem merrier and even winter somehow feels more cozy during this time. During this time of year, Christmas holiday traditions around the world are loud, proud, and guarantee oodles of festive fun.
The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) is held each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the city of San Fernando – the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” The festival attracts spectators from all over the country and across the globe. Eleven barangays (villages) take part in the festival and competition is fierce as everyone pitches in trying to build the most elaborate lantern. Originally, the lanterns were simple creations around half a meter in diameter, made from ‘papel de hapon’ (Japanese origami paper) and lit by candle. Today, the lanterns are made from a variety of materials and have grown to around six meters in size. They are illuminated by electric bulbs that sparkle in a kaleidoscope of patterns.
Since 1966, a 13-meter-tall Yule Goat has been built in the center of Gävle’s Castle Square for the Advent, but this Swedish Christmas tradition has unwittingly led to another “tradition” of sorts – people trying to burn it down. Since 1966 the Goat has been successfully burned down 29 times – the most recent destruction was in 2016.
The Yule Goat goes up on December 1st every year, this year it is still standing, for now!. This one time when being the GOAT may not be good! Check out the GOAT here.
Krampus, Austria…A beast-like demon creature that roams city streets frightening kids and punishing the bad ones – nope, this isn’t Halloween, but St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, Krampus. In Austrian tradition, St. Nicholas rewards nice little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack. In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus (especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day) frightening children with clattering chains and bells.
KFC Dinner, Japan…Christmas has never been a big deal in Japan. Aside from a few small, secular traditions such as gift-giving and light displays, Christmas remains largely a novelty in the country. However, a new, quirky “tradition” has emerged in recent years – a Christmas Day feast of the Colonel’s very own Kentucky Fried Chicken. The festive menu will soon be advertised on the KFC Japan website and, even if you don’t understand Japanese, the pictures sure will look delicious with everything from a Christmas-themed standard bucket to a premium roast-bird feast.
In the 13 days leading up to Christmas, 13 tricksy troll-like characters come out to play in Iceland. The Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar in Icelandic) visit the children across the country over the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. For each night of Yuletide, children place their best shoes by the window and a different Yule Lad visits leaving gifts for nice girls and boys and rotting potatoes for the naughty ones. Clad in traditional Icelandic costume, these fellas are pretty mischievous, and their names hint at the type of trouble they like to cause: Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), Stúfur (Stubby), Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker), Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper), Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker), Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer), Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler), Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper), Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper), Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer), Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook) and Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer). Interesting names, most sound like they would be arrested here in the States.
Saint Nikolaus Day, Germany…Not to be confused with Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas), Nikolaus travels by donkey in the middle of the night on December 6 (Nikolaus Tag) and leaves little treats like coins, chocolate, oranges and toys in the shoes of good children all over Germany, and particularly in the Bavarian region. St. Nicholas also visits children in schools or at home and in exchange for sweets or a small present each child must recite a poem, sing a song or draw a picture. In short, he’s a great guy. But it isn’t always fun and games. St. Nick often brings along Knecht Ruprecht (Farmhand Rupert). A devil-like character dressed in dark clothes covered with bells and a dirty beard, Knecht Ruprecht carries a stick or a small whip in hand to punish any children who misbehave. It has been said, our Santa Claus evolved from this St. Nikolaus.
Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto…In wintry, wonderful Toronto the annual Cavalcade of Lights marks the official start to the holiday season. The first Cavalcade took place in 1967 to show off Toronto’s newly constructed City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. The Square and Christmas tree are illuminated by more than 300,000 energy-efficient LED lights that shine from dusk until 11 pm until the New Year. On top of that, you’ll get to witness spectacular fireworks shows and engage in some outdoor ice skating.
So, there you have it, some scary, hairy, tasty sweet, loud and proud traditions that parallel our own Winter celebrations. We at Shark Coast Tactical wish you all the best the holidays have to offer. However you celebrate, do it safely and don’t put any children in your bag and drag them off. Pretty sure that would get you on the FBI most wanted list.