Japan's KFC Christmas and 9 other unusual Yuletide traditions around the world

Every year, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families indulge in KFC for Christmas.
Every year, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families indulge in KFC for Christmas.SCREENSHOT: KFC.CO.JP

Not all Christmases are celebrated equal - while giving gifts, carolling, and going to church may be customary for some revellers, many others around the world celebrate the birth of Christ in different ways.

From Japan, where families tuck into Kentucky Fried Chicken, to Ukraine, where Christmas trees are decorated with cobwebs, different countries lend their own interpretations to the celebrations.

Here are some Christmas traditions that may seem unusual to the unaccustomed.

1. Japan's finger lickin' good Christmas

Every year, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families indulge in KFC for Christmas.

Japanese KFC restaurants run brisk businesses in December, with some outlets reaping up to 10 times their usual sales during the Christmas season,  according to a BBC report on Monday (Dec 19).

How did it all come about? It began with the manager of Japan's first KFC, Mr Takeshi Okawara.

KFC Japan spokesman Motoichi Nakatani told the BBC that Mr Okawara got the idea of a "party barrel" to be sold on Christmas during a dream he had in 1970, shortly after the outlet opened.

The marketing campaign took off and KFC has become ingrained as part of Japanese Christmas celebrations.

2. Norwegians hide their brooms

In Norway, leaving your broom in plain sight is a no-no, as Norwegians reportedly believe that witches, trolls and other evil spirits are unleashed on Christmas Eve, which coincides with "Jul", or "Yule", where the term "Yuletide" comes from.

To keep the bad spirits from riding the brooms, households are said to keep their broomsticks before going to bed.

Instead of leaving cookies out for Santa, it is Norwegian custom to leave a bowl of thanksgiving rice porridge with butter for the Jul spirit.

3. Giving away apples in China


Customers pick the apples painted with pictures in Shandong, China. SCREENSHOT: USA.CHINADAILY.COM

In China, young people give away apples at Christmas, a trend that became popular only in recent years.

This is because apples, ping guo in Mandarin, sound like ping an ye, or Silent Night.

The Christmas apples are often wrapped in coloured paper, placed in boxes or have Christmas messages written on them, and can be more than twice as expensive as regular apples, according to the Los Angeles Times.

4. India's banana and mango Christmas trees

India celebrates many religious festivals, and Christmas is just one of them, but they do it with a fruity twist.

Instead of putting up traditional Christmas trees, it is common for families to decorate banana or mango trees.

Christians in southern India also put oil lamps on the roofs of their homes to symbolise that Jesus is the light of the world.

5. Spiders and stars in Ukraine on Jan 7


An illuminated Christmas tree with accompanying spider web seen in Kiev, Ukraine, on Dec 21, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

In Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on Jan 7, along with other Orthodox Christians around the world. It is customary to fast and drink only holy water during the day on Christmas Eve.

People look for the first star in the sky, reminiscent of the three wise men in the Bible who followed a star to locate Jesus Christ, and can eat their Christmas meal only when they spot it.

Christmas trees are also often decorated with spider webs, inspired by a folk tale about a Christmas spider that spins webs to help decorate a poor family's tree.

6. Smashing pinatas in Mexico

In Mexico, breaking open pinatas - on top of presents - is a Christmas custom, as part of Las Posadas, a period of nine days of religious observance from Dec 16 to 24.

The traditional star pinata has seven spokes representing the seven deadly sins: Pride, envy, wrath, lust, greed, gluttony and sloth.

Pinatas are filled with candy and fruits such as guavas and oranges.

7. Go "mummering" in Canada

Canada's Newfoundland province seems to shed its "Mr Nice Guy" persona when it comes to Christmas.

It is a recently renewed custom for mummers, or people dressed in masks, to go from house to house.

The costumed mummers then say in disguised voices: "Are there any mummers in the night?" or variations of this question in a tradition that resembles Halloween trick-or-treating.

They then sing, dance and have some treats like Christmas cake before moving on.

In some places, if the host is not able to guess who the mummers are behind their masks, they must join the mummers in their revelry.

8. Whale skin, seal skin and men serving women in Greenland

Christmas in Greenland is quite unlike Christmas anywhere else.

It is a Christmas tradition for men to look after the women on Christmas night, serving them meals and drinks.

Delicacies served up for the occasion include "mattak", whale skin with blubber inside; "kiviak", raw arctic birds buried whole in seal skin; and barbecued caribou.

The natives put a large tree on a visible hill. Christmas trees are imported and decorated with the usual ornaments plus seal-skin breeches.

9. Chilly dip in Britain


Swimmers competing in the Peter Pan Cup at Hyde Park in London. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

In parts of Britain, including London and Brighton, some people have taken to marking Christmas by swimming in ice-cold sea.

With roots tracing back to 1885, when a few swimmers ventured into the chilly English channel, having an icy Christmas Day swim has become a custom.

Brighton called it off for health risks in 2014, but London has picked it up. There is even an event around it in Hyde Park called the Peter Pan Cup.

According to online magazine TimeOut, the race takes place each year on Christmas morning, but only those who have been vetted can take part as swimming in extremely cold water can be hazardous for health.

10. 'Strong water' from a Serbian female

Christmas in Serbia is celebrated on Jan 7, in accordance with the Orthodox Church.

On Christmas morning, it is a custom for a girl or woman to draw water with a bucket from a well, spring or other water source.

This water is called "strong water" and is believed to have special powers.

Members of the family drink it and use it to wash up in the belief that it will give them good health.

SOURCES: BBC, thekitchn.com, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Telegraph, WhyChristmas.com