Around the world, people celebrate Christmas much differently, and maybe avoid the holiday blues in doing so. Ellie Sivins looks at the many Christmas traditions around the world in an attempt to save you from the Christmas blues.
Taking a break from the norm of our annual Christmas can be a refreshing reminder that traditions don’t have to be as rigid as they may appear. Check out the list below for ways to celebrate from around the world that encourage a calm Christmas instead of a hectic one.
The country of ice and fire has a lot of Christmas traditions, from the Yule Lads to the Christmas Cat who supposedly eats anyone who doesn’t receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas. Another long standing tradition is the Jólabókaflóð meaning, ‘Christmas book flood’. Iceland is a nation of book lovers, and, since WWII where paper was one of the only things not rationed, books became the gift to give loved ones at Christmas. Since then, Icelanders often spend Christmas Eve reading a new book and drinking hot chocolate. No one would blame you if you wanted to spend the evening reading instead of going to your tenth party of the month.
Even though many Japanese people do not celebrate Christmas, there are Christmas markets and lights all over the country during December. The celebrations are not too removed from what we do here in the UK, however, when it comes to Christmas dinner, things are a lot different. Instead of a turkey, millions of Japanese people share in the tradition of having KFC for their Christmas dinner. It may sound bizarre to most of us, but they’re definitely on to something – a takeaway sounds a lot better than slaving away in the kitchen for hours on end.
The motherland of the Christmas market is the best place to be this time of year. Historical market squares are filled with stalls and beautifully decorated trees, and if you’re lucky you might even catch some snow. One tradition that is fairly common in Germany, and other places in central Europe is the day gifts are exchanged. In Germany, rather than staying up late on Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa, St Nickolas delivers the gifts on the 6th of December. Then, on Christmas Eve, families gather around the tree to exchange their presents, leaving Christmas Day free for family and too much food instead of cleaning up endless streams of wrapping paper.
The home of Santa Claus is never short on Christmas cheer. The snow covered country embraces every facet of Christmas, including using the season as a time to relax. On Christmas Eve it has become a tradition to go to the sauna, this is known as Joulusauna or Christmas Sauna. The event has become so widespread that the saunas are thoroughly cleaned in anticipation of the celebration, with candles and oils added to enhance the Christmas atmosphere. Many of the saunas also have a sauna elf or Saunatonttu who protects the sauna and becomes upset if people do not abide by the rules. We could all do with relaxing a bit more over the holidays, so why not take some time to yourself this Christmas Eve and head to the sauna.
There isn’t much of a chance of a white Christmas in Venezuela, so, as an alternative to sledding, citizens began roller skating on Christmas Eve, their preferred mode of transport to get to Christmas Eve mass. The tradition has become so popular that roads are closed around the country to give the skaters a safe route to church. While skaters roll through the street it is said that they pull on strings wrapped around the toes of children hanging from windows, to wake them in time for mass. Although we don’t have it as warm on Christmas day here in the UK, it’s good to take a tip out of Venezuela’s book and not take the holiday, or ourselves too seriously around Christmas.
In 1908, a strange, freezing tradition began in Barcelona. People clad in swimming costumes, and some in Santa attire headed down to the Old Port of Barcelona for the 200m race. Since then it has taken place every Christmas Day except for during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 39). Each year the event draws in 450 swimmers, all ready to dive into the water at noon, the water regularly only about 13 degrees Celsius above freezing. But those in Barcelona aren’t the only ones diving into the water. In Berlin, swimmers are known to cut chunks of ice out of the water for their Christmas dip and throughout Scotland many Santa-hatted people race into the north sea for charity on Christmas. The cold water is one way to wake you up, and a great new, if slightly peculiar tradition to add to the list.