In just one night, Santa Claus flies around the entire world, delivering gifts to all the well-behaved girls and boys. And on Christmas Eve, as many children peer up into the sky, looking for a sleigh drawn by eight dashing reindeer, what traditions is Santa seeing from his perch in the sky?
Rather than seeing folks enjoy a white Christmas with chestnuts roasting on an open fire, in Australia, Father Christmas smells shrimp grilling on the barbie and watches people playing on the beach. With Christmas occurring during summer vacation Down Under, one of the biggest holiday traditions is eating prawns. According to Helen Jenkins of the Australian Prawns Farmers Association, "40 percent of Australian prawn consumption occurred over Christmas."
Turning his sleigh north, Santa Klaus enters the Philippines, one of two Christian countries in Southeast Asia, where more than 90% of the population is Roman Catholic and the Christmas season lasts for four months. Yes, Filipino households start decorating with Nativity scenes -- known as belens -- as early as September. In the Philippines, church is the center of Christmas celebrations. Dec. 16 is the first day of Simbang Gabi, nights of masses beginning before dawn that conclude in a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. After completing Simbang Gabi, many people believe that wishes are granted.
Taking a pivot northeast to Austria, as St. Nicholas passes out goodies to the good children, Krampus, a horned demon who steals away bad children in his bag, also roams the land. Though this monster is a far cry from the sweet sugarplum fairies or helpful elves known to children from other countries, for 500 years, he has inspired "Krampus runs" throughout the country, when hundreds of people don frightful Krampus costumes to run races. Continuing north, the path to Norway is illuminated for St. Nick starting Dec. 13. That day is the feast day of Santa Lucia, the fourth-century saint who wore a crown of lingonberry branches and lit candles to lead persecuted Christians through tunnels. With much of Norway dark throughout the winter months, Christmas brings a much-needed festival of light.
Directing his reindeer across the Atlantic Ocean, Santa might do a double take when flying over New York City. Each year, tens of thousands of people dress up as the jolly old elf, spreading cheer -- and wreaking havoc -- across the city. Though New York holds the largest SantaCon in the world, hundreds of similar events happen in about 40 countries. SantaCon originated in the anarchist counterculture of San Francisco, when a few dozen members of the Cacophony Society, a self-described "randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society," created the first "Cheap Suit Santas" gathering and cheerfully ran amok in the city streets.
Like a flash, Papa Noel darts around the sky of Argentina near dawn, seeing many people leaving the traditional Misa de Gallo. This "rooster Mass" is celebrated right after Christmas Eve dinner and lasts till early morning when the roosters have begun their days. Luckily, the Christmas Eve dinner of pork, veal, mince pies and pan dulce is enough to sustain this important night.
As Baba Noel makes his way to Africa, he takes a moment to swing through the sunny skies of Antarctica, waving to the penguins and seals below, where it averages almost 20 hours of sunlight in December. Reaching Egypt, where the Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, Baba Noel climbs through windows to leave presents for obedient children. The Coptic Orthodox Church fasts for 43 days before Christmas, abstaining from eating beef, poultry, eggs and oil. After the special Christmas Eve church service, people return home to break their fast with a huge Christmas feast, where they enjoy all the treats they resisted.
No matter where you are or what holiday traditions you're celebrating this year, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!