Your Shortcut to… Christmas Traditions Around the World

Christmas traditions all over the world:

KFC Japan’s 2021 menu:

San Fernando’s Giant Lantern Festival gallery:

Ukranian Kutya recipe:


Two billion people celebrate it each year… some in rollerskates… and some with a 12 course meal, which ends with dessert stuck to the ceiling. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to Christmas Traditions Around the World—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.

And I’m Bryce Corbett.

Bryce, over the next two weeks, people in 160 countries will be doing all sorts of things to celebrate Christmas. Now, of course, not everyone in the world does observe Christmas.. Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah some time in November and December each year; the African American festival of Kwanzaa will start on December 26;  Diwali is the biggest Hindu festival; and the Islamic holiday Eid is extremely important to Muslims.

But today, we’ll take you through WHERE in the world some of our favourite Chrissie traditions are celebrated; WHAT kinds of Christmas food different cultures eat; and WHY you should watch out for the Krampus.

Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!

Bryce, usually on shortcuts, you ask the questions, and I go off and do all the hard work to answer them. But today, we’re mixing it up… we’ve both gone off and found some cool Christmas traditions to tell each other about. So … have at it! Where are you taking me?

We’re going to the Christmas Capital of the Philippines, the city of San Fernando, where all the residents of nearby villages compete against each other to build the most beautiful, gigantic lanterns to celebrate the start of the Christmas season.

How big are we talking?

Well, this tradition has its roots—meaning it started with—the Filipino Catholic tradition of using small, colourful lights to shine on the pathway to Christmas Eve church services. Now, each village builds one lantern that’s about 7 metres tall, and illuminated—that means lit up—with up to 10,000 LED lights.

That must look amazing!

The really beautiful thing is that people in each village spend ages planning and building the lanterns, which are then on display from December 16 until after New Year’s Day… so it really brings people together for the season.

I do love Christmas traditions that start early in December, so you can really get into the spirit. As you know, Bryce, I lived in Germany when I was a teenager, and they have the fabulous Sankt Nikolaus day, which is on December 6. You put your shoes outside your bedroom door before you go to sleep, similar to our tradition of hanging a stocking. And in the morning, if you’ve been good, St Nikolaus will have left you a small present.

And if you’ve been bad?

Well, then you might get a lump of coal, or a twig of wood. And you know, my uncle Rob once had a very naughty year, and he really did get a rotten potato… so it can happen!

Okay, well, I don’t know if you meant to take me to Germany or not. Was that your turn?

No! I have a really good one for you: we’re heading to Caracas, Venezuela, where every Christmas Eve morning, the streets are blocked off because people ROLLERSKATE to church.

Why on earth would they do that? Get some exercise before pigging out on Christmas Day?

That wouldn’t be a terrible idea… no one really knows how it got started, but one theory is that it’s a hot-country version of sledding. The coolest thing, though, is that apparently kids go to bed the night before with a string tied around their toe, and the string hanging out the window. When people skate past, they gently tug on the string, and wake the kids up… then they know it’s time to get their skates on!

I see what you did there. My turn again. And we’re heading to somewhere quite different… Japan.

Interesting… I didn’t think Christmas was celebrated there.

It barely is, except for… at KFC.


Over the past few years, it’s become something the cool kids do at Christmas time … order KFC. Each year there’s a special commemorative Christmas plate, a festive bucket, and a special dessert. I can’t read Japanese, but the website shows that the 2021 feast will be on sale starting December 12, with the biggest feast costing 5,900 Yen, or $74.

I guess it’s not so far from a turkey to a chicken… speaking of which, WHAT kinds of Christmas food traditions have YOU discovered, Bryce?

Honestly I think the funniest thing I discovered is that lots of people are still amazed that in Australia, and other places where Christmas falls in the summer time, they are AMAZED that we often have BBQs, or eat seafood, or cold lunches.

We’re pretty exotic to the folks up in chilly Europe and North America, aren’t we?

We sure are. One tradition I really liked learning about was in Poland, where families always set an extra seat at the table, in case someone arrives last-minute in need of a meal. And they wait to eat until the first star appears in the sky.

That’s fine if you’re in the middle of a Polish winter… we’d be eating really late here!

I also loved learning about a dish called Jug Jug, which is eaten with a pineapple Christmas ham in Barbados. It’s made with beef, pork, herbs, and pigeon peas… and apparently it was created as a substitute for the Scottish dish of haggis, which is made out of sheep heart, liver, and lung.

Ooohf. Not sure about haggis or jug jug, although they both do have excellent names. Personally, I love the sound of something called Kutya, which is eaten at Christmas time in the Ukraine. But… because they follow the Orthodox Calendar in Ukraine, the holiday is celebrated on January 7. And get this, Bryce… they have a 12 course meal.

Whoa! That’s a lot of food.

It symbolises the 12 apostles who followed Jesus Christ – as a reminder, it’s his birth that’s celebrated at Christmas – and the kutya is apparently the most anticipated dish. Christmas is the ONLY time that this sweet wheat, raisin, honey, and nut pudding is made, and it takes up to six hours to cook it.

I bet everyone wants a big bowl of it, if it took that much effort!

Actually, everyone eats from the SAME bowl, to symbolise unity… and they leave some behind, no matter how delicious it is, to remember loved ones who have died. And in possibly the best part… they also traditionally throw a spoonful at the ceiling.


If it sticks, there’ll be a good harvest that year. Now Bryce, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about some really happy, lovely traditions.. I think it’s time to talk about WHY some little Austrian kids are a bit scared of Christmas.


What on earth could be scary about Christmas? Delicious food, beautiful lights, presents, family…

Absolutely. But in Austria, there’s also Krampus. Remember I mentioned how Saint Nikolaus visits children in Europe on December 6 and leaves presents in their shoes? Well, in Austria, the story goes that he’s helped by Krampus… a hairy, horned figure who’s in charge of punishing the naughty kids. Now, I’m pretty sure he’s not real, but there are things like Krampus runs, where people dress up as Krampus and do a 5K fundraiser…

Which takes us right back to having fun and the Christmas spirit.

I wonder if anyone has ever dressed as Krampus and gone around on rollerskates… a Venezuelan/Austrian mashup…

The S’Quiz

1. Which country has the Giant Lantern Festival, with thousands and thousands of electric lights?

2. What rather unusual Christmas tradition has emerged in Japan?

3. Why do people in the Ukraine throw their Christmas dessert at the ceiling?