The world's weirdest Christmas traditions

Steve Vickers

written by
Steve Vickers

updated 16.12.2021

Christmas traditions are weird worldwide and we've found some of the strangest. Check out giant straw goats in Sweden and festive KFC in Japan. Discover pooing nativity figures in Spain (they're a thing) and meet the 12 Yule Lads of Iceland. Happy Christmas Weirdness!

  1. Christmas Goat. Gävle. Sweden
  2. KFC Christmas dinner. Japan
  3. Christmas crappers. Catalunya. Spain
  4. Broom stealing witches. Norway
  5. Yule Lads. Iceland

1. Swedish Christmas traditions include burning a giant goat

Heard of Julbocken? It's the Yule Goat you can see every Christmas if you visit Gävle in Sweden. It's enormous, made entirely of straw and built in Gävle town centre each December. But if you want to admire the goat, be quick. Since 1966, arsonists have burned down every Julbocken ever made.

How long the legendary goat survives is now a national news story in Sweden. Yet its infamy never deters the arsonists, and Julbocken always burns. If you want to go see, Gävle is north of Stockholm and you should think about staying at Järnvägshotellet.


The giant straw Julbocken Yule Goat in Gävle Sweden © Studio Bankvalvet/Shutterstock

2. KFC for Christmas dinner in Japan

Advertising shapes Christmas, for proof you only need to look at KFC in Japan. The country might not celebrate Christmas, yet oddly enough, the Japanese have a tradition of eating KFC on Christmas Day. How did that happen?

Back in the 1970s some tourists to Japan missed Christmas turkey so much they looked around for a substitute and landed on KFC. When KFC heard about this, of course they saw an opportunity, and set about marketing the trend.

For some reason KFC for Christmas really appealed to the Japanese, and today KFC sales all over Japan rocket on 25 December. Families even book their seasonal feasts in advance and KFC drive-thru are packed on Christmas Day.

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3. Spain makes effigies of people pooing

Do Christmas in Catalunya and discover an earthy twist at Christmas markets all over the region. To spot this weird Spanish tradition, check out stalls with nativities and look for “el caganer” among the usual figures.

Loosely translated as, the crapper, 'el caganer' is a ceramic model of a pooing Catalan peasant. The figure is usually squatting and hard to miss, because without a prominent caganer, no true Spanish nativity is complete.

El caganer have been about for centuries and now there are even celebrity versions - everyone from Trump to Lady Gaga has been immortalised as a pooing peasant. The origin is uncertain, but one theory is that el caganer is "fertilising" the nativity to guarantee a prosperous year ahead.

Visit Barcelona at Christmas. It's Spain's el caganer capital and where to see nativities in abundance at La Fira de Santa Llúcia. This is the city's best loved and biggest Christmas market and held each year in front of the cathedral in Barri Gòtic. If you want to stay close to the market, book Barcelona House.


Pooing peasants are Catalan Christmas traditions © nito/Shutterstock

4. Hide your broom at Christmas in Norway

Norway grounds witches at Christmas by hiding household brooms. The thinking is, that without this form of transport, witches can't ride around ruining the festivities. It's an ancient tradition and always observed on Christmas Eve. If you sweep into Oslo for Christmas, stay at Saga Hotel Oslo in the city centre.


Hiding brooms from witches is one of the Christmas traditions in Norway /CC0

5. Iceland get the 'Yule Lads' round

Forget kindly Santa and meet the rather less cheery Yule Lads of Iceland. Yule Lads give gifts to good children, much like Santa. However, unlike Santa, there are 13 Yule Lads and they traditionally leave cold potatoes for bad kids.

All the Yule Lads are brothers, and the sons of a cruel giant known for eating stew made out of naughty children. Despite their dark origin story, a few of the lads are friendly. But others go by sinister names like Doorway Sniffer and Window Peeper.

If the thought of Yule Lads and cold potatoes doesn't deter you and you're still tempted by Christmas in Iceland, then treat yourself to a stay at the glamorous Exeter Hotel in Reykjavik. And for conventional festive traditions take a look at Is Saxony home to the best German Christmas markets?

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Steve Vickers

written by
Steve Vickers

updated 16.12.2021

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