8 Bizarre Christmas Traditions from Around the World

13 December 2017

If you celebrate Christmas, or even if you don’t, there’s a good chance that you’ll have some traditions in your family that you’re not quite sure the origin of, but you still follow anyway. You’re not the only one though. In fact, some countries from around the world have some Christmas traditions and stories might seem extremely strange to those who don’t share them. This week, we take a look at some of the weirder ones, so pay attention in case you get caught out in your new home!


Iceland – The Yule Lads and Cat

Icelanders are so cold in the winter that they’ve managed to create two bizarre winter tales. The Yule Lads, or jólasveinarnir, are 13 mischievous sons of mountain-dwelling trolls who all have different specific characteristics. They visit on the last 13 nights leading up to Christmas, taking it in turns to come and cause trouble. Their personality traits vary wildly, from the malnourished Spoon-Licker who comes to steal your wooden spoons to lick, to the Candle-Beggar, who stalks children and tries to take their candles when they’re not looking.


The Yule Cat, on the other hand, is a far more sinister creature, which lurks out in the snowy countryside looking for food. Unfortunately, it tends to go after those who have not been given any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve. Traditionally a tale told by farmers to make sure their workers finish spinning the autumn wool before Christmas, but it’s probably not worth taking the chance.


Japan - KFC

Although Shinto and Buddhism are the two largest religions in Japan, with Christianity accounting for less than a percent of religious people in the country, it doesn’t stop the prevalence of weird traditions. Thanks to some smart advertising over the winter of 1974/1975 in Japan, the slogan “Kurisumasu nu wa kentakkii!” or “Kentucky for Christmas!” has been taken to heart, and even now, millions celebrate the 25th of December with a bucket of fried chicken.


Greenland – Mattak and Kiviak

The bizarre food traditions continue over in Greenland, where both Mattak and Kiviak are popular Christmas foods, but one you probably won’t be sticking on the Christmas menu this year. Mattak is traditional Eskimo dish of raw narwhal or white whale hide, most commonly served with whale blubber and soy sauce. If you think that sounds bad, then you should definitely steer clear of Kiviak, a traditional dish where up to 500 while auks (a small bird) are stuffed into a seal skin, before the hide is sewn up and left to ferment for at least three months. Nice.


Central/Eastern Europe - Krampus

Back to the creepy Christmas creatures now with Krampus. The Antithesis of Santa Claus, instead of rewarding good children Krampus punishes naughty children by dragging them away to his lair. In some countries, he even comes along with Saint Nicholas as good-cop, bad-cop double act. No one quite knows the origin of the half-goat, half-demon horror, but he appears prominently on many holiday greeting cards across the region. Just remember to be good.


Mexico – Radishes

In Mexico, the traditions are a somewhat more wholesome affair. Everyone knows about pumpkin carving and Halloween, but how about radish carving at Christmas? In Oaxaca, the tradition began when the red vegetables were carved with religious themes for the annual Christmas market on December 23rd. Although they were initially intended to draw folks to the market people soon started to bring the radishes home to make their own centrepieces for Christmas Dinner. Now with a formal competition every year, the festival attracts thousands of villagers. Unfortunately, the sculptures are only good for a few hours before they wilt away.


Canada – H0H 0H0

Canadians are so dedicated to keeping the myth of Santa Claus alive that they’ve given him his own postal code, H0H 0H0. But the commitment doesn’t end there. The Canadian postal service even goes as far as opening and replying to all the letters they receive. Now that’s dedication.