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Some Christmas traditions around the world are often well known and practiced in the United States, from the beautiful La Posada processions of Mexico to the creepy folklore of Krampus in central Europe. But if you’re looking for some interesting and fun new ways to celebrate the season and learn more about other cultures, here are three unique holiday traditions from around the globe.
The Christmas Book Flood (Iceland)
If you’re a book lover during the holidays, Iceland is the place to be. Publishers in Iceland release hundreds of new titles this time of year to prepare for Jólabókaflóð (aka the Christmas book flood).
On Christmas Eve, Icelanders give each other books to enjoy, so they can spend the night before Christmas settling in and reading. Book stores take full advantage of this tradition with several author signings, reading and other events.
This tradition arose during World War II when there were some strict limitations on imports to the country. The local book market was not affected, so books became gifts of choice, or rather necessity. In addition, Iceland’s smaller population made book publishing more difficult year round, so Christmas was the best time to market their product.
That’s not a problem anymore, but the book flood is still alive and well. This is a great tradition for families everywhere to adopt, as nothing helps calm the pre-Christmas morning excitement like having a new cozy book to tuck yourself into bed with on Christmas Eve.
Kentucky for Christmas (Japan)
The Christmas dinner of choice in Japan is Kentucky Fried Chicken. This is a fairly new tradition, and came about in the early 1970s when KFC first found its way to the country.
Takeshi Okawara, owner of the first KFC in Japan, heard some visitors from another country talk about missing their turkey dinner, but turkey wasn’t too easy to come by. Okawara shared with KFC corporate the idea of a Christmas party bucket as a sort of proxy turkey dinner. The idea was a hit, and by 1974 “Kentucky for Christmas” has been a popular Japanese tradition ever since.
Today, some KFC Christmas dinner options even include special dessert, sides, and even wine or champagne.
Here in the United States, we can even add a KFC Yule Log to the mix as Michael recently showed us.
A Good Luck Spider (Ukraine and Eastern Europe)
You might see a sparkly spider web on some people’s Christmas trees, and there is nothing goth or macabre about it.
The web is a tribute to a Christmas legend about a poor widow and her children who planted a pinecone outside their home in the summer. As they cared for it, it grew into a beautiful pine tree, but they could not afford to decorate it when Christmas Eve arrived. When they awoke the next morning, spiders had covered the tree with sparkly cobwebs that turned to gold and silver when the Christmas morning sun hit the tree. The family was no longer in poverty.
Because of this legend, it is considered good luck to find a spider or spider web in your Christmas tree in the Ukraine, and many families make web or spider shaped ornaments called pavuchky (little spiders) to hang on their tree for luck.
This Christmas, if you’re looking for a way to bring the world together in the coziness of your own home, hang a spider web, order some KFC, and tuck yourself in with a good book.
Header image: Lisa Tate