(Credit: Eberhard Grossgasteiger)


The strangest Christmas traditions from around the world


Christmas is a time for traditions. Here in the UK, we have those traditions down to a fine art, submitting ourselves to three days of glorious overconsumption before we eventually, and inexplicably, collapse in a heap of wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, and half-melted segments of Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

Of course, this vision of the archetypal British Christmas that I am so lovingly painting is just one of the ways the world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Even in the UK, there are innumerable traditions that stem from the medieval era and even earlier.

The same is true for the rest of Europe, with many scholars arguing that the traditions of pagan midwinter festivals were Christianised in the early ADs and then sold back to us in the form of things like the Christmas tree, mistletoe, and even the date of Christmas itself.

But what about modern Christmas traditions? Even in countries that don’t tend to celebrate the holiday, such as Japan, there are long-held traditions that have come to define the festive season – some of which are utterly bizarre. The beauty of Christmas, of course, is that it can be readjusted and reconfigured to suit any given culture. While Christmas is a time for cosy self-indulgence in some nations, in others, it’s a time of demonic hauntings and spiritual healing.

The sheer variety of Christmas traditions has thrown up all manner of weird and wonderful antics, the best of which we’ve collected for you here. From killer cats to undead horses and more, these are some of the most unusual Christmas traditions from around the world.

Strange Christmas traditions from around the world:

Dinner with the dead, Portugal

For the Portuguese, Christmas isn’t simply a time for celebration but also for remembrance. The Christmas feast, known as Consoda, which takes place on Christmas morning, sees families pull up a chair and set a place for deceased members of the family.

This is seen as a way for families to honour the spirits of the dead while also ensuring good luck for the household. There are a number of variations on Consoda, including one in which family members leave crumbs on the hearth

Lisbon, Portugal. (Credit: Alamy)

Night of the radishes, Mexico

This long-held Mexican Christmas tradition takes place every year on December 23rd in the city of Oaxaca. This ‘Night OF The Radishes’ may sound like the ill-fated sequel to John Wyndham’s sci-fi novel Day Of The Triffids, but it’s actually less about super-intelligent carnivorous plants and more about vegetable art.

The yearly vegetable carving competition sees locals make all manner of dazzling displays out of the giant radishes that are specially grown for this set purpose, with some talented craftsman carving full nativity scenes.

Paisaje desde Hierve el agua, Oaxaca, México. (Credit: Nataly Gómez Gómez)

The defecating log, Catalonia

Catalonians have not one but two Christmas traditions associated with…how should I say…laying the Yule log? The first is a tradition based on the nativity scene. Now, anybody who’s gone to see a nativity show performed by children will know that most cultures are pretty lenient when it comes to what was and what was not present at the birth of Christ. But Catalonia is pretty much unique in its decision to include a figurine of a man quietly crapping in a corner.

The second tradition, ‘caga tió, or the ‘defecating log’, sees families collect a log and place it under the dinner table. On each day of December, the children feed the log with sweets and nuts until Christmas Eve, when they batter it with sticks like a pinata until it… releases…all the presents.

(Credit: Carles Rabada)

Kentucky Fried Christmas, Japan

Thanks to an incredibly successful ad campaign in the 1970s that popularised this particularly greasy venture with the catchphrase “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky For Christmas!) the Japanese sit down for a shared meal of KFC on December 25th.

Indeed, eating KFC on Christmas eve has become so popular in Japan that the restaurant chain is able to charge a hefty 3,336 yen (£20) for a KFC Christmas dinner, with reservations placed months in advance.

(Credit: Clay Banks)

The Yule Cat, Iceland

Far from being the cuddly ball of snow-white fur the name suggests, the Yule Cat is a bloodthirsty panther-like creature that roams the Icelandic countryside during Christmas time, devouring people (especially children) who haven’t received new clothes before Christmas.

This dark piece of Christmas folklore is thought to have originated as a way for farm bosses to motivate their labourers in the run-up to Christmas, with those who worked hard being awarded new clothes. These days, however, everybody is given a new outfit to avoid being eaten alive by the night-stalking Yule Cat.

(Credit: Max Böttinger)

Roller mayhem, Venezuela

Inhabitants of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas have a unique way of travelling to church on Christmas morning. Every year, the city’s streets are closed to traffic, so that great hordes of locals can Roller-Skate their way to the Christmas service.

The tradition has become such an important part of Christmas celebrations that many children go to bed on Christmas eve with one lace from their skates tied around their toe, the other skate hanging out the window so that their friends can wake them up by giving the lace a gentle tug.

(Credit: Jorge Salvador)

Mari Lwyd, Wales

The Welsh also have a pretty good line in creepy Christmas traditions. The Mari Lwyd, for example, is a Celtic tradition from South Wales, which sees groups of locals parade the skeletal remains of a horse through the town, stopping by people’s front doors along the way.

The idea is that the group knocks on the doors of local residents and sings for them. In return, they are offered food, drink, and perhaps a song in return.

(Credit: R. fiend)