Our favorite Christmas traditions around the world are wonderful – sometimes wonderfully weird – and are guaranteed to put you in the festive spirit. Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival, like Hanukkah or Christmas, or a more secular occasion, you’re sure to have your own selection of rituals or customs that make the holiday season so special. Our favorite Christmas traditions around the world are loud, proud, and guarantee oodles of festive fun.
1. Krampus, Austria
A beast-like demon creature that roams city streets frightening kids and punishing the bad ones – nope, this isn’t Halloween, but St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, Krampus.
In Austrian tradition, St. Nicholas rewards nice little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack. In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus (especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day) frightening children with clattering chains and bells.
2. Gävle Goat, Sweden
For 50 years, the 13 meters tall, 7 meters long, and 3 tons heavy Gävle Goat has been a given Christmas feature in Gävle. Each year on the first of Advent, he is inaugurated on Slottstorget (Castle Square). In 2016 the goat turned 50 years old and the inauguration ceremony attracted over 18,000 visitors!
3. Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines
The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) is held each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the city of San Fernando – the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” The festival attracts spectators from all over the country and across the globe. Eleven barangays (villages) take part in the festival and competition is fierce as everyone pitches in trying to build the most elaborate lantern.
Originally, the lanterns were simple creations around half a meter in diameter, made from ‘papel de hapon’ (Japanese origami paper) and lit by the candle. Today, the lanterns are made from a variety of materials and have grown to around six meters in size. They are illuminated by electric bulbs that sparkle in a kaleidoscope of patterns.
4. Kentucky Fried Christmas Dinner, Japan
Christmas has never been a big deal in Japan. Aside from a few small, secular traditions such as gift-giving and light displays, Christmas remains largely a novelty in the country. However, a new, quirky “tradition” has emerged in recent years – a Christmas Day feast of the Colonel’s very own Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The festive menu will soon be advertised on the KFC Japan website and, even if you don’t understand Japanese, the pictures sure will look delicious with everything from a Christmas-themed standard bucket to a premium roast-bird feast.
5. The Yule Lads, Iceland
In the 13 days leading up to Christmas, 13 tricksy troll-like characters come out to play in Iceland.
The Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar in Icelandic) visit the children across the country over the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. For each night of Yuletide, children place their best shoes by the window and a different Yule Lad visits leaving gifts for nice girls and boys and rotting potatoes for the naughty ones.
6. Saint Nicholas’ Day, Germany
Not to be confused with the day of Translation of the Relics of Saint Nicholas from Myra to Bari which is celebrated on May 9. Nikolaus travels by donkey in the middle of the night on December 6 (Nikolaus Tag) and leaves little treats like coins, chocolate, oranges and toys in the shoes of good children all over Germany, and particularly in the Bavarian region. St. Nicholas also visits children in schools or at home and in exchange for sweets or a small present each child must recite a poem, sing a song or draw a picture. In short, he’s a great guy.
7. Broom – hiding in Norway
Better hide your brooms on Christmas Eve, or witches might steal them. At least, that’s how it’s done in Norway when all the brooms in the house are locked away from any thieving Christmas Eve sorcerers that might be lurking. Christmas Eve in Norway sounds amazing.
8. The Christmas Book Flood in Iceland
Iceland publishes more books per capita than any country in the world, and books are a hugely popular Christmas gift. Usually, they give the books to each other on Christmas Eve, so they can spend the rest of the night reading (preferably with hot chocolate).
9. River bonfires in Louisiana
Massive bonfires are lit in southern Louisiana on Christmas Eve, so the lights can guide Santa Claus along the river to people’s houses.
10. The Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy
On Christmas Eve, Italian families gather for a feast of different fish and seafood dishes (seven of them, in fact. Who’d have guessed). The tradition comes from the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat and dairy on holy days – so fish is eaten instead.