Seven strange Christmas traditions from around the world

Christmas is celebrated in many countries around the world, but each nation adds their own particular twist to it. Being Catalan, I know about weird Christmas traditions. I’ve researched traditions that can match Catalan quirkiness, and here are the results:

The Yule Goat

The Yule goat is an ancient Scandinavian and Northern European tradition. It has had many forms, but nowadays it’s a Christmas ornament made of straw and bound with red ribbons. In Gävle, Sweden, a giant Julbocken (Christmas goat) has been placed in a square every year since 1966. Despite the authorities’ efforts to guard it, arsonists burn it to the ground more often than not. The Swedes follow the news closely to see if it can survive Christmas in one piece, and there’s a lot of betting involved!

Kentucky for Christmas

Christmas is not a holiday in Japan, and in the 1970s there wasn’t any specific way of celebrating it there. Inspired by foreigners missing their Christmas meal, KFC started a very clever campaign, Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii (Kentucky for Christmas). It was a huge success. Today, you have to order your food in advance if you want KFC for Christmas, or queue for hours!

Alternatively, other people in Japan treat Christmas as a romantic celebration similar to Valentine’s Day, and couples go out to dine in upscale restaurants.

Mari Lwyd

The Mari Lwyd (the Grey Mare) is a tradition in South Wales. A horse skull is mounted on a pole and carried by a person hidden under a cloth. The “mare” and its party visit houses or pubs, where they sing to get access. The people inside reply in their own verses in a battle of rhyming challenges and insults. When the creativity of both parties is exhausted, the mare and her group will be let in with another song, and they will share food and wine.

Yule log on YouTube

The tradition of burning a huge log of wood on a hearth is common to a number of countries in Europe. In 1966, the New York City television station WPIX came up with a 24-hour-long programme which consisted of a film loop of a Yule log burning in a fireplace, a televised gift to New York residents who lived in apartments with no hearth. Today, YouTube is full of Yule log videos – everyone’s making their own. Alternative Yule log videos include five hours of Darth Vader burning on his pyre or a crackling Eye of Sauron staring at you from the screen.


Krampus is one of the companions of Saint Nicholas who, in contrast with Father Christmas, punishes the children who have misbehaved. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. On that night, people dress as Krampus, with horns, full masks and goat or sheepskins, and beat people with sticks. It looks quite terrifying.


The caganer (pooper), is a figurine that gets (more or less) hidden in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas, and also in areas of Portugal and Italy. The tradition has existed since at least the 18th century, and the traditional figure depicts a peasant man wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (barretina), with his trousers down and defecating. Nowadays, there are lots of figures available, many of them representing politicians or celebrities – the Queen is no exception. The caganer provides a comedic counterpoint to the religiousness of the Nativity scene.

Tió de Nadal

Another Catalan tradition to do with poo. The Tió de Nadal (Christmas log, not “uncle” as Viggo Mortensen says in this video) was traditionally just a dead piece of wood, but nowadays its made to stand on legs, it has a painted face and wears a barretina. Children cover it with a blanket and give it food every night from the 8th of December. Then on Christmas Eve, the family beats the tió with sticks while singing special songs, to make it poop. When the song finishes, there are presents under the blanket! Traditionally, half of the log had to be burning on the hearth to make it poop, but that’s no longer the case since most people don’t have fireplaces anymore. The process is repeated until the tió poops an onion, which means it’s done!


Have a Merry Christmas everyone!