Does your family celebrate Christmas? Hanukkah? Kwanzaa? Here in America, we’re deep into the winter holiday season, and right about now we’re surrounded by familiar themes of Christmas trees, angels, menorahs, dreidels, candles and such. If we lived in some foreign lands, the themes, celebrations and family traditions could be quite different…and even a little strange.

How strange? How about a devil-like figure with horns, a long tongue and cloven hooves, who steals away bad children? That’s the character of Krampus and he comes out around Christmastime in Austria and Hungary. Fun!

In Ethiopia, Christmas is called ganna, which is also the name of a popular game played during the season. It’s sort of like baseball and cricket, but the ball is hard and often knocks out players, and the fields are so large that games go on for hours and hours without any score.

In Wales, the tradition of Mari Lwyd has pagan elements, and involves groups of people leading a horse (or someone dressed as a horse) from house to house, while revelers sing and dance.

It’s been said that in Japan, KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is the traditional Christmas dinner for millions of people. Go figure.

Forget Santa, in Italy gifts are delivered by La Befana, an old witch who uses her broom to clean dusty houses.

In just about every culture, the winter holidays seem to involve food…lots of food. In Portugal, you’ll never go hungry, even after you’re dead. Consoada is a traditional holiday dinner served on Christmas Eve, to honor dead relatives and friends. Families leave an empty chair at the table for any ghosts who may be present, and leftovers stay on the table all night, just in case the deceased are feeling a little peckish.

No matter where you live around the world, the winter holidays are loaded with symbols, customs, and traditions. Enjoy your favorite holiday activities…cheers!