12 of the most unusual Christmas traditions around the world

A selection of the weird and wonderful ways that other countries celebrate the festive season

Chris Wilson
Friday 22 December 2023 11:52 GMT
Weird and wonderful Christmas traditions from around the world

From bringing trees indoors and decorating them to making people eat Brussels sprouts, Christmas often seems like one wacky tradition after another.

The UK is rather set in its ways when it comes to celebrating Christmas, but compared to other countries throughout the world, Britain’s Christmas traditions – whether decorations, cuisine or present giving – are rather tame.

Other countries don’t waste time arguing over trivial matters like which day to begin decorating the house, or what food is traditionally included in a Christmas dinner. Instead, they’re off throwing around their shoes, hiding cleaning equipment, decorating their trees with spider’s webs or goats, and dining out on KFC.

From Catalonia to Caracas, the world has a slew of Christmas traditions that Brits might consider a little strange. Some date back hundreds of years, some barely decades, but they have all become an intrinsic part of local Christmas tradition.

In celebration of these festive eccentricities, we’ve rounded up 12 of the most unusual customs from across the globe.

The Krampus: Germany and Austria

Krampusnacht revellers in the town of Bad Tolz in Germany (Getty Images)

In Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore, the Krampus is Father Christmas’s scary friend, a devilish creature who punishes naughty children throughout the festive period. The mythical beast, who is hairy, with hooves and large horns, is ‘celebrated’ every year on 5 December in many cities throughout Germany and Austria in a festival named Krampusnacht, often marked with a parade in which hundreds dress up as Krampus and chase each other through the streets.

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Defecating logs: Catalonia

Caganers can be found in Christmas markets throughout Catalonia (Getty Images)

There are a couple of strange Catalonian traditions, one of which is the caga tio or “defecating log”. In the fortnight leading up to Christmas, a grinning creature is created out of a small log and placed on the dining room table. The log must be fed every day with fruit, nuts, and sweets, before – on Christmas Eve – it’s beaten with sticks, excreting its goodies. Another fecal-themed Catalonian custom is a caganer, a small defecating figurine, which traditionally appears in nativity scenes. In more recent years, caganers that are sold in stores and Christmas markets throughout the region have taken the form of just about any celebrity, from Donald Trump to your least favourite rival footballer.

Skating to church: Caracas

In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, revellers travel to early-morning church services on roller skates throughout the festive period. Roads are even closed off especially on mornings between 16 December and Christmas Eve.

Fried chicken: Japan

KFC orders for Christmas Day are often booked over a month in advance (Getty Images)

Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan but that doesn’t stop a large number of people celebrating the festival. Father Christmas, or Santa Kurohsu, is said to have eyes in the back of his head to keep an eye on naughty children, while Japanese Christmas cake is usually made up of sponge, whipped cream, and strawberries. In a further spin on Christmas food, many Japanese people head to branches of KFC on or around Christmas Day, with the week leading up to 25 December reportedly being the chain’s most profitable week of the year in Japan.

Remembering the dead: Portugal

In Portugal, a more religious Christmas is also a time for remembrance, as families set extra places at the dining table on Christmas Eve (or sometimes on Christmas morning) for deceased relatives. The practice is called consoda and is thought to bring the family good luck, with the meal, consisting of salted cod, potato and a range of regional desserts. traditionally taking place after a day of fasting.

Shoe throwing: Czech Republic

Over Christmas, Czech women use a clever trick to predict their love lives for the coming year. Unmarried women stand with their backs to their front doors and toss shoes over their shoulders. If a shoe lands with its toe pointing towards the door, the woman may very well be planning a wedding within the next 12 months.

Hiding your brooms: Norway

In Norway, it’s thought that Christmas Eve coincides with the arrival of evil spirits and witches. In a bid to protect themselves, families hide all their brooms and mops before they go to bed.

Spider webs on trees: Ukraine

In 2023, Ukraine officially moved its Christmas Day celebrations from 7 January to 25 December (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ukrainian Christmas trees are traditionally decorated with a fake spider and web. The custom, which is said to bring good luck, stems from an old wives’ tale about a poor woman who could not afford to decorate her tree. She woke up on Christmas morning to find a spider had covered it in a glittering web.

Whale skin for dinner: Greenland

A delicious-looking bowl of mattak (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

If you think sprouts are bad, you should try one of Greenland’s Christmas delicacies. Mattak – raw whale skin with blubber – is one. Another is kiviak, which is when an auk (a small bird) is wrapped in seal skin, buried for several months, and then eaten once decomposed.

Mango trees: India

Only about 2.3 per cent of the population of India are Christians, but that still works out as about 25 million people. The day is celebrated with midnight mass and present-giving, but in the absence of fir trees or pine trees, banana trees and mango trees are decorated instead.

Yule goats: Scandinavia

The town of Gavle is the site of a giant Yule goat, the largest in Scandinavia (Getty Images)

A traditional Scandinavian Christmas symbol, the Yule goat was believed to have been a spirit that would appear before the festive season to make sure that celebrations were carried out correctly. In later centuries, the goat’s role was as a gift-giver, before eventually being replaced by Father Christmas. Nowadays, small goats made out of straw are popular tree decorations throughout Scandinavia.

Pudding throwing: Slovakia

In Slovakia, it’s a Christmas dinner tradition for the most senior member of the family to throw some of the pudding (usually made from milk, bread, poppy seeds and something sweet) onto the ceiling. The amount that sticks indicates the luck everyone should receive in the coming year.

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