There are many cool festive traditions across the world. You will be familiar with the dazzling spruce tree in New York’s Rockefeller Center, but did you know about the pit-roasted hangi feast in New Zealand? There are many cultures across the globe, which means everyone uniquely experiences Christmas. The Audley Travel experts have rounded up some of the most interesting festivities to inspire your travels.
Let’s start with one in the cold lands of Iceland. The Christmas holiday here is known as Jól, and festivities kick off a bit earlier here than in many other countries. It starts on the 12th day of December. Children put out their shoes for the 13 Yule Lads or Jólasveinarnir — these mischievous sprites leave candy and small gifts for good children and rotting potatoes for bad ones.
At 6 pm on Aðfangadagur, also known as Christmas Eve, church bells ring across the country. More secular families begin their celebratory meal. The feast might include smoked lamb, ptarmigan, turkey, or pork, and it is often served with a flatbread known as laufabrauð, followed by gingerbread.
Reading books is an Icelandic tradition. Many Icelandic books are published at Christmas time, and it’s common to give everyone a book to open on Christmas Eve for them to enjoy. The whole country settles in for a snug night spent quietly reading with a cup of hot chocolate.
Kurisumasa ni wa kentakkii
Kurisumasa ni wa kentakkii refers to the KFC marketing campaign in Japan in 1974. In English, it means “Kentucky for Christmas”. This marketing campaign was very popular, and has now led to KFC being the popular dinner choice for Christmas day and Christmas eve. The demand can be so high that locals order their food more than a month in advance.
Christmas is a purely secular celebration in Japan. Lights twinkle, and decorations beam from seasonal markets, but the feel is distinctly Japanese. Extended families usually gather later in the season, on New Year’s Day, which is considered one of the country’s most important holidays. Christmas festivities instead focus primarily on young couples and friends, who’ll exchange gifts, have a party, and even enjoy Japan’s traditional holiday feast.
Lastly, let’s talk about New Zealand. Maori in New Zealand mixes Maori culture with a more traditional Christian Christmas. A Maori Christmas is unique in that it usually involves hangi — a roast dinner cooked in a pit underground, made up of meats and seafood. For large gatherings of family and friends around the holidays, hangi is ideal, as it allows big quantities of food to be prepared at once.
Some families in New Zealand sing carols in Maori. These traditional tunes can include Marie Te Pa (Silent Night) and A Pakeko in a Ponga Tree (New Zealand’s version of The Twelve Days of Christmas). This is a nice blend of something that you’re familiar with and something brand new.
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