12 Quirky Christmas Traditions From Around The World

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This week’s blog is written by our guest blogger, Issy, known to her young family, and her Instagram followers as Mummy Scrummie is a Hampshire-based mum of two and brand rep for The Little Learning Hub. 


I love Christmas, and one of the things I love most about it is that it is a time to honour, celebrate and create traditions.


But exactly what those traditions are vary hugely, depending where in the world you are celebrating and how you culturally identify.


So, with this in mind, I thought, as Christmas proper peeks around the corner, it might be fun to have a wee look at some of the festive traditions out there, and to find out how Christmas is celebrated the world over.

You’ve Goat-a Be Kidding Me

In several of the Scandinavian countries, the Yule Goat has been used as a symbol to mark the winter season for thousands of years. However, in 1966 the image (originally used as part of Germanic pagan observances) was given a bit of a makeover in modern SWEDEN, by a man named Stig Gavlén …


Gavlén (clearly someone with the ethos: “Go Big or Go Home”) took the idea of the traditional straw goat figurine and made it anew, creating The Gävle Goat, a 43 ft tall, 23 ft long, 3 tonne straw goat and placing it in the town square of Gävle, in East Central Sweden.


Gavlén’s goat was a hit and has been replicated in Gävle every year since!


Photo: @Gavlebocken Official Twitter


That’s No Small Potatoes!


In ICELAND, they celebrate not 12, but 13 days of Christmas and on each of those 13 nights, children place their shoes by the window before heading upstairs to bed. Why? Because they are expecting a visit from the 13 Yule Lads.


Despite sounding like the makeup of a rowdy December stag do, this baker’s dozen are in fact, nothing of the sort.


Originally accompanied by a creature called Grýla (who came from the mountains to boil alive naughty children) and a huge, blood-thirsty black cat (that would eat anyone not found to be wearing at least one new piece of clothing on Christmas Eve), the Yule Lads have come to be seen as a sort of Seven Dwarves-type ensemble.


After an official ban was established in 1746 to stop parents scaring the living daylights out of their children with tales of these 13 wicked men and their creepy companions, the Lads are now seen as a group of ‘merry and mischievous’ men, with names such as Pottasleikir (Pot Licker) and Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper), who each take turns to visit homes, leaving sweets for good children and rotten potatoes for naughty ones.


Photo: visiticeland.com


Incey Wincey Christmas


In the UKRAINE, where many countries would use baubles, it’s traditional to decorate with ornaments in the shape of a spider, or depicting a spider’s web. This custom harks back to Ukrainian folklore and the Legend of the Christmas Spider, the tale of a poor widow who could not afford to decorate her Christmas tree.


The Legend says that the spiders living in the widow’s house took pity on her and when the family awoke on Christmas morning, they found that the sympathetic arachnids had spun beautiful webs, decorating the tree, as such, the image of the spider is considered to be very lucky and has become a staple of Ukrainian Christmas décor!


Photo: Amazon, illustrated book cover by Katya Krenina


Star Light, Star Bright


With origins based in the Kapampangan religious observance “Lubenas”, ever since the early 1900s, the Phillipine city of SAN FERNANDO holds an annual Giant Lantern Festival, known as Ligligan Parul, that makes the lights on Regent Street look like battery-powered tea lights!


Featuring thousands of spinning lights, and often clocking in at over 20ft tall, these colourful lanterns (parols) light up the night sky, symbolising the Star of Bethlehem. The dazzling festival has earnt San Fernando the title of “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”


Photo: Claire Algarme, firsttimetravels.com


The Poo-ule Log


The Tió de Nadal is a seasonal addition that can be found in many Catalan homes in SPAIN. Originally just a hollow log, the Tió has undergone an characterful upgrade and will now most often be a hollow log, standing on stick legs, wearing a broad, smiling grin, modelling a little red hat and snuggling under a red blanket.


Beginning on the 8th December, each night, children give their Tió something to ‘eat’ in the hope that he will poop out presents to share (sweets, nuts and small toys) on Christmas Day when he will be beaten with a stick and ordered to poo. When the Caga Tió (Poo Log!) is beaten the children sing: “Poo log, poo nougat, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don’t poo well, I’ll hit you with a stick, poo log!” The last thing to come out is normally a garlic bulb, onion or maybe even a salt herring!


Photo Source: Wikipedia


Does She Look Like She Gives a Toss?


In the CZECH REPUBLIC Christmas Eve is a time to ponder your romantic prospects and single Czech women looking for love can choose to shoe toss for a husband.


Custom dictates that the woman should stand with her back to the front door of her house and remove a shoe before throwing it over her shoulder towards the door. If the toe of the shoe faces the door, she is destined to marry in the new year; if the heel faces the door, she’ll have to wait until the following year to find ‘the one’!


Photo Source: United Advisors, traditional Czech Christmas card illustration


Christmas Nuts!


FINNISH families clearly understand that breakfast is the most important meal of the day as they start Christmas morning (Christmas Eve) with a traditional bowl of porridge, topped with cinnamon or butter. An almond is placed inside one of the family bowls of porridge, and whoever finds the almond in their pudding “wins”!


Then – and this bit I like best of all – after a light lunch, Finnish families strip off and head to the sauna to steam away their cares before the evening festivities begin. But they mustn’t stay overlong because according to Finnish folklore, the spirits of the dead bathe in the sauna after the sun has set!


Photo: Hilja Magazine


Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree


As is the custom in many of the Scandinavian countries, the DANISH hold their main Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve and it is traditional to eat an elaborate evening meal, open Christmas presents and celebrate the festivities well into the night.


However, unique to the Danes is the Christmas tree dance. Danish families take Christmas Eve as an opportunity to showcase their dance moves as they all join hands and dance around the family Christmas tree. Their real, spruce Christmas tree, traditionally lit with real candles, that is!


Photo: Flickr – The Royal Library, Denmark


It Takes Two


In AUSTRIA, and in the several other countries with Alpine borders, Father Christmas (St Nicholas) is not the only familiar figure to be associated with Christmas, the horned and anthropomorphic “Krampus” gets equal billing.


The 5th December, Krampusnacht sees the coming of Krampus, sometimes said to roam the streets alone, sometimes apparently accompanied by St Nicholas, whose feast day is celebrated on the 6th.


The festive pair then pay their respective visits to hopeful children; with St Nicholas rewarding the well-behaved with gifts of nuts, fruit and chocolate; whilst Krampus is responsible for meting out punishment to the naughty, beating them with birch rods, whipping them, eating them or carting them off to Hell itself!


Photo: Byers Choice


If You’re Too Chicken for a Christmas Tree…


You might think that in INDONESIA, a predominantly Muslim nation, Christmas wouldn’t be celebrated, but amongst the country’s small Christian population, and particularly on the island of Bali, it is, and they celebrate with a very special, rather different, type of Christmas tree: the chicken feather tree.


Made from, you guessed it, chicken feathers, these trees have now become very popular as alternative Christmas decorations in America and the UK!


Photo: Birch Lane


Get Your Skates On, It’s Christmas


In the VENEZUELAN capital of Caracas, between the 16th and 24th December many of the city’s main roads close to traffic in order to accommodate the thousands of people who choose to roller-skate each morning to church to hear Christmas mass said.


It’s now become the custom that children will sleep with one lace from their skates tied around their big toe, with the remainder of the lace dangling from the window, so that passers-by will tug the lace on their way to mass and wake them up!


Photo: Getty


One Hump or Two?


Christian children in SYRIA don’t wait up to spy Santa Claus atop the roof on Christmas Eve, but instead hope for the coming of an immortal camel!


Syrian legend honours the importance of the youngest of the camels that carried the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem.


The story goes that the smallest camel of the Wise Men’s caravan, despite being exhausted by the long journey, would not stop for rest.


So determined was this young camel, to follow the star to Bethlehem, that when it arrived at the stable, Jesus, in recognition of the camel’s devotion, blessed it with eternal life.


And so, each Epiphany, Syrian children leave water and hay outside their homes for the present-giving camel who comes, not on Christmas Eve, but on the 31st December, before the New Year dawns.


Photo: QuizzClub


What Christmas traditions do you have, let me know I’d love to hear all about them!

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