In today’s globalized economy, the Christmas holiday can seem a little too expected. Images of Santa Claus, decorated evergreen trees, and candy canes be found all over the world. But if you dig a little deeper, you can still find people celebrating the beloved holiday in their own special way — particularly with food.
While you’re tearing up tissue paper and singing festive songs this Christmas morning, consider what people around the world might be doing to add to their holiday cheer.
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Christmas is not an official holiday in Japan, but that doesn’t stop people from waiting in long lines at their local KFC. So why all the love for the fast food joint? December 25 is the one day a year KFCs in Japan serve “Christmas Chicken” — a tradition that dates back to a wildly successful ad campaign from 1974. The campaign was so successful, the people still flock to KFC on Christmas to feast on chicken, wine, cake and campaign all at their local KFC.
According to Catholic Italian tradition, Christmas Eve meal isn’t supposed to include any meat leading Italians to only eat fish and vegetables on this day. This is keeping with most meals served on the eve before a religious holiday or festival in Italy. The idea is that you need to have a “giorno di margo,” or day of absence, to help purify your body before the holiday. In the United States this massive meal has come to be know as the Feast of the Seven fishes. Salted cod (baccalá) is pretty common, but most people mix up the other offerings. Some Italians prepare as many as 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles, while in modern times, others might through seven types of fish in a pot for a stew and call it good.
In typical, decadent French form, a fussy chocolate dessert known as bûche de Noël is traditionally prepared for the holiday. It’s a chocolate cake shaped like a log — a homage to the original Yule log tradition. It’s filled with buttercream and sprinkled with powdered sugar that is supposed to represent snow.
Christmas has been long based in China (along with Christianity itself), but the day has been absorbed and repurposed as a type of romantic holiday where young couples ofter go ice skating or to amusement parks. Movie theaters, karaoke bars and shopping are other common ways to celebrate. Because the word “apple” in Mandarin (Ping Guo) apparently sounds like the word for “Christmas Eve” (‘Ping An Ye’ which means peaceful night), people fancily wrap ‘Christmas apples’ in cellophane with imprinted holiday messages and images of Santa Claus or the words “Merry X-Mas.”
The celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, every December 13, a young girl — typically the oldest in the family — will put on a white gown and crown made of candles and present her parents with breakfast in bed. Coffee and lussekatt, or special baked saffron buns, are the usual fare. The act is meant to symbolize the real St. Lucia who is said to have traveled through the woods bringing bread to the poor.
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Because Ethiopia still follows the ancient Julian calendar, Christmas (Ganna) is celebrated on January 7. In the 40 or so days leading up to Christmas, Ethiopians will fast, consuming just one vegan meal a day. The first meal on Christmas day is often a light juice made from flaxseed (to help out the intestines after 40 days of fasting). A lunch might including Ethiopia’s famously spicy chicken doro wot and strong Ethiopian coffee. Later on, people gather to enjoy a feast usually included mutton and honey wine.
Filipinos love Christmas. Christmas music starts playing in September and doesn’t stop until the first Sunday in January when the Epiphany, or Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated. Most Filipinos are Christians with about 80% claiming Catholicism. Because of this, Christmas Even and Christmas Day are a big deal. Many people attend church to hear the last ‘simbang gabi” or Christmas Eve mass, followed by a feast called Noche Buena. The Noche Buena is a big, open house type celebration with friends, family and neighbors. Most include several dishes including roast pig, fruit salad, steamed rice, traditional Christmas rice cakes (bibingka), and many types of drinks.
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Only about 2.3 percent of Indians identify as Christians, so the Christmas festival is quite small compared to other festivals like Diwali and Holi. But since more than 1 billion people live in India, this still means 25 million Indians celebrate Christmas. Many decorate banana or mango trees instead of a traditional Christmas tree. Gift exchanges are not a part of their celebration, but they often share sweets with friends and neighbors. Neuros (small fried pastries stuffed with dry fruit and coconut) and dodol (similar to toffee with coconut and cashews added) are popular.
Also see, the most popular Christmas candy in each state.