12 of the Weirdest Christmas Traditions From Around the World
12 of the Weirdest Christmas Traditions From Around the World
Think of your holiday traditions. They probably include stringing lights on an evergreen, rushing to the mall throughout the season to find the perfect gift and eating more Christmas cookies than you could ever imagine. While Americans celebrate Christmas a certain way, this holiday looks really, really different around the world.
Christmas traditions in other countries can range from the enchanting to the bizarre to the horrifying — at least when seen through an American lens. For every lovely story about a Christmas spider who spins a web of gold and brings good luck, there’s a pooping figure in a nativity scene or a Yule Cat who prowls the country, waiting to attack people who fail to get a new wool sweater before Christmas Eve.
And though we have an image of what a traditional holiday meal should look like, in Japan there is nothing more festive on Christmas Day than diving into a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. And if you think eating fast food or celebrating bugs are weird ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, these other weird traditions will blow your mind.
St. Nicholas rewards good children with presents during Christmas, but in Austria and other Central European countries, Krampus punishes the bad boys and girls. And they’re terrified of him. And he is truly scary; he’s half-demon, half-goat and is often depicted with heavy chains, which he thrashes for dramatic effect. Along with his jolly counterpart, Krampus visits homes on December 5, for the Feast of St. Nicholas.
Christmas Goblins (Greece)
The Kallikantzaros are evil goblins that come up from the Earth’s core, and their job is sawing at the World Tree to terrorize homes during the 12 days of Christmas. No two regions of Greece describe these goblins the same way. Sometimes they’re small, sometimes they’re large; but they’re typically black and hairy and have features of animals. On Christmas, they come up to the Earth’s surface and cause mischief during the night throughout the Yuletide. They disappear on January 6, heading back to their home.
The Yule Cat (Iceland)
The Jólakötturinn, or the Yule Cat, is not your average Christmas kitten — and he cares deeply about fashion. Dating back to the 19th century, this vicious monster will eat you on Christmas Eve if you don’t have new clothes to wear. The Yule Cat, meant to encourage farmers to finish sheering their sheep before the holidays, needs an offering of wool in order to be satisfied, so donning a Christmas sweater is encouraged.
Beer and Mince Pie for Santa (Ireland)
Forget Santa Claus, in Italy, it’s all about Befana. Just like Santa, Befana visits homes during the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) and leaves candy and presents in socks for good boys and girls. Bad children get coal, dark candy or sticks. Though Befana is portrayed as a haggard old woman covered in soot, she is kind and will sweep homes with her broom before she departs, brushing the problems of the previous year behind.
Eating KFC (Japan)
There are a lot of things you don’t know about KFC, including the chain’s popularity in Japan. Thanks to an insanely popular ad campaign in 1974, it’s a Kentucky Fried Christmas for the people of Japan. Though Christmas is a non-religious occasion in the country, eating KFC from December 23 to 25 is so popular that Japanese people start placing orders two months in advance to secure their holiday dinner.
Hiding Brooms and Not Cleaning (Norway)
If you hate cleaning, Christmas in Norway is the holiday for you. Long ago, Norwegians believed that December 24 was the day when witches and spirits would come out and take to the skies. Since a witch’s main mode of transportation is (obviously) the broom, folks in this country will hide all brooms and cleaning supplies before Christmas in order to keep witches away from their homes.
A Crappy Nativity Figure (Spain)
Every nativity scene has a baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Three Wise Men. But in the Spanish region of Catalonia, there’s a caganer, or defecating figure, set out every year. Dating back to the early 18th century, the caganer was traditionally depicted as a peasant with his pants down, bare bottom showing, and a pile of feces underneath. Though the exact meaning behind this figure is unknown, it’s thought to symbolize fertility. Modern caganers can lampoon authority figures and celebrities, thus bringing them down to Earth.
Christmas With Donald Duck (Sweden)
Americans may celebrate Christmas by watching “A Christmas Story,” but in Sweden, no holiday is complete without Donald Duck. Every year at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the 1958 Walt Disney special “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” (“Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas”) airs on TV, and reportedly a whopping 40 percent of the country tunes in. The Swedish translation reflects Donald Duck’s popularity in Sweden, compared to other countries where Mickey Mouse is far more popular. In America, this holiday program is called “From All of Us to All of You,” and it’s significantly more obscure.
Spiders in Christmas Trees (Ukraine)
Spiders may be associated with Halloween in America, but in Ukraine, finding one of these creepy bugs in your Christmas tree is considered good luck. That’s because of the Legend of the Christmas Spider, in which a pine cone grew into a Christmas tree in a poor family’s hut and was covered in spider webs. When the children opened the windows on Christmas Day, the webs turned into gold and silver, meaning the family would never live in poverty again. Today, spiders and cobwebs are popular tree ornaments.
Rollerskating to Mass (Venezuela)
Going to church during December to celebrate the Christmas season is not unusual, but in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, people get to Mass in an unusual way: rollerskating. It’s not totally clear why people skate to church, but local neighborhoods will close the streets starting at 8 a.m. to make way for the worshippers on wheels.
Televised Yule Logs (United States)
In a country with many homes that have a real fireplace, it’s weird that people in America would watch a fire burning on TV, right? New York City’s WPIX first started airing a burning Yule log on TV in the 1960s, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a roaring fireplace, which a human occasionally has to tend to, with some holiday music playing in the background. Now, the burning Yule log (or fireplace for your home) is readily available on streaming services like Netflix so you can watch any time of year. But this is only one of the many, many weird holiday traditions in the U.S.
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