The Strange World of Christmas Holiday Traditions

It’s that time of year when thousands of drunk Santas roam the streets. But that’s the least of it. Our Everywhere Elves have done a bit of research, and invite you to share some highlights from...

The Strange World of Christmas Holiday Traditions


Did you know that Santa has an evil twin? His name is Krampus and he dwells in Austria, along with Bavaria, Hungary and Slovenia. Krampus has the fun job of beating and punishing children who have misbehaved. On December 5th Austrian men dress up in demonic scary costumes, get drunk and run around hitting people with sticks and switches. Yippy!


In Canada, Santa Claus has a legitimate address, and anyone who writes to him at North Pole, Canada, is guaranteed a reply. Now, that must keep the postal elves busy.


Here unmarried women stand by a door and throw a shoe over their shoulder. If it lands with the toe pointing towards the door, it means they will get married in the New Year. (Not sure what happens if it hits someone on the head.)


It’s Christmas Eve in Estonia, and families gather round the…sauna.


German children leave a shoe outside their house on December 5th. If they’ve been good, in the morning they’ll find it filled with sweets, but if they’ve been naughty, they’ll find a branch in it. Germans also hide a pickle in the Christmas tree, and the first child to find it Christmas morning gets a gift in turn. Presumably, they get the pickle as well.


When making the traditional Christmas pudding, each member of the family takes a turn stirring it clockwise and making a wish. Meanwhile, children who hang Christmas stockings and haven’t been good may just find it filled with a lump of coal instead of presents. With coal be phased out, it’s uncertain what might replace it.


Local Christmas recipes here include whale skin with blubber, a really special dish of seal stuffed with auks – 500 of them! The dish is prepared 7 months in advance to achieve the desired fermentation. Yum!


Guatemalans sweep out their houses before Christmas, and each neighborhood gathers all the dirt into a large pile on which they then burn an effigy of the devil. Definitely gives “dust devil” a literal new meaning.


Icelandic Christmas features the legend of a Yule Cat that lives in the local hills, and devours Icelanders who haven’t received new clothes before Christmas Eve. Now, there’s incentive for shopping.)


Instead of Santa Klaus, Italian children wait for the arrival of a witch named Befana who delivers sweets and toys on January 5th. Guess that makes her a good witch.    


For many Japanese, traditional Christmas dinner means going for Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s so popular that reservations may have to be made. Might the Japanese have mistaken the Colonel for Santa?


Here they have a tradition called “Mummers” that calls for people donning costumes as animals, gypsies and corpses, and going house to house collecting treats in return for a blessing. Sound familiar?  


Norwegian legend says that on Christmas Eve witches and evil spirits come out looking for brooms to ride on. Thus all the brooms in the house are hidden, and men go out and fire shotguns to scare these baddies away. You definitely don’t want to dress like a witch there.


Christmas morning in Portugal, a special morning feast is held in which places are set at the table for departed loved ones.


Whatever you do, don’t eat any of the cookies grandma makes for Santa in South Africa. Local legend has it that a boy named Danny did just that, and his grandmother killed him for it. Now Danny’s soul is said to haunt houses on Christmas.  


Spain excels in unusual holiday traditions with a scatological bent. In some parts, especially Catalonia, traditional Christmas nativity scenes include, along with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, etc., a figure of a Caganer, or “Shitter.” This figurine is traditionally a man bending down with his pants around his knees and defecating, a pile of feces under him. The Caganer is sometimes depicted as a famous person, or even Santa Claus himself. Then there’s Caga Tió, the pooping log, another bizarre Christmas tradition in Catalonia that calls for a hollowed out log, painted with a face, propped up on four little sticks and covered with a blanket. On Christmas, Caga Tió is put in the fireplace, beaten with a stick and ordered to “poop” while festive songs are sung. Also in Spain it’s customary to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve, and in the town of La Font de la Figuera, the people run through the streets wearing only that. Oh, those kooky Spaniards.


The Swedes hide an almond in their holiday rice pudding, and the lucky person who finds it will supposedly be married within a year, though we’re not sure how this works if you’re already married.


An artificial spider and web are hidden in Ukrainian Christmas trees, with good luck granted to whoever finds it. This stems from a regional folk tale about a poor widowed mother who could not afford decorations for her family’s Christmas tree. On Christmas morning she awoke to find that a spider had decorated the tree with a beautiful web.


Leave it to us to come up with the world’s newest Christmas tradition: Santa Con, or the running of the Santas, a kind of holiday pub crawl in which mostly young people dress up as Santa Claus, portraying the jolly old-timer as a stumbling drunk. Surprisingly, Santa has yet to sue for libel.  


In Caracas the streets are closed off Christmas Eve so that churchgoers can get to church – on roller skates! What’s more, children hang a string from their windows that’s tied to their toes so that passing skaters can tug at it. Sounds like a great way to get rid of kids.


Christmas Eve in some Welsh villages a villager is chosen to parade through the streets carrying the skull of a mare on the end of a stick. We have no idea why, but then none of these holiday traditions make much sense. Happy holidays!