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Unusual Christmas traditions from around the world

written by Justin Meneguzzi December 4, 2016
Two Christmas elf decorations sit on a shelf

If you think all the tinsel, reindeers and ugly sweaters have become all a bit too twee, check out some of these more unusual Christmas customs from around the world.

1. The German Krampuslauf

A creepy Christmas KrampusIf you’re a misbehaving child in a regular Western country you might be punished with coal on Christmas Day. You’re less lucky if you happen to be raised in Germany, where the good folk in Bavaria frighten children with the Krampus – a mythical half-man, half-goat demon that kidnaps and eats naughty children at Santa’s request. If the story wasn’t creepy enough, each year the men of Bavaria take part in a joyous tradition known as Krampuslauf. They dress up as the Krampus (often while drunk) and run through town with fiery torches and chains chasing and screaming at children.

2. Present-Pooping Logs in Spain

Three logs with faces wearing Christmas hatsWhere children might expect to wake up on Christmas Day and find shiny presents in their stockings, the kids in Catalonia wake up ready for a festive whacking of the poop log. Decked out in a floppy red hat, a knowing smile and stick legs, the hollow log is fed nuts, dried fruits and water on Christmas Eve. The idea is that the log digests these gifts overnight and, the following morning, the children beat the log with sticks to make it literally poop out a pile of presents, such as candles, blankets and sweets.

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3. Broom Hiding in Norway

A wooden sign wards off witches in Norway at ChristmasNorwegian legends tell of witches and evil spirits emerging from their caves and forest huts to steal brooms to ride. If your broom is stolen on Christmas Day then this is seen as a bad omen for the year to come. To thwart the witches, every broom in the house must be hidden away before going to bed, and parents will go outside and fire their shotguns into the air to scare away any witches lying in wait.

4. The Colonel Rules In Japan

In much the same way that Coca Cola managed to rebrand Santa red in the 1930s, KFC’s Colonel has been able to usurp Baby Jesus as the star of Christmas. After a spate of heavy branding in the late 1970s, Christmas in Japan now bears a strong correlation with finger lickin’ good fried chicken. A popular Christmas dinner in Tokyo involves the family making a reservation at their local KFC and ordering an extra large bucket of wings.

5. Ukraine’s Lucky Webs

A spiderweb on a Christmas treeUkrainian folk tales tell of a poor widow who could not afford decorations for her family’s Christmas tree. On Christmas morning the widow wakes up to find a spider has spun a beautiful silken weave around the Christmas tree, cheering the widow and her children. To celebrate, modern Ukrainian’s will hide a toy spider somewhere in the Christmas tree, and decorate the tree with webs as well as baubles and tinsel. Whoever finds the spider on Christmas day is thought to have good luck.

6. Greece’s Innumerate Christmas Goblins

The kallikantzaros is a malevolent nocturnal goblin rumoured to live in underground caves in Eastern Europe, with stories of the pointy-eared monster cropping up in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Turkey. The legend goes that in the 12 days leading up to Christmas the goblins come to the surface to wreak havoc among tzatziki-loving mortals. One way to defeat them is to leave a colander on your doorstep, the goblins will become so distracted counting the holes in the colander that the sun will rise and they will be forced to retreat underground. Another way is to burn all your dirty socks in the fireplace and hope the bad smell drives the goblins from your home.

7. Early Morning Skating in Venezuela

Two rollerbladers skate around Venezuela on Christmas morningIn Caracas it’s become customary for the entire city to roller skate to Christmas morning mass. The unusual tradition was borne out of the city’s inconvenient road laws, which prohibit motor vehicle access to the city streets before 8am. This obviously doesn’t sit well with Venezuela’s crafty, but devout, churchgoers, who attend the early morning sermons en masse. To get around the restrictions, locals pop on a pair of skates and glide through the empty city streets to church, where you can find rows and rows of skates waiting outside the church door.

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Feature image by erin walker on Unsplash.

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