The world of Christmas is beautiful and diverse. Countries and nations have each created their own unique Christmas customs, traditions and stories which have been practised for decades, sometimes even for centuries. Some of them are enchanting, others are bizarre and we can definitely find some scary ones too. Here are our 10 favourite quirky Christmas traditions from around the world.
1. Japan – KFC Christmas Dinner
Who would think that one of the healthiest nations in the world prefer to eat junk food for Christmas. The KFC chain is extremely popular in Japan, and Christmas is not a religious occasion for most Japanese people. However surprisingly, in Japan, it is a tradition to eat KFC from December 23rd to December 25th. Because of such a high demand, people need to start placing orders already two months before Christmas.
2. Norway – Hiding Brooms
If you hate cleaning, you will love this Norwegian tradition that came from ancient pagan practices. People believed that Christmas Eve is the time when witches and bad spirits come out to wreak havoc on the unprepared. And we all know that witches need brooms to travel so people used to hide them along with all cleaning supplies. This would protect superstitious Norwegians from the encounter of the bad spirits on Christmas Eve.
3. Ukraine – Decorations In Spider’s Theme
Most of us probably associate spiders and cobwebs with Halloween, but for Ukrainians, Christmas Eve is the day when people’s homes are decorated with spider mats and cobweb decorations because it represents good luck for them. This tradition is rooted in the ancient story about a simple life of a widow and her children looking forward to Christmas but due to lack of money, they were unable to decorate their Christmas tree. The household’s spiders heard sad crying of children and spun their web around the tree. The next day on Christmas morning, children witnessed how sunshine rays turned the web into gold and silver. In order to honour this old story, Ukrainians until this day decorate their homes with artificial spider webs to bring them good luck and fortune for the coming year.
4. Venezuela – Rollerskating To Christmas Eve Mass
Now, this sounds totally fun! How do people normally go to church to attend to Christmas Eve mass? We were thinking car, bus, train or maybe by bike, but what about roller skating through the streets? This amusing tradition takes place every year in capital of Venezuela, Caracas from December 16th to 24th. It has became such a popular custom that the government closes the streets from vehicles to ensure everyone’s safety. There is a even a nice legend that tells us more about this tradition. Children are supposed to tie a piece of string to their toes and let it dangle from the window so passing roller skaters can pull the string gently to wake up the children and let them know that it’s time to start the day by heading to church.
5. Philippines – Giant Lantern Festival
In 1931 when electricity was established in San Fernando, the idea for a lantern festival was originated. The festival starts on December 14th and ends on January 2nd. The Philippines, as a predominantly Christian country in Asia, has put a lot of meaning on the symbolism of light as a sign of hope. Usually, several teams of designers and electricians from the region’s villages focus on building the most beautiful, colourful and intricate lanterns for ‘The Best Lantern’ competition. Due to Covid19 restrictions this year the concept of competition turned into virtual exhibition to deliver the strong message of hope for people during the pandemic.
6. Germany – A Christmas Pickle
The Christmas pickle tradition is a kind of family game. On Christmas Eve, parents hide the pickle ornament, deep in the tree branches, and the next day in the morning the first child that finds the pickle is rewarded. Rewards are different: sometimes the child can open the first present, or other families prefer to choose a special present for this pickle game.
There are debates if this tradition really comes from Germany because apparently, not many Germans know about this tradition. Some say the tradition is based on the story that a Bavarian soldier in the American Civil War was imprisoned, almost starved to death and begged a guard to give him the last pickle. The guard had mercy with a soldier and gave him the pickle which helped the soldier to recover. Another origin story is that the game celebrates St. Nicolas as a saviour of two boys who were trapped inside a barrel of pickles by an evil innkeeper. Wherever it comes from, we think it sounds like a fun Christmas tradition to add to the list!
7. Australia – Surfing Santa
This is not an official tradition but considering the fact that Australia enjoys hot summer weather during our winter, there is a big probability that you will meet many surfers in the Santa hat or costume during the holidays. In 2015, 320 surfing Santas on the Bondi Beach set the Guinness world record for the largest 30-minute surf lesson. The event was organised by a non-profit organization to raise awareness about mental health issues.
8. Spain – The Christmas Lottery
The Christmas lottery in Spain has been a tradition since 1812. That makes Spain the second oldest continuously running lottery in the world (right after Netherlands). December 22nd is the day when all Spaniards are filled with excitement, holiday joy and big expectations when the annual drawing of “El Gordo” happens. The prize can vary from as little as 10 Euros up to the grand prize of 4 million Euros. The event is organized in Madrid, in the Teatro Real opera house. It is estimated that 75 % of the nation buys the Christmas lottery tickets with a hope of winning, and also because it is a symbol of Christmas for them.
9. Iceland – The Yule Cat
The character of the Yule Cat comes from an Icelandic folk legend about a giant black cat that stalks every house looking for people who aren’t wearing new warm clothes for Christmas Eve. After finding them, the Yule cat shows no mercy and feasts on adults and children.
There is a practical point behind this weird and scary story. In the Middle Ages, exporting wool became an essential part of Iceland’s economy and survival. Entire households had responsibility to wool related chores. People lived a very simple life and a Christmas gift was usually a piece of clothing, but it was only possible to receive the gift if everybody did their part of the wool chores. The Legend of the Yule Cat was a reminder for children and adults that they need to work hard to finish their wool production tasks before Christmas Eve.
On a side note, Iceland also has 13 Santas, each with a different personality. Our favourite eats candles. Just saying.
10. Finland – Christmas Sauna
The Christmas sauna is probably the oldest Finnish Christmas tradition and has survived for centuries. The idea behind the sauna was to clean and purify the body and the mind of the family members before gnomes, elves and spirits of the dead that would come to bathe after the sunset. Nowadays the atmosphere is created by candles, lanterns and sauna oils. After the sauna, the members of the family dress up and enjoy holiday food. Finnish Santa Claus – Joulupukki comes after Christmas dinner and bring presents to the whole family which are opened later in the evening.
What is your favourite Christmas tradition in your country? Share with us in the comments 🙂