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‘Tis the season! How is Christmas celebrated around the world (with burning goats, KFC and monster cats)

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(Telegraph UK) Ah, ’tis the season to start Christmas-themed articles with the phrase ”tis the season’. And who are we to buck the trend?

The saying, a contraction of ‘It is the season’, has been immortalised in the popular Christmas song ‘Deck the Halls’, which entreats us all to be jolly over the Yuletide season. Here in the UK, that means the usual schedule of dragging a fir tree (artificial or real) into our homes, decorating it in lights and colourful tinsel, and gorging ourselves on as much food and drink until we can no longer stand.

Some countries do things a little differently, however. From giant goats to evil Santa counterparts, witches and KFC, here’s a look at some of the ways other cultures make merry over Christmas.

Sweden

A traditional Christmas goat is unveiled in Gavle, Sweden CREDIT: PERNILLA WAHLMAN/AP

The Gävle Goat has been a Swedish Christmas tradition since 1966 – though it often doesn’t make it to Christmas Day.

Every year, the 43-foot-tall straw goat is erected on the first day of Advent in the centre of Gävle’s Castle Square. However, it’s not so much the putting up as the tearing down that has become a local tradition. In it’s 50-year history, the goat has been either badly damaged or burned down a total of 37 times. In 1976 it was hit by a car, it was kicked to pieces in 1978, and in 2016 it was destroyed by yet another arsonist on November 27.

Austria

 

While some countries enjoy the wholesome family fun of Santa Claus and his elves, Austrians take to the streets to celebrate Santa’s terrifying evil companion, Krampus.

Thousands of people gather in Hollabrunn Market Square, Austria, to be terrified by more than 120 Krampus impersonators. German folklore states that Krampus beats naughty children, then puts them in a woven wicker basket on his back.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Japan

While Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, as only one per cent of the population are practicing Christians, it is still celebrated by a large number of people.

KFC became popular among festive foreigners in Japan who couldn’t find a whole chicken or turkey elsewhere. The fast-food chain seized upon the trend with a highly successful marketing campaign in the 1970s, and now a trip to KFC is considered a Christmas tradition.

The chain even suggests customers in the country place orders in advance to meet demand.

Italy

Christmas is celebrated in Italy, but the present-giving fun doesn’t really begin until the New Year. In Italian folklore it’s not Santa Claus who delivers gifts to children but Befana, the Christmas Witch.

A kindly old woman, Befana distributes prezzies on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). She’s often depicted riding a broomstick, carrying a bag or hamper filled with sweets and gifts, and covered in soot as, like Saint Nick, she enters homes through the chimney.

Legend has it that three kings asked Befana for directions to find baby Jesus and later invited her to join them on their journey. Befana refused but later regretted her decision. People say she is still chasing after the Three Wise Men on their way to find baby Jesus, and leaves gifts for children on her way.

Australia

With Christmas falling at the beginning of Australia’s summer as opposed to winter, their Christmas looks a great deal different to our own.

There’s none of the snow or winter chill we’ve come to expect over on this side of the world, and many swap the traditional Christmas turkey meal for a nice BBQ.

Even their version of Santa is a little different. He’s often depicted using kangaroos to pull his sleigh rather than reindeer.

Iceland

What better way to celebrate Christmas than a tale about a giant and extremely violent cat that devours anyone unlucky enough to have not received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve?

The Yule Cat, a sinister monster that lurks around the Icelandic countryside around the Christmas period, was invented by farmers to scare their workers into finishing their jobs before Christmas. The employees who did their work in a timely manner were rewarded with new clothes, and the rest were left to be preyed on by the festive feline fiend.

Serbia

In Serbia, Christmas Eve is referred  to as Badnji dan, and after sunset it becomes Badnje veče. Families use this day to make preparations for the oncoming Christmas celebrations.

Similar to the yule log and other European traditions, they have the ‘badnjak’ in which an oak log or branch is brought into the house and placed around the fire on Christmas Eve. They also have the ‘strong water’ tradition, involving a girl or woman collecting water from a well, spring, or stream on Christmas morning. This water is believed to have special beneficial powers to strengthen health.

Another tradition, though outdated and not widely followed by the majority of the Serbian population anymore, is ‘Detinjci, Materica, and Oci’, the three Sunday’s before Christmas Day, where gifts are exchanged. Children give gifts on Detinjci, married women on Materice, and married men on Oci. To receive the gift, a game is played where the recipient of the gift is tied up and must hand over gifts to pay their ransom.

Venezuela

Predominantly a Roman Catholic country, attending church is an extremely popular activity in Venezuela over the Christmas period.

In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, it is commonplace to travel to early-morning church services between December 16 and 24 on roller skates. Roads are even cleared to provide churchgoers a safe passage.

Canada

In Newfoundland ‘Mummering’ is a tradition that takes place in small towns and villages. Mummering, also referred to as ‘Jannying’, is an activity where people dress up in costumes to disguise their face, knock on someone’s door and say, while altering their voice: “Are there any Mummers in the night?”

They then sing, dance, and have a slice of Christmas cake before moving on to the next house. In some villages, if the owner of the house doesn’t guess who the Mummers are, they have to join them as they move onto the next home.

India

 

In India, people will hang Christmas stars in front of the entrance to their homes for prosperity. Churches are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass service

As fir trees aren’t common in India, mango or banana trees are decorated instead, and mango leaves are often used as decorations in the home.

Deviating from tradition just a little bit, Santa Claus delivers presents to all the well-behaved children in the country from a horse and cart instead of a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

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