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Christmas Traditions from around the world

St. Nicholas Day, not Christmas, is the usual gift-giving day in Ukraine. People invite guests into their homes and sleighs are ridden around the village. This is the holiday for youngsters, when they receive gifts from St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children.

As the smell of gingerbread wafts through the air, grandly adorned Christmas trees fill the shopping malls, and families gather to break bread around holiday feasts, it’s easy to forget Christmas and New Year’s are not celebrated the same way everywhere, if at all.
    The population of Orange County is incredibly diverse and rich with different traditions. Have you ever wondered how the rest of the world celebrates special occasions? Whether it’s eating KFC at Christmas, inviting dark-haired men over on New Year’s Day, or giving children money for good luck on their birthday, here is a list of fun and interesting customs from around the globe.

Japan: Christmas is not popular in Japan, but an amusing custom has tied Christmas and KFC together. That’s right, the Colonel’s crispy chicken is a hot commodity on Dec. 25. The fast-food chain recommends that customers place their orders as far as two months in advance. KFC in Japan launched a campaign in 1974 called “Kentucky for Christmas!” to appease foreigners seeking a traditional holiday meal. It proved hugely successful, and today the meal includes chicken, cake and Champagne for about $40.

Iceland: Well-behaved children are promised gifts from 13 magical Yule Lads if they leave a shoe on their windowsill from Dec. 12 until Dec. 23 in Iceland. The Yule Lad tradition is not kind to naughty boys and girls, who receive a potato in their shoe instead of gifts. These mischievous characters are also known to scare disobedient children – a trait that parents take advantage of when they want to intimidate children into behaving.

Finland: It’s a tradition for Finns to honor deceased relatives at sunset on Christmas Eve, with many family members placing lanterns and lighting candles at the burial sites of loved ones. Churches and cemeteries often host services complete with hymns and moments of reflection in remembrance of the dearly departed. This solemn celebration caught on after World War I, when candles were laid on the graves of soldiers.

Guatemala: A tradition called “Quema del Diablo,” or “Burning the Devil,” is practiced every year at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7. Guatemalans collect trash from their properties and collectively create giant heaps of rubbish in the streets. They then place an effigy of the devil atop the mound and light the trash on fire to cleanse evil spirits and negative energy. With the purification ritual completed, the nation welcomes the holiday festivities with a hopeful heart for a peaceful new year.

Scotland: Christmas is quietly celebrated in Scotland, while New Year’s Day – or Hogmanay – is a lively occasion. A tradition called First-Footing states that the first visitor to step into a household on New Year’s Day is considered a predictor of good fortune and should bring symbolic offerings such as coins (fortune), bread (food) and whiskey (good cheer). There is a preference for that first person, though: A male, dark-haired visitor is considered to bring the most luck, while women or blond men are believed to be unlucky.

Venezuela: There may be no better way to get to Christmas Mass than by roller-skating with the whole town, and that’s exactly what people do in the colorful Venezuelan city of Caracas. Children are put to bed early in order to be well-rested for the exciting festivities, and roads are closed to traffic. After setting off fireworks and ringing bells in the early hours of the morning, citizens strap on their skates and take off down the closed streets toward morning church services.

Ukraine: Based on the legend of a poor family in the Ukraine who could not afford a Christmas tree, the Ukrainians formed a creepy-crawly tradition. The story goes that when a tree began to grow from a pinecone, the children were delighted at the thought of having their own tree to decorate. Unfortunately, they could not afford any ornaments or garland. When they awoke on St. Nicolas’ Day (not Christmas Day), they found that spiders had spun silk webs around the tree, which turned to silver and gold as the sun’s light touched each strand. Today, many trees in the Ukraine are decorated with spider webs – usually of artificial material – to signify good luck and prosperity.

Norway: Norwegians practice a tradition of hiding all of their brooms on Christmas Eve, a remnant of an ancient pagan belief that witches and other malicious entities emerge on that night each year. Occasionally, men fire guns into the air as a warning to any lurking evil spirits.

Wales: From Christmas to New Year’s, a lively ritual takes place in Wales – a group of merry songsters holding a horse skull affixed to a pole called the Mari Lwyd travel house to house, singing a song requesting entry – the home dwellers sing back an excuse as to why they refuse. The lyrical debate ends eventually when the carolers are invited in for food and ale, bringing luck and ridding the home of anything negative from the previous year. Mari is often quite mischievous, and is known to chase people around and generally cause a ruckus.

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