Quirky Christmas customs

Some countries have unusual Christmas traditions to say the least. Here are a few cultural oddities from around the globe.


In Austria, children who end up on Santa’s naughty list have to worry about Krampus: a horned, hairy beast that snatches misbehaving children in his wicker basket, serving as Saint Nicholas’ creepy enforcer. Many towns in Austria (and a few neighbouring countries), celebrate Krampusnacht on December 5, when dozens of men dressed as the half-goat demon parade through the streets brandishing sticks and terrorising children.


The residents of South Wales enjoy parading an undead horse around their villages to celebrate the happiest time of year. Probably dating back to Celtic times, the custom involves draping a white sheet over a pole with a horse skull attached and knocking on peoples’ doors. The party carrying the morbid effigy then sing to the residents, who are supposed to sing back before offering some food or drink to the visiting partygoers.



Twelve days after Santa’s visit, on the eve of the Epiphany, families in Italy leave out a glass of vino and a plate of sausages for ‘La Befana’, who drops down the chimney on her broomstick. According to folklore, the old lady knocked back an invitation from the Three Wise Men to witness the birth of Christ, and was so devastated about missing it, she spends every Christmas gliding around the country searching for the baby Jesus and doling out presents to good kids and coal to naughty ones.



Ukrainians swap fairy lights for spider webs. The legend of the Christmas spider explains that a poor widow and her children cultivated a Christmas tree from a pinecone but couldn’t afford any decorations. But on Christmas morning, they woke up to see their tree blanketed in cobwebs, which sunlight then changed into gold and silver. These days trees across Ukraine are decorated with little spider ornaments called ‘pavuchky’ and fake spider webs.


Each year in the Mexican city of Oaxaca, the days leading up to Christmas are marked with an event known as the Night of the Radishes. Believe it or not, it’s a vegetable carving competition. Participants are creative, with everything from nativity scenes to fantastical monsters on display as thousands of visitors descend on the city to witness the fun.


Christmas may not be huge in Japan but a successful KFC advertisement campaign in the 1970s led to the tradition of families tucking in to buckets of fried chicken on December 25. In fact, holiday-themed dirty bird has become so popular around Japan that restaurant reservations and specially packaged delivery orders are placed months in advance lest people miss out on their favourite crumbed chicken. 


A tradition that dates back centuries can be found in Norway, with local folklore claiming witches and evil spirits appear on Christmas Eve to get up to some mischief. Families hide their brooms to stop them from being stolen for a midnight ride.


In Guatemala, locals believe that the devil and other evil spirits live in the dark, dirty corners of your home. Therefore, they spend the week before Christmas sweeping up, collecting rubbish and then piling everything in a huge heap outside. An effigy of the devil is then placed on top of the pile and set on fire.


During consoda, the traditional Christmas feast in Portugal, families sometimes set extra places at the dining table for relatives who have passed. It is thought the practice will ensure good fortunes for the household. In some areas, crumbs are left on the hearth as well.


In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, some people make their way to Mass on roller skates on Christmas morning. Many of the city’s streets are closed to traffic, so skaters can roll into church safely, and on time. It’s even said that children will sleep with one lace from their skates tied around their toe, the other skate dangling from the window so their friends can wake them up with a friendly tug on the lace.


A unique festive tradition from Iceland involves a giant cat which is said to roam the snowy countryside at Christmas time. Traditionally, farmers would use the Yule Cat as an incentive for their employees so the hard workers would receive new clothes, while the more apathetic would be eaten by the gigantic cat-like beast. A feline feast indeed. Now there’s food for thought!


On Christmas Eve in cold Finland, it’s customary to strip down and take a long sauna. This cosy ritual is associated with long dead ancestors. After the sauna, Finns head out for evening celebrations while the ancestor spirits take their place in the warm bubbles.


Sweden has the Yule Goat tradition which dates back to around the 11th century, where a large goat figure was first mentioned. In the 17th century, it was popular for young men to dress as the goat creature and run around pulling pranks and demanding gifts. But 200 years later the goat became the ‘good guy’ and a giver of gifts.



Christmas food in the west often includes mince pies, turkey and ham. Not in South Africa, where creepy crawlies are the food of choice for many children. Fried caterpillars may seem like one of the more unusual Christmas traditions, but these caterpillars are not your everyday backyard variety. It’s believed anyone who eats the Pine Tree Emperor Moth, or Christmas caterpillar, will have extra luck in the year ahead.


We encourage you to share and use this material on your own website. However, when using materials from Majellan Media’s website, please include the following in your citation:  Sourced from www.majellan.media

Click to share