Holidays

8 Christmas Traditions Much Better Than The Elf On The Shelf

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Last week we learned that there are some Christmas traditions that make the Elf on the Shelf look like a cherubic angel instead of the beady-eyed serial killer he so clearly truly is. But if reading about all the bizarro holiday traditions out there that make the Elf look normal still didn’t convince you to cave in to your kids’ agitations for store-bought holiday magic, there’s an alternative. From all around the world, here are eight different holiday traditions to re-ignite that Christmas spark without having to invest in your own copy of that little felt-and-wire tyrant.

1. Kentucky Fried Christmas

kfc christmas tradition in japan(via)

In Japan, a favorite Christmas Eve dinner is nothing other than a big ol’ bucket of KFC. Like the Elf on the Shelf, this tradition was born out of a systematic marketing campaign, but unlike the Elf, it does not make me want to build my own rocketship to fly to Jupiter to celebrate Christmas separate from human society. If you’re going to be hosting Christmas dinner together, you’re going to be spending a lot of the day in the kitchen: getting dinner to go the night before is an amazing idea. I would make one small update to this tradition, though, and visit the local southern-food takeout joint, whose fried chicken is actually good. And who has never thought serving an entire fried chicken meal with the fixings in a single bowl was a neat idea.

2. La Befana

befana italian christmas tradition witch(via)

Italian children get some presents on the night of Epiphany from this friendly witch if they’ve been good. Traditionally, a glass of wine is left out for her, which beats the hell out of milk and cookies. As a witch, Befana naturally travels by broomstick, and she’s reputed to sweep up in the household before she leaves. That’s my kind of Christmas magic.

3. King Cake

traditional christmas king cake(via)

I’m pretty sure I don’t need an excuse beyond “cake” for wanting to adopt this tradition. Mostly found in French-speaking parts of the world, the types of filling and decoration vary from region to region, but usually a small choking hazard figurine is baked into the cake. Whoever finds the figurine becomes King or Queen for the night, so depending on how tyrannical your kids are, that can either mean you let them make the rules until bedtime, or that they just get an extra scoop of ice cream. When in doubt, play it safe, so that you don’t accidentally become the victim of a king-cake induced coup d’état.

If you’re too worried about accidentally inhaling a miniature plastic baby Jesus figure during dessert, but you still want cake, I suggest you try the Italian equivalent, panettone, instead. The cake is made with citrus zest and raisins, so if you’re one of my fellow philistines who insists on adding raisins to your Thanksgiving stuffing, this should be right up your alley.

4. St. Lucy

st lucy's day celebration(via)

Part of the lead-up to the Christmas season, St. Lucy’s day is celebrated in Scandinavia – Lucy’s name comes from the Latin word for “light”, which is something in short supply in Norway, Finland, and Sweden come December. (And Wisconsin, for that matter.) In Sweden, the oldest daughter in each family dresses up as Saint Lucy with a crown of candles, and wakes up her family on December 13, St. Lucy’s Day, by bringing them coffee and pastries. (Boys can also get in on the action by dressing up as stars or carrying lanterns.) I like the breakfast-in-bed theme of this holiday, although the prospect of putting lit candles on my kid’s head makes me nervous. Maybe someone can invent a crown made out of mini-flashlights instead?

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