KFC, Krampus and Kwanzaa: why tinsel and turkey aren’t the only ways to celebrate

Read Lily’s quick guide to how the winter season is celebrated around the globe.

Here in Britain, many of us will be decorating our houses with tinsel, wrapping presents for our loved ones, and preparing to stuff ourselves with a Christmas feast on December 25th. It is naïve to imagine though, that this is the only way of celebrating the winter season.

Although Christmas is not widely considered a religious holiday in Japan, the country does have an unusual way of marking the festive period. KFC, the popular fried chicken chain, saw a gap in the market for a Japanese Christmas tradition. The marketing scheme pushed Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii (Kentucky for Christmas) and sold Christmas dinner combo meals: which were received with great enthusiasm. This has now become a seasonal staple, with people queueing outside the chain stores in anticipation of the Christmas menu. Over 3.6 million families enjoy a festive KFC meal each year.

In Iran, Chaharshanbe Suri (also know as the Persian Festival of Fire) begins on the last Wednesday before the Iranian New Year. Rituals including jumping over bonfires and throwing fireworks symbolise the purification of the lives of participants – the burning away of pain, unhappiness and ill health, and the welcoming in of happiness, light and good relationships. Although the festival appears like great fun, the phrase ‘don’t try this at home’ has never seemed more relevant.

Outside the USA’s White House, 56 small trees, representing America’s states, five major territories and the District of Columbia, are placed and decorated around The National Christmas tree which stands all year round. This year, the lighting of the Christmas trees drew in huge crowds and was accompanied by musical acts including The Beach Boys. A giant electrical Menorah, standing at just over nine metres tall, is also erected and lit alongside the trees. The White House’s electricity bill must be sky-high…

Some may groan at the thought of going to Church on Christmas morning but the citizens of Venezuela’s capital city have a tradition which makes the journey there a bit more exciting. Early Christmas morning, the townsfolk of Caracas don their skates and glide their way to morning mass. The roads in the town centre are closed to allow this mass commute to happen swiftly and safely. On Christmas Eve in anticipation of the early-morning skaters, some children tie a piece of string around their big toe and dangle this out of the window so that the riders can give it a tug as they speed by the next day.

Kwanzaa was traditionally celebrated by the West African diaspora in the Americas but has now spread to other parts of the world, including the UK, where this year it will be celebrated from the26th of December until New Year’s Day. The seven day celebration sprung from the black nationalist movement of the 1960s and honours the seven principles of African heritage: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. A candle representing each of these principles is placed in a candle holder called a Kinara and one is lit on each day of the festival. Throughout the ceremony, traditional African dress is worn and participants eat West African foods (including a feast at the end of the celebration).

With the passing of Halloween we might consider the year’s scare factor to have also passed, but in some European countries, including Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia, the frightening figure of Krampus is set to roam the streets. The legend goes that this half-demon, half-goat beast arrives in the dead of winter to punish naughty children, sometimes by carrying them away to Hell! Winter parades often include someone dressed as Krampus, frequently carrying a bundle of Birch branches (his traditional weapon with which to swat children). A modern fascination with this character culminated in the release of the Christmas horror film, ‘Krampus’, in 2015.

Lily Mead

Photo credit: https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-kwanzaa-2834584