5 of the world's weirdest Christmas traditions

written by Steve Vickers
updated 3/31/2020
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Do you ever take a step back during your family celebrations on Christmas day and think: “wow, if anyone saw us now, they’d think we were mad”? Perhaps you’re mid-Twister, with your arms through a distant relative’s legs, when you suddenly realise this all might look a bit odd to an outsider.

Fear not, though, as chances are, somewhere on this big old planet, someone will be celebrating in a much more unusual way.

Here are just some of the weird and wacky Christmas traditions that have taken root around the world – from giant straw goats to celebrities with their pants down.

1. The Swedes burn a giant goat

Every year on the first Sunday of advent, the good people of Gävle, Sweden erect a huge straw goat on the town’s main square. It stands there proudly for a while, bringing a bit of cheer to the chilly winter days. And then, more often than not, arsonists burn it to the ground.

Julbocken (the Christmas goat) has gone up in flames almost every year since 1966, when it was first installed, and is now famous right across the country, with Swedes following the news closely to see if it can make it through Christmas in one piece.

The authorities have tried all sorts of tricks to deter people from burning the goat, from installing CCTV cameras to impregnating the straw with a fire retardant material. They had a brief taste of success in 2015, when the goat survived right up until Christmas Eve ­– only to be burnt down two days later.

© Studio Bankvalvet/Shutterstock

2. The Japanese eat KFC

Like it or not, marketing campaigns have shaped the way we celebrate Christmas. The classic image of Santa Claus as a plump old man, for example, is at least partly down to Coca-Cola’s ads in the 1930s.

And across the world, advertising continues to change how people celebrate Christmas. In Japan – a country with few Christians and no long-held tradition of celebrating Christmas – marketing gurus have managed to convince people that eating KFC is a perfectly normal way to ring in the festive season.

It all began back in the 1970s, when foreign tourists visiting Japan started eating KFC chicken as an alternative to the traditional Christmas turkey. With a bit of help from adverts, the same trend soon took off among locals.

Today, reports say, sales at the Colonel’s restaurants are five times higher during Christmas than at other times of the year, with many customers ordering their fried chicken months in advance.

3. The Spanish make models of people pooing

Forget everything you remember from your early days at school: in Catalunya, Spain, the traditional nativity scenes come with a more colourful twist.

Each year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, nativity scenes are livened up by the appearance of el caganer” (the crapper). These ceramic models, which traditionally depict a Catalan peasant dropping a hefty Yule log onto the floor, have been a part of local Christmas celebrations for centuries.

In more recent times, countless celebrity caganers have left their mark on otherwise holy scenes; Lady Gaga, Donald Trump and even the Queen of England have all been immortalised with their pants down.

No one’s really sure where this odd tradition comes from, but it’s thought it may have something to do with "fertilising" the nativity scene, which helps to ensure it will return year after year.

© nito/Shutterstock

4. Norwegians hide their brooms

There’s a time and a place for cleaning, and Christmas ain’t it. No wonder, then, that Norwegians have traditionally hidden their brooms out of sight on Christmas Eve.

Despite appearances, these Norwegians aren’t just trying to get out of clearing up. They simply believe an old legend which says that if their brooms are left out overnight, nasty witches will steal them, then ride off and wreak havoc throughout the Christmas season.



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5. Iceland get the 'Yule Lads' round

Santa Claus is cool and everything, but wouldn’t it be better if there were a few more gift givers to brighten the Christmas season? Well in Iceland, there are – but it’s important to know that not all of them are as friendly as Mr Claus.

Kids who grow up in Iceland can expect visits from 13 separate ‘Yule Lads’ in the days before Christmas, who leave nice gifts or cold potatoes, depending on the child’s behaviour – in a shoe at the end of their beds.

As the offspring of a cruel giant who likes eating stew made from naughty children, not all of the Yule Lads are especially friendly.

Even their names – which include Doorway Sniffer, Bowl Licker, Window Peeper and Sausage Swiper – are enough to make you think twice about misbehaving before Christmas.

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written by Steve Vickers
updated 3/31/2020
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