It’s the most wonderful time of the year — the Holidays! For a couple of weeks every year the world takes on a cozy glow as people celebrate a number of different holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza. Let’s take a look at some the holiday traditions around the world.
The city of San Fernando is often nicknamed the Christmas capital of the Philippines. Every Saturday before Christmas, The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) is held. This festival attracts visitors from all over the world. Eleven surrounding villages (or “barangays” in Tagalog) compete fiercely to construct the most intricate and eye-catching lanterns. Originally the lanterns were about three feet in diameter, made of paper and lit by candles. In modern times, they can be made from a variety of materials and can be as tall as six feet! They are now illuminated by electric bulbs rather than candles and radiate in a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors.
Halfway across the globe in the Swedish city of Gävle, a forty-foot straw goat (Swedish: “Gävlebocken”) has graced the central square during the countdown to Christmas, known as Advent. This interesting tradition has unfortunately given way to a more sinister one in which people try to burn down the goat. It has been burnt down no less than 29 times since this tradition began in 1966! The goat even has its own website where you can follow its progress every year through live streaming: http://www.visitgavle.se/en/gavlebocken. So far this year it’s still standing!
Krampus, which is celebrated in Austria, Southern Germany, parts of Eastern Europe and Northern Italy may be one of the scariest Christmas traditions. Krampus are demonic creatures that roam around during the weeks before Christmas frightening kids and punishing the naughty ones! Krampus is actually St Nicholas’ (aka Santa Klaus) accomplice in these stories. While St Nicholas rewards the good kids with gifts, Krampus’ job is to allegedly kidnap the naughty kids and whisk them away in a sack! Nowadays this doesn’t really happen, but nevertheless young men dressed as Krampus roam the streets scaring kids with bells and chains.
Christmas is not typically a big celebration in Japan and is considered more of a novelty. However, there is one very unusual Christmas event to which some Japanese families really look forward. Every year a festive menu is advertised on Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Japanese website: https://www.kfc.co.jp/top.html. The menu features items such as a premium roast chicken feast and Christmas-themed buckets!
In far off Iceland troll-like figures appear on the streets in the days leading up to Christmas. These are “Jólasveinarnir” (translation: Christmas lads). These lads visit Icelandic kids all over the country and for each of the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas morning leave gifts for the good ones and rotten potatoes for the bad ones.
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem and can occur any time between late November and late December. Since 1979, a giant nine-meter Menorah (a candelabrum with eight branches and a central socket) has been put up in the grounds of the White House in Washington, DC in the US to commemorate the eight days and nights of Hanukkah. The first candle on this menorah is always lit at exactly 4pm, regardless of the weather. A new candle is lit each successive night.
Finally, we travel to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, where a very quirky Christmas tradition takes place. On Christmas Eve, city residents head to church…on roller skates dressed as Santa Claus! This whacky tradition is so popular that streets across the city are closed to traffic so people can skate to church safely before returning home for the traditional Christmas dinner of “tamales” (wraps made out of cornmeal dough and stuffed with steamed meat).