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Australia – Surfing Santa
Santa’s sleigh is a Christmas necessity. Except in countries where it really isn’t going to snow at Christmas. Australia has its own cool way to ride, and Santa absolutely has to arrive at the beach. So he’ll need to dress the part.
Austria – Krampus
In alpine regions of Austria, Santa Claus has a decidedly chilling companion. Krampus is a demonic figure with horns, a long, pointed tongue and the cloven hooves of a goat. He strides through towns on St Nicholas’s Eve, and while the saint doles out presents to good children, Krampus beats the bad ones with a birch staff, or carts them off to hell in a sack. At least with his hooves, chains, bell and staff you’re going to hear him coming.
The Gambia – The Fanal Parade
Going to Midnight Mass in The Gambia demands more than dressing up. At one time, people used to wear their finest clothes, and carry illuminated models of their townhouses to show their wealth. Over the years the models changed to boats and ships, known as Fanals. Today, Fanals can be seriously huge, but what they need most is to shine…
Iceland – The Yule Cat
In Iceland, a giant, terrifying cat is said to prowl the dark winter landscape, and devour any unlucky soul who hasn’t received new clothes for Christmas. While it may be a passive-aggressive way of getting wool workers to spin faster, or a canny marketing tool by the Icelandic sweater industry, it’s probably best not to take any chances.
Japan – Kentucky for Christmas
In 1970, the manager of the first KFC in Japan had a brainwave. Christmas was becoming a popular family occasion, so why not offer a ready-made way to celebrate? And so the Kentucky for Christmas party barrel was born, with chicken and a bottle of wine. You can’t lick that.
Mexico – Night of the Radishes
In the Mexican city of Oaxaca, giant radishes have been the star attraction at a Christmas market for two and a half centuries. Carving multiple radishes into figures from the Nativity, characters from folklore or even the faces of minor celebrities is now a competitive pastime, with prizes awarded for the best. People queue for hours to see the entries, but could you reassemble a radish Madonna if she’d got knocked over in the crush?
The Netherlands – Pakjesavond
In the Netherlands and some other European countries, Yuletide starts a little earlier, when Sinterklass arrives in mid-November. The big celebration for children is “gifts evening” on 5 December, the eve of his saint’s day , when they leave their shoes out hoping that their version of St Nick will visit and leave a gift in them. A chocolate letter in the shape of their initial is a popular find the next morning. What could you and your friends spell?
Norway – A Clean Sweep
Watch out for witches if you’re in Norway at Yuletide. On Christmas Eve they’re supposed to ride out causing mischief. As everyone knows, witches ride broomsticks, so the wise Norwegian cleans the house for the festivities, then makes sure that all the brooms, brushes and other long-handled cleaning tools are safely shut away from the grasp of long, bony fingers…
Spain – The Caganer
In Catalonia, you’ll find a strange figure in the the Nativity scene – a man taking a poop. No one’s quite sure why he’s there – maybe he’s fertilising the earth – but for a proper Catalan Christmas he’s a must!
Sweden – The Gävle Goat
Every December in the Swedish town of Gävle there’s an anxious wait to see if the giant Yule goat made of straw will survive to Christmas Day. Some people seem to want to set fire to it. The townspeople could do with a fire extinguisher…
USA – The Yule Log
In New York City in 1966, a four-hour loop of a Yule log burning in a grate at the Mayor’s official residence, Gracie Mansion, became an unexpected hit. Accompanied by festive music, it struck the perfect note for homes that lacked traditional fireside cheer. It ran for 23 years, though the original 17-second loop was re-shot in 1970. Cancelled in 1990 and revived in 2001, it’s spawned lots of imitators, but can you tune in to a classic?