Christmas means a lot to me and my family.  It’s the one time of year when we all come together to exchange gifts, eat far too much food, and socialize and laugh over games and drinks.  In America, it’s a family holiday, and offices across the country are closed for multiple days for the celebration.  We decorate trees in our living rooms, and we hang lights all throughout the cities.  It’s a time of giving and joy and coming together.

I love Christmas.

Spending a year abroad, there’s every chance we’ll spend the holiday in a foreign country.  And we know that not everyone celebrates it the same as we do.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015
Photo by Brianna Shade, used with permission

Japan

In the first country of of Christmas, Japan brings to us:

A bucket of KFC.

While it may seem very strange to those outside of Japan, KFC has become a national phenomenon, thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign at a perfect time, decades ago. A perfect combination of a Santa-like Sanders and a lack of existing holiday rituals, picking up a bucket of fried chicken was an easy tradition to adopt.

Now, orders must be placed weeks in advance, and holiday dinner packages make up for a third of the KFC sales in Japan each year.

Germany

In the second country of of Christmas, Germany brings to us:

Two present-givers

In an effort to draw attention away from the Catholic Saint Nicolas (Santa Claus) and back to Christ, Protestant Martin Luther popularized the Christkind in the 1600s. Much like Santa, this young angel also brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve.

But over time, Saint Nicolas became secularized to Santa Claus, and the angelic baby Jesus evolved into a young blonde-haired female angel. The former has become far more commercialized, and those in Germany and nearby countries fight to keep the Christkind traditions alive.

…and A bucket of KFC.

New Zealand

In the third country of of Christmas, New Zealand brings to us:

Three pairs of jandals

Known to us as “flip flops,” these “Japanese sandals” have become a popular gift for the holidays. Being in the southern hemisphere, Christmas falls in the middle of summer for the Kiwis, so cooler attire is welcomed! And they conveniently fit into stockings.

…Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

Croatia

In the fourth country of of Christmas, Croatia brings to us:

Four advent candles

In the beautiful country of Croatia, Advent is celebrated for weeks. And they light four candles to represent four weeks of prayers. These typically consist of three purple candles and one pink, signifying hope, peace, love, and joy.

On our way to Switzerland for the holiday, we were fortunate to stop over in Rijeka for a few days during Advent. Not only were there lights everywhere, but they held nightly celebrations in their main square. We made a point to go out each evening to take in the free live concerts, countless stalls serving fritule and hot wine, and the vibrant energy few tourists experience.

…Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

Greenland

In the fifth country of of Christmas, Greenland brings to us:

Five advent stars

Greenlanders have many holiday traditions, and it all starts with the lighting of the Advent star on the first Sunday of Advent. Made from a light or just paper, these stars light windows all throughout the holiday.

…Four advent candles,
Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

Argentina

In the sixth country of of Christmas, Argentina brings to us:

Six thousand globos

These paper lanterns are lit on Christmas eve and sent into the sky. Like a much slower display of fireworks, illuminating the sky in this way is magical. Though it’s a little dangerous with so many open flames, I’d love to witness one of these lantern releases in person (and perhaps find an eco-friendly way to participate).

…Five advent stars,
Four advent candles,
Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

China

In the seventh country of of Christmas, China brings to us:

Seven Christmas apples

The Mandarin word for “apple” sounds a lot like the word for “peace,” so it has become customary for folks to exchange apples around the holidays. Eating one of these apples on Christmas Eve is supposed to bring a safe and peaceful new year.

…Six thousand globos,
Five advent stars,
Four advent candles,
Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

South Africa

In the eighth country of of Christmas, South Africa brings to us:

Eight malva puddings

“Malva” means “marshmallow” in Afrikaans, and perhaps it’s the similar texture of this spongey cake that gave it its name. Simple to make, this dessert is a decadent indulgence that has become a staple for holiday tables all across South Africa… and it’s a wonderfully refreshing treat for a hot Christmas Day!

…Seven Christmas apples,
Six thousand globos,
Five advent stars,
Four advent candles,
Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

Mexico

In the ninth country of of Christmas, Mexico brings to us:

Nine days of posadas

“Posada” in Spanish translates to “inn,” and the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve are filled with “posada parties” in Mexico. These parties represent the original pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary and their stay in the stables for the birth of Jesus. Houses all over the country open their doors to welcome family, friends, and neighbors; eat; drink; and break seven-pointed piñatas (representing the seven sins).

…Eight lekker puddings,
Seven Christmas apples,
Six thousand globos,
Five advent stars,
Four advent candles,
Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

India

In the tenth country of of Christmas, India brings to us:

Ten kuswar dishes

These Christmas sweets range from cakes and cookies to dumplings and pastries, and they represent the eclectic cultural influences in India from the Dutch, French, British, and Portuguese. Making them each year is a family tradition – a chance for friends to gather and bake.

…Nine days of posadas,
Eight lekker puddings,
Seven Christmas apples,
Six thousand globos,
Five advent stars,
Four advent candles,
Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

Romania

In the eleventh country of of Christmas, Romania brings to us:

Eleven Christmas carols

A staple in most holiday movies, I honestly cannot recall the last time I saw true carolers in my neighborhood (have I ever?). In Romania, the tradition is alive and well, often including animal costumes and even full dance performances.

We missed the holiday season in Romania by a couple weeks, but we at least caught a small Christmas market and some ice skating in Sinaia!

…Ten kuswar dishes,
Nine days of posadas,
Eight lekker puddings,
Seven Christmas apples,
Six thousand globos,
Five advent stars,
Four advent candles,
Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.

Iceland

In the twelfth country of of Christmas, Iceland brings to us:

(More than) Twelve Yule lad Santas

I long to visit Iceland, and I imagine the holidays there are simply magical. The Christmas season lasts nearly a full month, beginning when the first of 13 Yule lads arrive 13 days before Christmas Eve, and ending when the last leaves on the 6th of January. The holiday is marked by lights, ice skating, and an ample feast.

The lads are trolls from the mountains, each named for their characteristics (much like the seven dwarves!), and they come to town one by one to cause mischief. They even have a large troll cat who eats naughty children! (unless they received a new article of clothing before Christmas)

…Eleven Christmas carols,
Ten kuswar dishes,
Nine days of posadas,
Eight lekker puddings,
Seven Christmas apples,
Six thousand globos,
Five advent stars,
Four advent candles,
Three pairs of jandals,
Two present-givers,
and A bucket of KFC.


Merry Christmas to you and your family, however you celebrate it!

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