When you think it, weird Christmas traditions are everywhere. It’s pretty weird to hang your socks on the mantlepiece so that a fat man will break into your house and fill them with chocolates and body wash. Or coal, if you’re badly behaved. (Way to go green, Santa.)
But even granting that ‘weird’ is definitely a relative term, there are some Christmas traditions that go way farther than others. Some are magically weird, some are weirdly weird. But they’re all worthy of delving into at this festive time of year.
So let’s take a glance at weird Christmas traditions from around the world. Maybe some of them deserve to be imported?
20. Roller skating Christmas (Venezuela)
If you love rollerskating and festive spirit, you should put Christmas in Caracas on your bucket list.
Residents of the city love to roller skate to mass on Christmas morning. Since Venezuela is a highly Catholic country, participation is very high — so high in fact that streets are shut down to accommodate skaters.
It’s not clear how this tradition started, but as Venezuela has a tropical South American climate, it makes sense.
19. The Yule Lads (Iceland)
There isn’t just one Santa Claus in Iceland. Instead, there are 13 ‘Yule Lads’ who leave presents in children’s shoes every night between December 25 and January 6. (Or rotten potatoes, if the child has been naughty.)
Historically, the Yule Lads were somewhat more troublesome. They’re more like trolls than elves, tricksters who descend from the mountains to have their fun around the holidays. Each one has a particular name and trait. There’s even a poem to detail their hijinks.
18. The Pooping Log (Catalonia)
In the autonomous Catalonia region of Spain (around Barcelona), it’s traditional to make unique Christmas crafts called Tió de Nadal. They’re hollowed-out logs with faces. Children feed them, water them, and swaddle them in blankets to keep them warm.
Then, on Christmas morning, the children beat them until candy comes out while singing songs. The logs basically poop out candy, hence the nickname ‘pooping log.’
17. Spider webs on the Christmas tree (Ukraine)
If you’re an arachnophobe, you may want to skip out on one of Ukraine’s weird Christmas traditions. Ukrainians traditionally decorate their trees with artistic representations of cobwebs coated in morning dew. Don’t worry: the trees are not traditionally spider-infested. But if you’re firmly anti-spider… the webs and spider-shaped ornaments will be enough to send you running.
16. A KFC Christmas (Japan)
There really aren’t many Christians in Japan, but that doesn’t stop the Japanese from landing on our list of weird Christmas traditions. And the thing that gets them here is delicious fried chicken.
Thanks to robust advertising campaigns, KFC has positioned itself as the place to have Christmas dinner. It’s so popular that if you want to observe this tradition in Japan, you’ll want to order your 6-piece bucket well in advance.
15. The day of Candles (Colombia)
December 7, the Immaculate Conception, is a national holiday in Colombia. It marks the beginning of the Christmas season. To celebrate the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy, Colombians will place candles and lanterns all over the place. The result is a spectacular and moving festival of lights.
14. A vegan Christmas (Egypt)
Although we think of Egypt as a majority Muslim country (and it is), Coptic Christians make up about 10% of the population. As a result, there’s still plenty of room for weird Christmas traditions. This one, though, is truly weird in a good way.
Coptic Christians fast for 43 days before Christmas, consuming no animal products. They basically take on a vegan diet.
Then, on January 6 (Coptic Christmas), after church services that can last until 4 AM, they feast!
13. A creepy-crawly Christmas (South Africa)
Forget the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce. South Africans have a weird Christmas tradition that’s also edible. Technically. In this country, one of the most popular yuletide dishes is the emperor moth caterpillar. Eating insects can often be nutritious, however in this case the critters are deep-fried. It’s okay — Christmas is a cheat day.
12. The pohutukawa: nature’s Christmas tree (New Zealand)
Evergreen Christmas trees are the symbol of Christmas in many countries. But in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas comes in the summertime. As a result, frosty spruce trees would seem out of place. Luckily, on New Zealand’s North Island, there’s a beautiful tree called the pohutukawa. Its festive red blossoms have made it the Kiwi symbol of the holiday season.
11. SantaCon (Various)
SantaCon began in San Francisco. It was meant to be a one-off piece of street theater: a bunch of Santas wandering around. However, it soon spread and evolved into an annual event in many cities and even foreign countries.
SantaCons have a negative reputation for excessive drinking and public vandalism. In New York City (the site of the largest event) thousands of people dressed as Santa show up every year. As a result of their misbehavior, many locals despise the tradition.
As one New York Times op-ed put it: “[SantaCon] contributes absolutely zero value – cultural, artistic, aesthetic, diversionary, culinary or political – to its host neighborhood. Quite simply, SantaCon is a parasite.”
10. Pooping in the manger (Catalonia)
Here’s another weird Christmas tradition courtesy of our friends in Catalonia. Although, we’re bound to ask: why do they all involve poop?
Nativity scenes are a common sight around the holidays. However, Catalan nativity scenes add an extra wrinkle. Their scenes tend to include peasants in Bethlehem — one of which has his pants pulled down, taking a dump.
He is known as the Caganer (the crapper), and he has been a tradition at least as far back at the 18th century.
9. The Gävle Goat (Sweden)
Goats are a traditional symbol of the holidays across Scandinavia. Before Santa, is was the Yule Goat who brought gifts to good boys and girls. That being said, the Gävle Goat is an especially famous (and weird) Christmas tradition all on its own. This enormous straw goat is erected annually in the middle of the city of Gävle.
But the truly weird part of the tradition is the fact that it is burned down or otherwise wrecked almost every year. In spite of security measures (and the threat of a 3-month prison sentence), the Gävle Goat has been vandalized or burned nearly 40 times since 1966.
8. Hide your brooms (Norway)
In Norway, the traditional belief is that Christmas is the time of year when witches are most active. Kind of makes sense if you buy into the notion of witches as brides of Satan. Anyway, as a result, there’s a correspondingly weird Christmas tradition of hiding brooms over the holidays. That way witches can’t steal them and… fly around cackling?
Bottom line: if you’re looking for a Christmas-Halloween crossover, try Norway.
7. The Giant Lantern Festival (Philippines)
The city of San Fernando has earned a reputation as the Christmas capital of the Philippines due to its dazzling lantern festival. Meant to symbolize the star that led the three kings to Bethlehem, these lanterns are extremely beautiful and elaborate. The tradition of making them dates to the early 20th century, and they’ve since become an enduring symbol of San Fernando.
6. Magical almonds (Finland)
First off, the Finns believe that Santa lives in the far north of their country. They’ve even built a giant theme park where the Big Man supposedly lives. We Canadians dispute that, but let’s agree to disagree — in the spirit of the season. But they also have a bit of a weird Christmas tradition.
The typical Christmas dessert in Finland is baked rice pudding with an almond hidden in it. The idea is that if you find the almond you’ll have good fortune for the year to come. Usually when I find an almond I just wish I’d found a cashew. But let’s agree to disagree in the spirit of the season.
5. The Yule Cat (Iceland)
Iceland has a number of weird Christmas traditions. The Yule Cat is supposedly the pet of the 13 Yule Lads we mentioned earlier. Like them, she has a pretty ominous backstory.
According to stories dating from the 19th century, the Yule Cat roams the mountains of Iceland around the holidays. She eats anyone she encounters who doesn’t have new clothes for Christmas. Sounds like a cat to me.
Interestingly, it may be that the legend was invented by wool farmers in the 1800s to scare their workers to hit their quotas before Christmas. (Good workers would be given new sets of clothes.)
4. Elf on the shelf (Various)
The Elf on the Shelf is a 2005 children’s book that explains how Santa knows who’s naughty and nice. Spoiler alert: your toy elves spying on you. The book even comes with just such a toy (rat) elf. This has become something of a Christmas tradition.
In response, a number of critics have noted that it’s kind of creepy to teach your kids that their toys are spying on them.
3. Zwarte Piet (The Netherlands)
One of the weirdest Christmas traditions in the world comes to us courtesy of our friends in the Netherlands. Their version of Santa Claus has a sidekick — and it’s not Rudolph. It’s Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), Santa’s companion, who helps him hand out candies and presents to the children.
Unfortunately, the character is traditionally portrayed with black face paint and red lipstick that many consider to be extremely offensive. As a result, the character has attracted much negative attention, mainly from people outside the Netherlands.
2. Mari Lwyd, the rhyming ghost horse (Wales)
The Welsh tradition of Mari Lwyd involves people going door-to-door with hobby horses draped in sheets. They will try to gain entry to the house, sometimes engaging the residents in a rhyme-off. The idea is if the homeowner loses, they have to let the Mari Lwyd and its handlers in for a snack.
It may be an ancient pagan tradition revamped for the modern world, or it might just be some shenanigans invented by drunk guys in the 1800s. Who knows? Who cares?
1. Here comes Krampus (Austria)
Krampus is the German anti-Santa. That is to say, instead of rewarding good children, Krampus punishes the bad ones in terrifying ways. He’s traditionally described as being half demon and half goat, and may or may not drag bratty kids away kicking and screaming in a sack. What does he do with them when he gets back to… goat hell? That’s a story for a less festive time of year.
We hope you enjoyed our list of weird Christmas traditions. Seasons greetings!