LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwired - Dec 13, 2013) - We are all familiar with the Christmas routine that comes around each year; the humble mince pie, singing carollers -- and bad cracker jokes. What most of us don't know are the strange, but wonderful traditions from around the globe -- and some of the history behind our most well-known and not so well-known festive traditions.
Kentucky Fried Christmas Dinner, Japan
Christmas has never been a big deal in Japan. Aside from a few small, secular traditions such as gift-giving and light displays, Christmas remains largely a novelty in the country.
However, a new, quirky "tradition" has emerged in recent years -- a Christmas Day feast of the Colonel's very own Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The 2013 festive menu is already being advertised on the KFC Japan website -- and even if you don't understand Japanese, the pictures sure do look delicious, with everything from a Christmas-themed standard bucket to a premium roast-bird range.
A beast-like demon creature that roams city streets frightening kids and punishing the bad ones -- nope, this isn't Halloween, its St Nicholas's evil accomplice, Krampus.
In Austrian tradition, St Nicholas rewards nice little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack.
In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus (especially on the eve of St Nicholas day) frightening children with clattering chains and bells.
Yule Lads, Iceland
In the 13 days leading up to Christmas, 13 tricky troll-like characters come out to play in Iceland.
The Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar in Icelandic) visit children across the country. For each night of Yuletide, children place their best shoes by the window and a different Yule Lad visits leaving gifts for "good" girls and boys -- and rotting potatoes for the "naughty" ones.
While their parents, Grýla and Leppalúði, are two of the most frightening creatures in Icelandic folklore, the Lads themselves are more mischievous than scary. You'll find their likenesses in the north of Iceland wearing either traditional Icelandic costume or a more conventional Santa Claus outfit.
The Yule Lads' names hint at the type of trouble they like to cause: Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), Stúfur (Stubby), Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker), Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper), Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker), Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer), Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler), Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper), Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper), Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer), Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook), and Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer).
Gavle Goat, Sweden
Since 1966, a 43-foot tall Swedish Yule Goat has been built in the centre of Gavle's Castle Square for the Christmas Advent, but this festive tradition has unwittingly led to a another "tradition" of sorts -- people trying to burn it down.
In its 47-year history, the Goat has been successfully burned down 26 times -- the most recent destruction was in 2012.
Fête des Lumières, France
The Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières) in Lyon is a four-day celebration of the Virgin Mary from 6-9 December.
What began in the 17th century as local homes placing candles in their windows has grown into spectacular event that attracts over 4 million tourists each year.
The festival is marked by professional displays including brilliant light shows on the Basilica of Fourvière and the Place des Terreaux.
Mince Pies, United Kingdom
Without doubt, the most common question asked by the non-UK public is, "Does it really have meat in it?" The answer nowadays is no, but historically the mince pie was indeed heavy in meat and tells a story originating in the 12th century when the Crusaders brought spices back from the Middle East. These spiced pies were also first made in an oval shape to represent the manger Jesus slept in as a baby, with the top representing his swaddling clothes. During Stuart and Georgian times in the UK, mince pies were a status symbol at Christmas. They were also massive things and not the expected bite-sized tea-friendly companion that you see today.
Pooping Logs, Spain
In the Catalonia province of Spain there's a Christmas character called "Tió de Nadal" (the Christmas log) AKA "Caga Tio" (the pooping log). It's a small hollow log propped up on two legs with a smiling face painted on one end. From 8 December (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) Catalan families give the log a few morsels of food to eat and a blanket to keep it warm. Come Christmas Day, Children hit the log with sticks and Caga Tio "poops out" sweets, nuts and dried fruits and small gifts. When garlic or an onion falls out of the log all of the treats are finished for the year. Yum!
Candy Canes, Worldwide
Who knew the beloved candy cane could have such a gloomy past? The story starts with some naughty and bored children at church in 1672, Cologne, Germany. The choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral, wishing to remedy the noise caused by children in his church during the Living Crèche tradition of Christmas Eve, decided to have the local sweet shop make some sugary white sticks to preoccupy the children. The strategy quickly spread -- and to help children remember the Christmas Story, the sticks were turned into canes to symbolise the shepherds who visited baby Jesus on that famous night; it is said the red stripes were later added to the white canes to remind people of the blood shed by Jesus.
Cheapflights Travel Expert Kara Segedin said:
"Everyone loves a festive tradition -- but if you're fed up with turkey and sprouts and want a 'holiday' from 'traditional' traditions this Christmas you could do worse than to escape abroad and see how other cultures embrace the season -- maybe even bring some of them home with you! At Cheapflights, we're big fans of Iceland's 'Yule Lads' -- particularly the marvelously-named 'Bowl-Licker' and 'Doorway-sniffer.' Kids will love the festive 'pooping logs' of Catalonia -- and if you want a holiday from washing up this Christmas, Japan's Kentucky Fried Christmas Dinner might be just the thing!"
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