A holiday roundup of funny and bizarre traditions from around the world from busuu, the largest online language learning community.
The British happily wear paper crowns to adorn themselves for the Christmas meal, the Spaniards hope to win millions in the Christmas lottery and, in Brazil, Santa Claus flies around in a helicopter. Busuu, the 35 million-strong online community for language learning has collected some quirky traditions from 12 countries whose languages are taught on our website: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese. This will be presented to you in a two part blog post. Check out our part 1 list below and see if some of these national customs surprise you.
In the UK people like to wear Christmas Jumpers (which are sweaters) with holiday themes such as funny-faced reindeers or penguins with hats. Even the Christmas dinner in England is a bit like a carnival: Guests wear colourful paper hats and burst balloons at the dinner table. The British like to watch TV over the Christmas period, with the Queen’s annual Christmas speech particularly popular viewing. In Ireland, the children dress up on December 26th, St. Stephen’s Day, as The Wrenboys and go out on the town to collect candy and money.
The Spaniards start Christmas with a giant lottery, the largest in the world, which is televised on December 22nd. Most Spaniards are glued to the TV in the morning, anxious to see if they have become millionaires. Lottery draws also take place on 24 December, the “Noche Buena”. After dinner with the family, small gifts, but also rivets, are drawn from an “Urn of Fate “. One of the main nativity figures in Catalonia is “el Caganer” the “pooper”, who handles his business on the nativity scene. In Mexico, the ‘Psadas’ processions where the story of Mary and Joseph is re-enacted, are celebrated with friends and family. For the children, lovingly decorated papier-mâché piñatas filled with fruits and sweets are hung on the ceilings, to be be smashed and broken by big sticks while blindfolded.
The height of French Christmas is – perhaps not too surprising – the Christmas Feast: La Reveillon with mussels, lobster, oysters, duck, vegetables, foie gras and all sorts of pies, as well as a spectacular dessert, “la Bûche de Noël”, a chocolate butter cream cake that comes in the shape of a tree trunk. The French Santa Claus is called Père Noël. He slips down the chimney and places gifts in the children’s polished shoes.
One of the most important holidays in Germany, Christmas is called Weihnachten. December 6th is Nikolaustag, St. Claus day. A shoe or boot is left outside the door on the 5th of December in the hope that the following morning you find presents, if you were good – or, unfortunately a rod if you have been bad. The Germans make beautiful gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry, Christbaumgebäck, is a white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations. The main day is the 24th, Christmas Eve when children will find presents under the tree.
In some parts of Italy the real Christmas day is celebrated on January 6th, The Three Kings Day. According to legend, the witch Befana has missed the star of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and is therefore searching for baby Jesus on the night of the 5th to the 6th of January. She flies on a broom from house to house, bringing gifts to good children and coal pieces to the naughty ones.
In Brazil, even Santa is an extrovert. Papa Noel lands a helicopter in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro and distributes gifts. Celebrations are loud, funny and complete with fireworks. As most Brazilians are Catholic, the traditional midnight mass on Christmas Eve is a must-do. Presents have to wait until after the midnight mass. In Portugal, nativity cribs are often placed in the living room with the popular Christmas tree. These are also found in Portuguese churches, where surrounding landscapes are recreated in detail with real places, people and figures.