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14 Unusual Christmas Traditions Across the World

By Rachel George

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Christmas is the holiday often celebrated across cultures on various continents around the world. Traditionally, in North America, it’s the time of the year where millions of lights are hung on trees and eggnog is a necessary drink during the annual 25 days of Christmas movie marathons. Between the extravagant light fixtures, trips to the shopping market, Turkeys and hams on the table, and Christmas carols heard on every corner, Christmas is one the most exciting times of the year.

This holiday is celebrated differently around the world and other cultures add their own unique twist to the holiday season. Check out these unusual Christmas traditions across the globe.

Krampus, Austria and Southern Germany

You may want to leave the kids at home for this one.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, instead of children giggling with laughter, they are running the opposite direction in fear of Austria’s potentially dangerous tradition. Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon mask, said to be the evil twin of old St. Nick. that punishes children for being naughty.

Today, the tradition still exists as masked actors run through the streets at Krampus parades, dressed in costume rattling chains, flicking whips and clawing at most at adults and older children, during the annual parade. It’s become so popular that places like Philadelphia, Cincinnati have adopted the tradition as well. 

Devil’s Mask | Getty Images

Yule Goat, Sweden

Although it has burned down over 30 times, the Yule Goat has been an essential part of Sweden’s culture since 1966. Sometimes it won’t even make it to Christmas without someone attempting to burn it down or actually finishing the job, but it seems to be holding up well this year, at just over 42 ft (13 metres) tall and made of straw, rope and tied knots at the Castle Square in the village of Gävle.

Another Christmas tradition in Sweden involves Disney character Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You A Merry Christmas (Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul) aired annually at 3 pm on Christmas Eve.

Gavle Goat | Getty Images

Hiding Brooms, Norway

Legend has it, evil spirits in the form of witches come to steal your broom, mop, or anything with a stick, on the night before Christmas. In Norway, families hide them at night, so the witches can’t fly off.  

Christmas Pickles, Germany

Pickle lovers and large families would appreciate a good game of find the dark-green pickle-shaped ornament hidden within the Christmas tree. Parents hide the Christmas Pickle or Weihnachtsgurke,  and whoever finds it gets a special prize of your choosing.

Stop by your local Walmart, Target or even online at Amazon, and purchase one yourself. The origin of this popular tradition is indefinite, according to USA Today.

Christmas Pickle | Getty Images

Fried Carp, The Czech Republic 

In Czech, holiday Christmas traditions begin just one day early and it’s all about the food. For dinner, you’ll have potato salad, mushrooms, and fish soup and featured dish fried carp.  The tree is decorated with sweets, apples, and other ornaments. 

Roller Skating, Venezuela 

If you’re visiting Venezuela during Christmas time, you’ll see locals skating into Christmas mass through streets of exploding fireworks in the capital of Caracas. Kids sleep with a string tied to their toe that stretches out the window. If skaters tug on the string, then its time to wake up and open gifts.

 KFC Dinner, Japan

Usually, you’d spend Christmas eating home-cooked dishes with your family. Well, BBC reported that an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families eat at KFC during the holiday season. Some order fried chicken packages weeks in advance including cake and Christmas wine. 

KFC | Getty Images

Fake Spiders and Webs, Ukraine 

In North America, when you think of spiders and webs you automatically assume it’s for Halloween, but in Ukraine, they’re considered good luck.

According to an old tale, a widow and her two children went to bed sad on Christmas Eve because their family had no money for decorations. The family was never poor again after awaking to their tree covered in spider webs that turned gold and silver when the sun hit.

Amazon has a wide variety of spider-inspired Christmas ornaments to bring you good luck and fortune for the coming year. 

El Quema del Diablo, Guatemala 

Guatemala has a few unusual Christmas traditions every year starting with “the burning of the devil” on Dec. 7th.

Devil-designed pinatas are burned to release any negative energy or bad thoughts before going into the new year. After, a large statue of the Virgin Mary is carried around town on a float for all to admire. Christmas here involves wearing traditional Indigenous clothing, fireworks, and pyrotechnics to honor the Lady of Guadalupe. This would be the perfect time for traditional food and drinks such as tostadas, Carne Mechada and “fruit punch’ (made with sweet plantains, pineapples, apples, cinnamon, and other various dried fruits).

 Mari Lwyd, Wales 

Christmas in Wales could be a rather fun experience listening to traditional Welsh-language music and a rap contest. A group of singers and dancers wearing horse skulls accompany a horse-like figurine door-to-door throughout the neighborhood, like Christmas carolers. The goal is to earn an invitation into residents’ homes with a rap battle, who in return will receive traditional cakes and wassail, a spiced drink made with of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, and eggs. 

Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines

Every December, the “Christmas Capital of the Phillippines” hosts the Giant Lantern Festival and competition in San Fernando. Groups travel from all across the country competing against others for 

Getty Images

Christmas Eve Saunas, Finland

Finland’s sauna culture is most prevalent during the holiday season. It’s a tradition for families to go to the sauna together on Christmas Eve, although I’m not sure if you’d want to see your family members or strangers in the nude, to each his own. In case you’re interested, Travel + Leisure recommended Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall and Allas Sea Pools

Getty Images

Yule Lads, Iceland

Children in Iceland leave the window open with a shoe as a place holder at night during the 13 days before Christmas to receive visits from the Yule Lads. If you’re good, they’ll leave you candy and sweets and bring small gifts. Each lad has a different story and personality, somewhat like the dwarfs in Snow White.  

Catalonia, Spain

Between colorful street decor, Christmas markets and a variety of tasty seasonal dishes now is a good time for tourists to visit Barcelona. See the Christmas light shows in over 400 locations until January 6th. Some light shows offer Christmas concerts and Catalan dishes like their traditional pasta shell bowl made in a meat and vegetable tew or soup, known as ‘Escudella i carn d’olla. 

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