On Christmas Eve, an elderly man in a red tracksuit flies through the night in an open vehicle pulled by cloven hooves and climbs down chimneys to deliver Christmas presents to children around the world – all in the space of 24 hours. Oh, and he’s a huge fan of milk and cookies too.
If you stop for a moment and think about the stories that are told to children, it quickly becomes clear that some Christmas traditions around the world are absolutely bizarre. At the same time, they are a lot of fun, and somehow a reason why many people love this time of year so much.
In the U.S., there has been a tradition for centuries of the Santa Claus (Santa Claus, that is), who travels a very long way to deliver all the presents (and makes Amazon’s service look pretty old in the process). There are also more modern Christmas traditions, such as Elf on the Shelf – A kind of Christmas gnome that can be found in any household, and in the name of Santa Claus make sure the kids are well-behaved in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
But it’s not just America that celebrates some strange Christmas traditions. Here are the 11 most bizarre examples of Christmas traditions from other countries.
Christmas traditions around the world: 1. The Krampus (Southern Germany, Austria, Hungary)
As we heard, the "worse half" of Santa Claus is a hairy, devil-like creature called Krampus. If you believe the stories, Santa Claus brings toys to the "good" children, whereas Krampus punishes the "bad" children. Mostly he scares the children with his wild appearance, but it is said that he puts particularly bad children into his sack or chains them in his basket and takes them with him into the cave. People in Austria and neighboring countries often dress up as Krampus in early December and walk through the streets to scare children. So Christmas traditions don’t revolve around candles and bliss everywhere.
2. Night of the Radishes (Mexico)
In Oaxaca, Mexico, on 23. December the "Noche de Rabanos"("The Night of the Radishes") – a festival where vendors and artists sell radishes that have been artistically carved out to depict Christmas scenes, local wildlife or architecture. These intricately carved radishes are sold as Christmas nativity scenes, and the most beautiful radish design wins a prize.
3. Kentucky Fried Chicken at Christmas (Japan)
While Germany has Christmas goose and the USA has Christmas ham or figgy pudding, in Japan it’s all about Kentucky Fried Chicken. No joke! About 3.5 million Japanese families eat fried chicken on Christmas Eve – since a popular marketing stunt for KFC in the 1970s with Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii ("Kentucky for Christmas") advertised.
In Japan, Christians make up only a very small part of the population, so this advertising campaign filled the gap and made up for the lack of a Christmas holiday tradition. The KFC Christmas Meal iis so popular that some customers order their food months in advance, which of course includes fried chicken, cakes and champagne.
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4. Hide the brooms (Norway)
Some Norwegians believe that witches and evil spirits roam the night on Christmas Eve – and what is every witch’s favorite mode of transportation?? A broom of course. So, out of sheer caution, many Norwegians:inside put all the brooms inside the house to keep any witches from getting their hands on a broom at all. Some people even go a step further and fire a warning shot into the night to scare off the witches.
➡️ You still need some preparation for Norway? Now learn the most common greetings in Norwegian.
Christmas traditions around the world: 5. The gift-giving witch (Italy)
Speaking of witches, in Italy instead of Santa Claus there is an ugly (yet friendly) old witch named La Befana. According to legend, the Magi, in search of the Christ child, stopped in front of this witch’s house and asked her for directions. They invited Befana to come along with them, but the witch had too much housework to do.
After the Magi left, however, she changed her mind and tried to find the Magi, but was unsuccessful – and for this reason she is now flying through the night of 5. January (the eve of the Holy Three Kings Day). Just like Santa Claus brings La Befana the children’s toys. Instead of milk and cookies, however, Italians:inside place a plate of sausage and broccoli and a glass of wine for them outside the door.
6. Christmas carol singing with a dead horse (Wales)
Credit: R. fiend
You’re probably familiar with the custom of carol singing, but definitely not this custom in Wales where carolers show up at your doorstep. Sometime in December or January, you might open your door and someone has hidden under a cloth decorated with colorful ribbons and is holding up a real horse skull on a stick, a few other revelers in tow.
As part of this Mari Lwyd ("Gray Mare") tradition, the group then sings to you and then challenges you to a contest of mutual name-calling (which gives the pwnco is called). Afterwards, invite the whole troupe to your house for a little drink.
7. The Burning of the Devil (Guatemala)
Credit: Surizar | Flickr
In Guatemala, people are on fire for Christmas, literally. On 6. December finds La Quema del Diablo (the "burning of the devil") takes place, where families in Guatemala light bonfires in front of their houses and burn effigies of the devil to drive away evil spirits and celebrate the victory of good over evil.
In the past, people used to carry all their garbage outside their houses and set fire to it, which some still do. However, due to the negative impact on the environment, some people are more likely to burn today pinatas In the form of the devil. Traditional pastries and a warm fruit punch are served at this festival, and it officially opens the Christmas season, so to speak.
Christmas traditions: 8. A beach party (Australia)
Credit: Aidan Casey | Flickr
After all, in the southern hemisphere, Christmas takes place in summer. In Australia the thermometer can climb up to 29 degrees Celsius at Christmas, so of course many Australians go to the beach. Family and friends swim together, have picnic and play volleyball. If you are lucky, you can even see Santa Clauses on surfboards.
Some Sydney beaches are specifically known to attract backpackers and travelers from abroad. In recent years, the wild parties celebrated there have gotten so out of hand that there are now alcohol bans in place.
9. On inline skates to mass (Venezuela)
While Australians:inside surf, people in Venezuela skate. In the capital Caracas, there has been a Christmas custom for a very long time of skating to early morning mass on Christmas. In fact, in many parts of the city, no other vehicles are allowed to drive before 08:00 a.m.
And if this way of getting around isn’t weird enough for you: the night before, some kids tie one end of a string around their big toe and hang the other end of the string out of their bedroom window, so that passing inline skaters can give it a quick tug on their way to mass the next morning.
One of the Christmas traditions worldwide that we don’t really understand, but that’s exactly why we find it kind of likeable!
10. Happy cobwebs (Ukraine)
Credit: boliyou | Flickr
Would you feel lucky to discover a spider web on your Christmas tree? Probably not, but for the Ukrainians cobwebs stand for luck, based on an old story. This one is as follows: A poor family once had a Christmas tree pulled up from a pine cone. The children were excited to decorate this tree, but the family had no money for Christmas tree decorations.
Since this family was so desperate, some spiders wove their glittery silk webs around the tree, which, when the sun came up in the morning, was all covered in silver and gold, so the family had a beautifully decorated tree. To this day, Ukrainian families decorate their trees with spider webs to experience good luck in the coming year. One of the truly heartwarming Christmas traditions worldwide!
Christmas traditions: 11. The crapping block of wood (Catalonia)
Credit: Valerie Hinojosa | Flickr
We saved the craziest story for last. In the Spanish region of Catalonia, there is a unique holiday tradition called Tio de Nadal, which roughly translates as "Christmas clog". This involves giving a hollowed-out block of wood a face, legs, and a little red cap, and from the 8. From December on, the family "feeds" this wooden block every night with presents and sweets, and also covers it with a blanket to keep it nice and warm.
On Christmas Eve, the log is placed in the (unlit) fireplace, and in turn, family members beat it with a stick and order it to "poop out" the presents and candy, while singing traditional Christmas carols to it. After the beating, the family members reach under the blankets and take out the presents. Sounds crazy? Is it also!
Which of these Christmas traditions around the world did you like best? If you’re already wondering what New Year’s Eve customs are, discover fun New Year’s traditions from other countries here!