15 Unusual Christmas Traditions Around The World

Unusual Christmas Traditions Around The World
Unusual Christmas Traditions Around The World

KFC Santa Claus in Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

Christmas is definitely the most exciting time of the year!!! Come November, and we’re already planning for the holidays. It’s a time when families come together to celebrate with joy and laughter. Out come the decorations carefully collected over the years, and added to that are some new ones to freshen the look. Up goes our Advent calendar, we decorate our trees and homes, bake Christmas cakes and cookies, and sing Christmas carols courtesy Alexa’s playlist.  We plan lavish menus, fill stockings, invite family and friends, unwrap gifts, drink mulled wine and feast. Sounds familiar?

But not everyone does thing our way. There are some unusual and pretty weird traditions that some folks in different countries follow. Interested? Here’s some of them to kindle your imagination.

Germany – It’s a Pickle in the Tree!

This cute tradition of hiding a pickle in the branches of the Christmas tree is believed to have started in the 16th century. Whichever child in the house finds it, gets a surprise gift.

Japan – KFC makes it Christmas!

Believe it or not, but it’s a Japanese family tradition to make a beeline to Kentucky Fried Chicken every Christmas after KFC ran a wildly successful campaign called “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii” in 1974.

Austria – The Evil Krampus

We all know Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Saint Nick, but in Austria, there’s a dark, ghoulish creature known as ‘Krampus’, the evil accomplice of St Nicholas, who wanders the streets in December scaring kids and adults with frightful pranks. There’s even an annual parade in Krampus parade in Vienna.

The Netherlands – Shoes by the Fire

Much like the Christmas stockings, Dutch children place their shoes by the fire in hope that Sinterklaas fills them with small gifts and treats in the night. Don’t be surprised if you find some juicy carrots in the shoes, they’re for Sinterklaas’ white horse, Amerigo.

Ukraine – Cobwebs at Christmas

This has a nice story. According to folklore, a poor widow could not afford decoration for her tree, so the spiders took pity on her family and spun beautiful shimmering webs all over the tree at night, so that when they woke in the morning their tree was so beautiful. And so, it became a tradition. Ukrainians consider spider webs lucky and use decorations web-like decorations at Christmas.

South Africa – Its Fried Caterpillars!

Not roast turkey, not Christmas pudding and certainly not gingerbread – in South Africa, the Christmas specialty is fried caterpillars of the crawly festive kind. Yes, that’s right! Apparently, these are a special variety too – they are Pine Tree Emperor Moth caterpillars also called the Christmas caterpillars, and they are considered very lucky!

Sweden – The Yule Goat

My daughter in law introduced me to this ancient custom from the 11th century where a man-sized goat figure, led by Saint Nicholas had the power to control the devil.

From a player of pranks, over the years the goat became a giver of gifts. Instead of Father Christmas, men in the family would dress up as the goat and give gifts to the entire family. Now the Yule Goat is a traditional Christmas ornament made out of straw and red ribbons.

Each year, a massive straw goat known as Gavle Goat is constructed at Slottstorget (Castle Square) in central Gävle, Sweden, a tradition that started in 1966. The goat is more than 42 feet high, 23 feet wide, and weighs approximately 3.6 tons! Each year, the gigantic goat is constructed in the same spot and it’s taken down after New Year.

Ireland – The Welcoming Red Candle

A lovely custom this. The Irish people place a lit tall red candle in their front windows overnight, a welcoming symbol of warmth and shelter for the holiday season.

Caracas – Roller Skating to Mass!

People in Caracas, actually roller skate their way to mass on Christmas morning. What fun! Many of the city’s streets are closed to traffic from 8am, so that the skating congregation can get to church safely.

Christmas Traditions
Clockwise from left to right: Germany’s pickle in a tree; Austria’s Evil Krampus parade; Sweden’s Yule Goat; and New Zealand’s Pohutukawa Christmas Tree. Photos: Shutterstock

Norway – Mischievous Flying Witches

If you’re in Norway, better hide away all the brooms on Christmas Eve. Folklore has it that Christmas Eve is the day when mischievous spirits and witches take to the skies for wicked deeds and pranks. As witches need brooms to fly, Norwegian families hide away all the brooms where the witches won’t be able to find them!

Colombia – Little Candles Day

‘Dia de las Velitas’ or Little Candles’ Day is celebrated across Colombia. Starting on 7th December, it marks the start of the Christmas season. Locals place candles and beautiful paper lanterns in their windows, balconies and front yards in honour of the Virgin Mary and the eve of the immaculate conception. Imagine how pretty the city must look!

New Zealand – The Pohutukawa Christmas Tree

We all think of pine and fir trees for Christmas, but going way beyond the norm are the Kiwis, for whom their native pōhutukawa, is a symbol of Christmas. This beautiful tree with its gnarled roots and bright crimson flowers appears on cards, decorations and even in carols.

Philippines – Giant Lantern Festival

Every year at Christmas, the city of San Fernando holds their spectacular ‘Ligligan Parul’ or Giant Lantern Festival featuring hundreds of amazing lanterns that symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. Each lantern consists of thousands of spinning lights that illuminate the night sky, and some lanterns are over 6m in size! No wonder San Fernando is known as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”

Iceland – Christmas Book Flood, and The Yule Cat

This is one of my absolute favourites. Jolabokaflod, or Christmas Book Flood is an Icelandic institution! Did you know that more books are published per capita in Iceland than any other country in the world? And that most of them are sold around the Christmas season? Here, on Christmas Eve, families and friends exchange books and then spend the evening reading and eating chocolates. This I could do, not only at Christmas time, but anytime!

Now the Yule Cat is said to be a huge vicious cat that roams the snowy countryside at Christmas time, eating anyone who does have new clothes to wear by Christmas Eve. Traditionally, farmers used the Yule Cat as an incentive for their workers – those who worked hard would receive a new set of clothes, but those who didn’t would be devoured by the cat, and parents get children to be on their best behaviour to receive a new set of Christmas clothes. Today it is customary for everyone in Iceland to get new clothing for Christmas to avoid an encounter with the Yule Cat.

Mexico -The Night of the Radishes

Every December 23rd, residents of Oaxaca have a radish carving competition. Yes, that’s right – its a Christmas tradition. Participants have to carve intricate nativity scenes on the skins of the radishes. These are then put on display at the Christmas market for all to appreciate.

Its always so interesting learning about places, people and cultures.  If you know of any unique Christmas custom, let us know!

Have a wonderful Yule Tide season folks!

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