Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated around the world. While it may have started as a solely Christian festival, people from all over have embraced it over the years and added their own traditions along the way. Whether you see it as a religious holiday, something commercial, celebrate another festival like Hanukkah, or even nothing at all, you’re sure to be interested in these 15 unusual Christmas traditions around the world.
1. Krampus, Austria
2. Yule Goat, Sweden
3. Disguised Mummers, Latvia
Mummers (or street actors) disguise themselves as animals or macabre characters in Latvia. They then go from house to house to drive away the evil spirits with music and traditional songs. In return, families offer them food and drink. The mummers are expected to stay disguised, and in addition to the masks, they hide their voices to avoid being recognised.
4. La Befana, Italy
5. Hiding Brooms, Norway
According to Norwegian folklore, witches and evil spirits come out on Christmas Eve to do mischief. So families hide their brooms to stop them from being stolen for a midnight ride. Sometimes they even burn spruce logs in the fireplace to stop them from coming down the chimney.
6. KFC Dinner, Japan
Christmas isn’t a big deal in Japan, apart from gift-giving and light displays. However, they do have an unusual Christmas Eve dinner. Thanks to a festive marketing campaign in the 1970s, Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii (or “Kentucky for Christmas”) has become a firmly established holiday tradition. Families from all over the country head to their local KFC for some festive fried chicken.
7. Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines
Each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the city of San Fernando in the Philippines holds the Ligligan Parul Sampernandu, the Giant Lantern Festival. Several villages compete to build the most beautiful and elaborate paper lantern. They can measure up to six metres (20 feet) in diameter and are arranged in intricate patterns with vivid colours.
8. Throwing Shoes, Czech Republic
9. The Caganer, Spain
In the Catalan region of Spain, nativity scenes frequently have an unusual addition. The Caganer can be found tucked away into a small corner and is traditionally a man with his pants rolled down and caught in the act of defecation. Though his origins have been lost in time, he started to appear in the 18th century and can often be found wearing traditional clothing and hats. Now, you can even find Caganer versions of popular celebrities.
10. Spider Webs, Ukraine
11. Yule Lads, Iceland
In the 13 days leading up to Christmas, 13 Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar) visit children across the country to leave candy or small gifts in their shoes. Each of these troll-like characters has a different personality, though they were all originally pranksters who also left rotting potatoes for naughty children.
Their names are Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), Stúfur (Stubby), Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker), Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper), Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker), Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer), Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler), Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper), Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper), Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer), Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook) and Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer).
12. Christmas Eve Saunas, Finland
13. Roller Skating Mass, Venezuela
In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, the residents head to church for mass each Christmas morning – so far, so normal – but, they do so on roller skates. This tradition is so popular that the city’s streets are closed to traffic so that people can skate to church safely.
14. “Kalle Anka,” Sweden
Swedish Christmases are planned around an unusual television special. In the afternoon, people gather around to watch Donald Duck. This dates back to the 1960s when televisions were new and played only two channels (one of which played Disney cartoons). One of the most popular is a 1958 Christmas special called Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul or “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas”.
15. Christmas Pickles, Germany
Christmas trees can be found around the world but in Germany, families have an unusual addition to their ornaments. They hide a pickle ornament somewhere within the branches of the tree, and the first child to find it gets a special present.
Did we miss one of your favourite Christmas traditions around the world? Let us know in the comments below.