8 Countries with Bizarre Christmas Traditions
Every predominantly Christian country has Christmas traditions they look forward to—we have our parol, simbang gabi, and noche buena, while Americans have their mistletoe and advent calendars. Some nations, however, have practices that are pretty...unconventional. Here are some of the most baffling yuletide traditions in the world.
In other countries, the worst that could happen to a naughty child is getting a lump of coal instead of presents from Santa. In Austria, however, good old Saint Nick has a partner-in-crime named Krampus—a Christmas monster who beats misbehaving children with birch branches.
Woe betide those who don’t receive clothes before Christmas in Iceland. According to legend, a gigantic cat called the Jólakötturinn or Yule Cat prowls the country on Christmas Eve and devours those who haven’t gotten any clothes as presents.
We all know the elements of a standard belen: there’s the Holy Family with the angel on the roof, the Three Kings, the shepherds with their sheep, and maybe a donkey or two. But for the people of Catalonia, no nativity scene is complete without the caganer or “the crapper”—a figure who unceremoniously drops his pants to take a dump. While this irreverent character is traditionally depicted as a peasant, Catalans have taken to creating caganer versions of politicians, celebrities, and cartoon characters. And yes, there is a Kim Jong-Un caganer.
As if that isn’t enough Yuletide toilet humor, the Catalan have the Tió de Nadal—a yule log with a happy face painted on it. In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, children cover the Tió de Nadal with a warm blanket and feed it sweets so that it will poop presents on the day itself. On Christmas morning, children make the log defecate by partly placing it in a fire and beating it with sticks until the candies fall out.
Santa Claus isn’t as big a deal in Italy as he is in the rest of the world. Who needs him when you have Befana, a witch who delivers presents on Epiphany Eve?
The Japanese generally consider Christmas Eve as a holiday for couples—sort of like a second Valentine’s Day. So how does everyone else celebrate? With a bucket of KFC, thanks to an ingenious marketing campaign in the 1970s. Back in the day, foreigners settled for KFC since it was hard to find Christmas turkey or chicken. The fast food chain noticed this trend and responded with an ad campaign called “Kentucky for Christmas!” Since then, their holiday meal sets have been so popular, customers are encouraged to order them in advance.
Apart from the usual ornaments, Ukrainians also decorate their trees with spider webs. While this sounds very The Nightmare Before Christmas at first, the tradition actually has its origins in a heartwarming folktale. As the story goes, a poor widow and her children had no money to decorate their Christmas tree, so some kindly spiders decorated it with webs while the family was asleep. When the sun shone on the spider webs, they turned to silver and gold.
If we have our Simbang Gabi, Venezuelans have “Misas de Aguinaldo,” or early morning mass. But in Caracas, they take it one step further by roller skating to mass. The government even closes roads to accommodate this tradition.
Over the past couple of years, this country has come under fire for a particularly controversial tradition. Black Peter, Father Christmas’s right hand man who tosses sweets and gifts to children, is a typical fixture at Christmas parades. Given that 77% of the country is Dutch, Black Peter is usually portrayed by white men in blackface, with curly wigs and red lipstick to match. The practice has been condemned as racist, and even the UN urged the Netherlands to stop this tradition back in 2015.