10 Unusual Christmas Traditions From Around The World

Published 1 year ago on December 19, 2018
By Hugo

So the Christmas period is upon us and most of us are looking forward to few days off and spending time with the family. A lot of us will be getting giddy over the festive traditions in which they take part in every year but, whilst most places on the planet have gift giving and Christmas trees, some countries celebrate Christmas a little differently.

Shutterstock/ yamagiwa

Here we look at some Christmas traditions that are unusual in the sense that they are very specific to certain parts of the world and you most likely won't find them elsewhere.

1. The Yule Goat - Sweden

In a Pagan tradition, Swedish people used to be visited by the Yule Goat, a magical goat that would visit in the winter and perform for leftover scraps of food. But as the awareness of Christianity and the concept of Christmas spread throughout the country, this tradition soon became conflagrated with that of Santa Claus coming to visit them so now, the very human looking, Santa Claus is referred to as The Christmas Goat.

However, giant straw goats are still built in town squares and centers to commemorate the original goat mythology with the town of Gävle becoming infamous for its unlucky goat, which has been burned down by vandals more often than it has survived over the years since it was first erected in 1966 and being somewhat of a tradition in itself.

2. Christmas Lads - Iceland

The Christmas Lads or Yule Lads long pre-date Santa Claus in the country with their numbers varying over time and from place to place with them ranging from being mere pranksters who would play bad tricks on children who had been naughty to full-on homicidal monsters whilst others brought gifts and rewards to the good children.

Nowadays they are very much a representation of Santa in look and act but there is a group of them over just a singular one.

3. Shoes - Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic, there are a few traditions that predict whether a woman will marry in the coming year and one of these is where an unmarried woman will throw a shoe over her shoulder, towards the house door. Should the shoe land, toe towards the door, she will marry within the year but should the heel point toward the door then she is destined to remain single for another year.

Shutterstock/ Oleksandr Saveliev

Another way of predicting marriage for unmarried women is by placing a  cherry tree branch under water. If the branch blooms before Christmas Eve, it is another sign that she will marry in the coming year.

4. KFC - Japan

A tradition beginning in 1974, the roots in Japanese people heading to their local fried chicken shop on Christmas Day actually comes from a very successful marketing campaign for the company when Japan’s foreign Christian population couldn’t get their hands on any come December, they settled on the familiar fried chicken brand instead.

Shutterstock/ Quality Stock Arts

The marketing team of KFC then seized upon this and used the kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ or ‘Kentucky for Christmas!’ was born. Not a national holiday in Japan as its Christian population is in a minority, and so traditions were widely open to interpretation despite Western influence opening the country up to the idea of Christmas. As such, the icon of KFC being a white-bearded gentleman is often confused for Santa Claus, something the company has encouraged in the country by dressing up all depictions of the icon in Christmas wear during the period.

5. Krampus - Austria & Germany

Coming from Austrian/German folklore, Krampus is the shadow of Santa Clause and so, although a separate entity, is intrinsically linked to the jolly red man and is the complete antithesis of him as it comes to beat children who have been bad. A horned, demonic beast, he is not a direct interpretation of Santa but does come to naughty children to either beat them with branches or drag them to hell.

Needless to say, it is a pretty scary tradition that has widely died out but still practised here and there.

6. Witches - Norway

Norwegians once believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve to wreak havoc and so many traditions arose from that idea with one being that all brooms and mops around the house would be hidden before going to bed so that they wouldn't be stolen and burning spruce logs in the fireplace to prevent witches coming down the chimney.

Shutterstock/Jorge Argazkiak

Some Norwegians will still fire a shotgun in the air outside the house to ward off evil.

7. Caganer - Catalonia

The autonomous region of Catalonia covers parts of Spain, France and Italy and one of the traditions in this region is the Caganer, a male figurine who is depicted squatting and defecating in a symbol of good luck, as his stool is believed to fertilize the land and promote a good harvest the following year. 

Shutterstock/ nito

The traditional Caganer is an elf-like creature but celebrity depictions of the Caganer have become common in recent years.

8. Spiders Webs - Ukraine

There is an old Ukranian fable that tells of a poor widow and her children who found a Christmas tree growing in their yard but didn’t have any money to decorate it. Bringing the tree inside they awoke the next morning to find it covered in spider webs that glistened in the light.

Shutterstock/ VICHAILAO credit

In honor of this story, many Ukranian households decorate their trees with spiders or web-like decorations.

9. La Befana - Italy

In Italy, legend has it that the witch-like character of La Befana was offered the chance to accompany the three wise men on their journey to see the baby Jesus but once they had set out on their journey she immediately regretted her decision of turning them down. Now, she flies from house to house giving gifts to children in an attempt to make up for her folly and looking for the baby Jesus.

Shutterstock/ Salvatore Chiariello

Seen as a good character, wine and food are often left out for her like they may be for Santa Claus in other countries.

10. Mummers - Latvia

Like trick or treaters on Halloween, Latvians have Mummers who dress up in costume and go door to door for sweet treats and beer. Traditionally dressed as cranes, fortune-tellers, goats, wolves, bears, or horses, they are said to drive away evil forces and so are welcomed into people's homes.

Shutterstock/ yamagiwa

 Usually playing music and singing traditional songs, the Mummers have to disguise their voices so they are not recognized by others in the community.

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