10 Surprising Christmas Traditions From Around The World

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. So festive, so cozy, so full of cheer, SO FULL OF FOOD AND DRINK. But in today’s globalized world, Christmas can seem, well, a little homogenized: Images of Kris Kringle, decorated trees, gingerbread, and eggnog dominate. But scratch the surface and you will find that countries around the world have their own fun ways to celebrate the holiday, and stuff their bellies with festive yumminess. From mischievous elves that put potatoes in naughty children’s shoes to a KFC feast (complete with vino!), check out our slideshow to see what people around the world are eating and drinking before setting out cookies for Santa. (One — or all — of these, maybe?)

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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
India
While Christians are a minority in India, they still have many of their own traditions. On Christmas, they don’t exchange gifts. Rather, they may celebrate with a traditional curry and foods like newrio, sweet dumplings stuffed with palm sugar, sweet grated coconut, and sesame seeds, and then distribute Christmas candies (called kuswar) to their neighbors.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Philipines
On Christmas Eve, Filipinos celebrate with a traditional Nochebuena Feast. (The tradition is tied to attending Christmas Eve mass and eating after.) The dinner is normally served very late — like 11:30 p.m. — and involves customary Filipino foods like ham, bread, noodles, and rice. So basically, this dinner party sounds like a dream where all my favorite foods are served.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Spain
If we lived in Spain, we'd all probably be gorging on delicious wine, whiskey, and turron about now. And who would be providing all this delicious bounty? The boss. Yep, that's right: In Spain, it is customary for employers to gift their employees with baskets of delicious food and booze.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Ethiopia
Ethiopians fast for a full 40 days leading up to Christmas, eating just one meal a day. And, since meat and animal products are forbidden, that meal is vegan. To celebrate Christmas (which comes on January 6), they eat a slaughtered rooster carved in 12 pieces, representing the 12 disciples, and then 12 hard-boiled eggs, which some say symbolizes eternity.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
China
Christmas is not such a huge deal in China, but people do have one gift they exchange to mark the holiday: cellophane-wrapped apples. While this might seem a little random to us, it's actually a clever play on words: In Chinese, the word for "apple" sounds like "Christmas Eve."
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Iceland
Santa Claus is a whole different thing in Iceland, where instead they have mischievous Yule Lads. These guys climb through kids' windows for 13 nights, and will either leave a treat or a rotting potato in their little shoes, depending on whether the kids have been naughty or nice. (On a personal note, I have never seen a more sad, remorseful, contemplative face than when my little 4-year-old brother, who is half Icelandic, got a rotting potato in his shoe.)
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Italy
Many Catholic Italians, particularly in Southern Italy, eat seafood on Christmas Eve. (Here in America, this tradition is known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes.) While there can be more than seven fish dishes in this massive holiday spread, you'll almost always find some baccalà (salted cod) on the table.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
France
You really can’t do a slideshow like this and not include the log of chocolate goodness traditionally baked in France, known as a bûche de Noël. In typically decadent and elegant French form, these desserts can get pretty serious-looking.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Japan
While Christmas is not an official holiday there, many Japanese people will celebrate by waiting in a line stretching around the block at their local KFC. Why? Because in Japan, KFC serves “Christmas Chicken” on December 25. The tradition has its roots in a successful ad campaign that KFC launched in 1974, so successful that people are still enjoying the festive dinner of chicken, wine, cake, and even bubbly at the fast-food joint.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Sweden
To celebrate St Lucia’s Day on December 13, a young girl (usually the oldest in the family) will dress up in a white gown with a crown of candles. Traditionally, she will present her parents with breakfast in bed, holding a tray of coffee and lussekatt, special buns baked with saffron. The entire thing is meant to symbolize the fact that the real saint Lucia traveled through the woods to bring bread to the poor. (As I am a quarter Swedish, I now feel that I can force my children to do this. YES. Breakfast in bed: Another reason to get on that whole “having kids” thing.)
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