Christianity is the world’s largest religion. Although there are hundreds of different Christian sects, almost all of them mark Christmas in one way or another. Most Westerners are familiar with celebrations that involve Christmas trees, Santa, playing Christmas-themed online casino cash slots games (wink), enjoying a holiday meal and getting together with family.
There are a number of unique Christmas celebrations that are not necessarily recognized in the Western World but which are as important to different cultures as Santa is to Western Christmas-celebrating children. Some of those customs include:
Ligligan Parul Sampernandu, San Fernando, The Philippines
In San Fernando, the “Christmas Capital of The Philippines, the celebration of Ligligan Parul Sampernandu – The Giant Lantern Festival – sets off the Christmas Season. The festival is held on the Saturday before Christmas and the festivities encompass seven “barangays" (villages).
The Giant Lantern Festival dates back to the early 20th century when the provincial capital moved to San Fernando. At that time, smaller lanterns measuring half a foot in diameter were created in each barrio from locally available materials, including bamboo. The lanterns – paruls – were crafted from Japanese origami paper, lit by a candle and paraded around each barrio and then, right before midnight mass on Christmas Eve, were brought to the town church with the barrio patrons.
Today the lanterns are elaborate 15-feet in diameter affairs and people come from around the world to view the elaborate lanterns and are lit up by electric bulbs that sparkle in a kaleidoscope of patterns. The organizers of the festival have limited the number of lights to no more than 10,000 per lantern.
Gävle Goat, Sweden
The Gävle Goat dates back to 1966 when local officials started to erect the traditional Swedish Yule Goat at Slottstorgt Castle Square in Gävle, Sweden, at the beginning of Advent.
The Yule Goat is a typical Scandinavian Christmas symbol which is constructed of straw. Its origins date back to the pagan era when people celebrated the Sun’s annual re-entry into the astrological sign of Capicornus – pagans would sacrifice a kid goat in honor of Saturn of the Norse god Nijord – the god of plenitude and agriculture who rules this particular sign (Capicornus connects to cornucopia or 'horn of plenty' which promises a bountiful harvest to come).
Other theories connect the goat to the worship of Thor, a Norse god who road the skies in a chariot drawn by two goats.
In some areas, the goat morphed into Father Christmas/Santa Clause and was called jultomte or julenisse. This figure is still called the Joulupukki (Yule goat) in Finland. In other areas, the goat symbol was incorporated into Christianity and straw goats were created to signify gift-giving
The Gävle Goat is notable because, starting in 1966, it has been the subject of repeated arson attacks – over the course of the last 55 years the straw goat of Gävle has been burnt to the ground 38 out of 56 times. People gather in Gävle every Christmas to see whether security will win out over the arsonists.
If Santa Claus brings good little girls and boys presents, what happens to bad little boys and girls? In Austria, children are taught to be wary of Krampus, a beast-like demon creature who roams the streets, punishing bad children and, when necessary, capturing them and hauling them away in his sack.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, many towns, mostly in the Alpines, have Krampuslaufs, parades and traditional runs where young men dress as Krampus and try to scare audiences with their antics as they ring bells and rattle chains (some say that it represents the Church chaining the devil). Krampus is featured on holiday greeting cards in the region and even have their own name – Krampuskarten.
In Norway, people hide their brooms on Christmas Eve in a tradition that recalls the days when people believed that evil spirits and witches searched for brooms on Christmas Eve on which to ride away. Christians in Norway incorporated the pagan tradition of getting rid of these evil spirits into Christmas celebrations.
In pagan times, the belief was that Christmas was the time of year when evil spirits would come out of hiding and would steal people’s brooms in order to ride around. People would hide their brooms from these spirits and, as Christianity moved into the region, the two customs were brought together.
Día De Las Velitas, Columbia
In Columbia, the Día De Las Velitas – Day of the Little Candles – marks the beginning of the Christmas season. It takes place on December 7 and involves displays of lights to honor the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception.
Día de las Velitas celebrates the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, where the Pope acknowledged that the female and male aspects of divinity are equal. To commemorate this day, throughout Columbia, people place paper lanterns and candles on their balconies, in their windows and in their front yards, creating elaborate displays of lights.
In some towns such as Quimbaya, neighborhoods compete to see which neighborhood can create the most impressive arrangement.