Christmas Cultures: What Does It Mean To Be Festive In Other Countries?

Christmas Cultures: What Does It Mean To Be Festive In Other Countries?

December 4, 2017

Do you ever take a step back and think, “Christmas in Australia is probably pretty unusual to other countries”? If you haven’t, then you probably should. We decorate pine trees in thirty-degree weather. We barbecue seafood instead of roasting chestnuts. We whip up a pavlova instead of making mince pies. But once you look at the history and the culture, they sort of start to make sense. Well, the pine trees will never make sense but you know what we mean.

So let’s put on our travelling pants and take a look at the weird, wonderful world of Christmas traditions. Then loosen the buckle of your travelling pants, because there’s lots of food and bevvies along the way.

Sweden

The Swedes call their Christmas Jul. And they celebrate from late November to early January by building a thirteen-meter tall goat in the Galve Castle Square. Yes, really.

A three-month Christmas seems excessive, but they are a culture that knows how to pace themselves. Their celebrations mostly revolve around food. Hams, sausages, anchovies, herrings, pickled herrings, liver patty, meatballs and lutfisk are popular meals for festive Sweden.

And of course, there’s the drinks. Swedes have a drink called gløgg that’s made exclusively for Christmas. It’s sort of like mulled wine, but with cardamom, ginger, cloves and orange. But, if you think you know how to make gløgg you’re wrong. Any Swede will tell you they have the best spice mixture or variation. So don’t go to Sweden with your star anise and your cinnamon pretending you know your gløgg. They might make you eat sürstrømming as punishment.

Japan

Despite being a primarily Buddhist country, Japan has celebrated Christmas in a very particular way since 1974. You see, a popular fast food chain began promoting fried chicken as a Christmas meal specifically in Japan. Being a culture that loves to adapt and try new things, this craze really caught on.

So it’s not unusual for there to be long queues outside of fried chicken emporiums in the lead up to Christmas. And the fried chicken is often paired with (what else?) warm sake.

South Africa

While in many countries celebrating Christmas means groaning tables of huge slabs of meat, like turkey or beef wellington, in South Africa a common delicacy is deep fried emperor moth caterpillars. Their harvest coincides with Christmas (and apparently, they taste nice as heck) so this bite-size bad boy is a Chrissy staple. Usually, it’s served alongside some more familiar treats like roasted duck.

And speaking of bite-sized, South Africans also apparently have a penchant for eating their drinks. A favorite traditional Christmas dessert is rum and raisin chocolate truffles. Rum and raisin? Duck? Caterpillar? We’re on board for this culinary adventure.

Philippines

Each year on the Saturday before Christmas, residents of San Fernando (known as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines), create giant lanterns out of colourful origami papers in beautiful, bright kaleidoscopic patterns.

But what do they eat and drink? Well, let us introduce you to the world of Puto Bumbong Ale. Puto Bumbong is a Christmas dessert rice cake in the Philippines. It’s purple and tastes like coconut. Oh, and it’s also been turned into a seasonal beer. That’s right, in the same way festive cinnamon and nutmeg flavours are popular here during Christmas time, a craft brewery in the Philippines actually infuses Puto Bumbong flavours into their beers. A Christmas Cake beer. Living the dream.

Austria

Have you ever been enjoying some Christmas festivities and thought to yourself “I wish this was more… spooky”? Well, apparently Austria did, which is why their Christmas celebrations feature a figure called Krampus. It’s a hairy, horned devilish creature who punishes children who misbehave. And every year people parade around the street in Krampus costumes giving coal to children. Sounds super jolly, right?

But most importantly, what do they drink? Well, it’s mulled wine again. But their own delicious version called glühwein, which has a bit more of an orange-citrusy kick than the Swedish version. Well, in some parts. It’s hard to pin down a recipe because they’re all family secrets.

Who knew there were so many ways to celebrate the silly season? It’s good to know that if you ever get bored of warm weather, pavlova and barbies, there’s a whole wide world out there of Christmas traditions. Next year, instead of sitting at home wishing you were eating fried chicken or getting spooked by a horned demon, you can hop online and book a trip to experience something different.