We each have our own rituals when it comes to Christmas. Some of us wake up at 5am to put the turkey in the oven; others are stumbling home from a Christmas Eve party at around the same time. But there are certain cultural traditions that we all tend to observe: the traditions that have been passed down over generations and are replicated throughout communities.
What these festive traditions are, and how they came to be, varies wildly depending on where we’re from. From throwing shrimps on the barbie in Australia to hiding broomsticks in Norway, here are some unusual Christmas traditions from around the world – and how to replicate them in Hong Kong.
Some of the best festive traditions come from Germany: Christmas markets, glühwein (mulled wine), the quintessential wintry beverage, and of course the Christmas tree. One lesser-known German tradition is Saint Nicholas Day (Nikolaustag), which is dedicated to the patron saint of children, the man who inspired the creation of Santa Claus. On 5 December each year, children spring into a cleaning frenzy: tidying their rooms, organising their toys and polishing their shoes to leave outside the door before bedtime. The following morning, if the children have been well-behaved, they find their shoes magically filled with nuts, sweets, oranges, and other gifts from Saint Nicholas. That makes for a few reasons why this might be the perfect tradition for parents to introduce this year in Hong Kong…
Have a ‘Frohe Weihnachten’ in Hong Kong
Enjoy German festivities at one of Hong Kong’s Christmas markets, which are popping up around town in locations such as Stanley and Discovery Bay, where you’ll buy small gifts and goodies to fill your children’s shoes – along with a mulled wine for you.
In Japan, another white-bearded man has become associated with Christmas: KFC’s Colonel Sanders. He makes an appearance at dinner tables throughout the country every year via his red buckets filled with fried chicken. Since the 1970s, KFC has been the Christmas meal of choice in Japan. The story of how this came to be is one of marketing genius akin to Coca Cola’s rebranding of Santa Claus. Takeshi Okawara, the manager of Japan’s first KFC restaurant, is credited with coming up with the idea to bill their fried chicken as the traditional American Christmas dish, and offer a ‘party barrel’ on Christmas Day. It worked better than he could have imagined, and Japan has been enjoying a fried chicken dinner on Christmas Day ever since.
Enjoy a Christmas bird, Japanese style
If you’re fed up with slaving over the turkey for hours, then take your lead from the Japanese this year and enjoy a succulent meal of fried chicken with the family instead. Of course, there’s always KFC – but you could also opt for a twist on the classic, tucking into Korean fried chicken at or Japanese yakitori at instead.
Mexico is known for its vibrant colours and joyous celebrations. So it’s no surprise that a Mexican Christmas is filled with fantastical festivities lasting well over a month. Elaborate nativity scenes, or nacimientos, are the decoration of choice in Mexican households. Families proudly display beautiful nativity scenes featuring the birth of Jesus in their homes and gardens throughout the Christmas season, while artists and craftspeople create scenes on a grander scale for public areas. Characters are added throughout the Christmas countdown, with baby Jesus being added on 24 December and the three kings arriving on 5 January.
On 6 January, the country celebrates the Día de Los Reyes – Three Kings Day – with more feasting and even more gifts. The Christmas season doesn’t officially end until Candlemas on 2 February, so if you’re in need of an excuse to extend the holidays and leave your Christmas decorations up a little longer, this Mexican tradition is perfect for the home.
Have a Mexican fiesta
Make your own Hong Kong nativity scenes with quirky ornaments from , such as mahjong tiles and Star Ferries. Failing that, get into the Feliz Navidad spirit at one of Hong Kong’s favourite Mexican restaurants, such as .
There’s tinsel, lights, holly wreaths and decorations, but as Christmas falls in Australia’s summertime, things look a little different Down Under. Surfing Santas aren’t unusual; nor are carol singers in sunglasses instead of scarves. Never ones to shy away from a boozy shindig, Aussies celebrate the season with neighbourhood street carnivals, pool parties and the standard Christmas Eve pub crawl. But perhaps our favourite Southern Hemisphere festive tradition is the classic Christmas Day barbeque on the beach, when locals load up esky coolers, don their bathers and head into the sizzling sunshine to celebrate the opposite of a White Christmas – all washed down with that Aussie classic, a bottle of sparkling Shiraz.
Grill up an Aussie Christmas
Rather than feasting on turkey this year, head to the wet market to pick up some juicy prawns to throw on the barbie – the true Australian Christmas dish of choice. Then head to the beach with friends and family at one of our recommended BBQ spots around town
Christmas in Norway is a magical time, thanks in large part to its winter wonderland-style beauty and rich legacy of pagan traditions. While most of us celebrate Christmas on 25 December, Norwegians host their main festivities on Christmas Eve instead. One fun ancient tradition is to hide all broomsticks in the house, as it’s said witches and evil spirits come out to wreak havoc on Christmas Eve and must be prevented from flying around.
A sweeter tradition is the comforting Christmas dish risengrynsgrøt: a creamy rice porridge sprinkled with cinnamon, sugar and vanilla. A boiled almond will often be hidden somewhere in the batch, with the person who finds this almond in their bowl receiving a small prize (usually a little marzipan pig) and good luck.
Get hygge in Hong Kong
Nothing is more hygge than enjoying comforting Nordic food – perfect for keeping you warm as the weather starts to cool. is offering a unique festive menu throughout December, while will also be serving up Norwegian classics. Prefer to keep the festivities at home? in Tsim Sha Tsui sells all your traditional Nordic foods.
From moreish mince pies to kisses under mistletoe, Britain has many festive traditions that are worth replicating. No Christmas dinner table in the UK is fully dressed without Christmas crackers, and the story of their creation also originates with a cunning marketing ploy. Said to be invented by London-based confectioner Tom Smith in the 1840s, the cracker’s shape was designed to resemble the popular French bonbon sweet, wrapped in a twist of paper. Smith supposedly added the pop after being inspired by hearing logs crackling on the fire. After rival merchants copied Smith’s product, he started to add small gifts, jokes and paper crowns to distinguish his crackers. These have now become staple elements of a traditional British Christmas – as has falling asleep wearing your paper crown in a comatose post-turkey fugue.
Have a cracking British Christmas
You’ll find Christmas crackers at many of Hong Kong’s international grocery stores this year. Keep an eye out for crackers in , or head to Selfridges for a premium selection to grace the classiest of Christmas tables.
Russia has its fair share of quirky Christmas traditions, including swapping Santa Claus for Father Frost (Ded Moroz), fasting on Christmas Eve and decorating the table with hay. However, none are more fascinating than the country’s highjinks approach to celebrating Christmastide. Considered ‘the most unholy time of year’, ‘Svyatki’, as the Russians refer to it, runs from 7 January (Orthodox Christmas Eve) to 19 January (Epiphany). During this time, spirits and the devil are said to run wild – as does everyone else. This pagan tradition involves playing practical jokes on one another, visiting fortune tellers and watching theatrical performances, alongside more traditional feasts and festive music.
Have a Slavic seasonal celebration
Feasting is a huge part of Russian Christmas celebrations, with tables straining under the weight of delicacies such as meat pies and pickled apples. Enjoy your own festive Russian feast at , offering some of the best Eastern European cuisine in Hong Kong, such as authentic borscht and pierogi dumplings. Or to really get into the festive spirit, catch a performance of Tchaikovsky’s great Russian ballet – a Christmas classic and a Hong Kong institution.
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