Who doesn’t love hearing about other weird ‘n’ wonderful Christmas traditions from around the world? It’s always great to take a peek at the different ways people celebrate this period and, as you’ll soon discover, no two countries do it the same!
From cracker-pulling contests in England to feasting and fortune-telling in Russia, these Christmas traditions around the world might just inspire you to deviate from the usual bauble-hanging, carol-singing and chestnut-roasting antics. Plus, they count as the ultimate Christmas holiday destination inspiration. Brace yourself for number one!
15. Ukraine has the legend of the Christmas spider
Forget angels on your Christmas tree, in Ukraine it’s spiders webs – say WHAT?! Like we say, when it comes to Christmas traditions around the world, we all do it differently. But wait! This is a heartwarming story.
Folklore goes that a poor widow and her children watched a pine tree grow outside their home and turn into a Christmas tree – but they couldn’t afford to decorate it. The children went to bed sad, and the widow hung fruit and nuts on the tree that night in the hope it’d make them smile on Christmas Day. Spiders in the hut next door observed all this and set to work overnight, weaving reams of silky silvery and gold webs around the tree for the family to find the next morning. They were, of course, all dazzled and delighted!
That’s why Ukrainian families celebrate by decorating their tree with a spiders web – they’re thought to bring good fortune. Just remember that next time you try to brush the cobwebs away!
14. Iceland has a scary Christmas myth about a Yule Cat
Okay so whilst the spiders web had a sentimental spin (excuse the pun), Icelandic Christmas tradition is a little less so… Apparently, there’s a terrifying Christmas cat who prowls the snow then EATS ALIVE anyone who’s not got the appropriate clothing to handle the harsh winter weather. Charming. In Iceland, families celebrate this by coming together to protect one another and ensure that nobody gets taken by the Christmas cat – aka the Yule Cat. It’s meant to scare kids into good behaviour but frankly, we’re just as freaked out as adults hearing about this one.
13. The Swedes have a giant Yule Goat
Next up it’s Sweden and this time, it’s the Christmas tradition of the famed Yule goat. Legend has it that Santa would ride the Yule goat instead of his sleigh to help deliver presents. Some even regard the Yule goat as an invisible spirit who’d appear right before Christmas to make sure all the festive prep was done right. Nowadays, the goat’s most commonly depicted as a little Christmas ornament made of straw and tied with red ribbon.
However. In the town of Gävle, Sweden, a gigantic straw goat statue gets erected every year in the square about a month before Christmas. Cute, right? Except for the fact it gets burned down pretty much every year. Yep, part of the townspeople’s take on this Christmas tradition is to see just how long the goat lasts before local vandals try to destroy it. So far, it’s suffered 35 tragic deaths….
12. Christmas is celebrated year-round in Christmas, USA
You heard us right. It’s ALWAYS a holly, jolly time in the town of Christmas in Florida (not far from Orlando). Plenty of tourists flock here to get their holiday cards and letters stamped at the post office, because who wouldn’t want their postmark to read ‘Christmas, FL’?! Unsurprisingly, the street names are Christmas-themed too. Look out for Bethlehem, Comet Street, Cupid Avenue and of course, St. Nicholas Avenue.
To top it off, it’s the town’s American Christmas tradition to display a decorated, evergreen Christmas tree year-round. In fact, the USA has a thing for weird and wonderful Christmas trees – check out this giant tumbleweed Christmas tree in Arizona…
11. Families tuck into KFC for Christmas in Japan
Way back in December 1974, KFC Japan created its ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ ad campaign, promoting fried chicken as the perfect Christmas meal. And now eating KFC food as a Christmas meal is still a huge holiday tradition in Japan! Because, what could be more Christmassy than strolling down Tokyo’s epic streets, illuminated by beautiful Christmas lights, with a boneless bucket in hand?
10. Russians go wild during Christmastide
As far as Christmas traditions around the world go, Russia has plenty – from swapping Santa Claus for Father Frost to a meatless Christmas Eve feast, but none more fascinating than the country’s celebration of Christmastide. Hailed as ‘the most unholy time of year’, ‘Svyatki’ as the Russians call it, runs from the Orthodox Christmas Eve on 7th January to the Epiphany on 19th January.
This a pagan tradition involves, feasting (obv, it’s Christmas), Russian Christmas music, fortune telling, theatre, local pranks and… diving into the country’s freezing lakes and rivers. When it comes to inspiration for your own Christmas day antics, just take your pick!
9. Mexican communities swap Christmas trees for arty nativity scenes
A country known for its vibrant colours and joyous celebrations, it’s no surprise that the traditional Mexican Christmas is one of the most brilliant Christmas traditions around the world. Sure, some Mexican families still put up Christmas trees, but beautifully decorated nativity scenes are a much more common Christmas tradition during the festive period.
Called ‘nacimientos’, locals proudly display these elaborate Nativity scenes in their homes or gardens throughout the Christmas season, while local communities create public ones usually designed by local artists and craftspeople. Even better, more characters are added throughout the Christmas countdown – baby Jesus is added on Christmas Eve and the three kings pop up around 5th January.
8. Santas 'sleigh' the waves in Australia
The Christmas season down under means sun, sea and… surf. It’s true, Christmas traditions in Australia play out across a backdrop of sunshine and barbecues. You’ll 100% find more people wearing bikinis and swimwear on Christmas Day than Christmas jumpers.
Head to Bondi Beach and you’ll likely spot surfers catching the swell while wearing Santa hats! In fact back in 2015, a group of Australian locals broke the world record for the largest Santa surf lesson. 320 locals, all dressed in Santa outfits, gathered on the infamous beach and raised thousands of dollars for surfing and mental health charity, OneWave. That’s how the Aussies do it!
7. German locals swap Santa for St Nicholas
You may know him as Santa Claus or Father Christmas, but the origins of this jolly man in red first started in Germany with Saint Nicholas. Apparently, he was a real-life priest born in early 6000 AD and is now a celebrated figure throughout parts of Europe. In Germany, it’s all about St Nicholas Day and the night of December 5th. On this very festive night, kids clean and polish their shoes and leave them outside their door before going to bed. In the morning, their shoes are magically filled with nuts, sweets and gifts from St Nic. If you visit Germany during the Christmas period you can also meet Saint Nicholas in shopping centres and at the Christmas markets.
6. People set Christmas cracker-pulling records in the UK
Did you know that the Christmas cracker was invented by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith back in 1846? Apparently, his original idea was just to wrap up his tasty sweets in a twist of fancy-coloured paper. But the idea took off and became one of the best-known Victorian Christmas traditions in England. His packages began to sell out when he added festive notes, paper crowns and made them go off with a BANG! It’s no wonder then, that England is home to the Guinness World Record for the longest Christmas cracker pulling chain ever, with 1,077 people pulling it off (see what I did there?) in a school in South London.
5. Women traditionally celebrate Little Christmas in Ireland
For most of us, 6th January is when the Christmas tree comes down and all the decorations go back in their boxes. However, for the women of Ireland this day also marks the tradition of ‘Nollaig na mBan’ or Women’s Little Christmas. It’s by far one of the oldest (and most archaic!) Christmas traditions both from around the world, and in Ireland, as this was the time when the female community – exhausted from all the festive cooking, hosting and housework – could finally let their hair down a bit and take their token annual day off. Nowadays, we prefer stretching this notion of ‘taking some much-needed time off’ to people of all identities, for the entire Christmas period… Am I riiiiight?
4. Whole villages enter the Christmas lottery in Spain
On 22nd December, you’ll find that the Spanish never venture far from a TV or radio as this is the day that the Christmas lottery is drawn! Basically everyone in Spain buys a ticket, hoping to win ‘El Gordo’ (the fat one). Sometimes, whole families and villages enter together meaning that groups of people in the same area can become filthy rich overnight. The prize money is usually in the billions, with the top prize usually around €600 million. Now that would be a bank balance Christmas MIRACLE!
3. Bagpipe-playing shepherds perform in the squares of Italy
This beautiful country is home to one of the quirkiest Christmas traditions of all. In southern Italy and Rome in particular, you’ll find shepherds playing the… bagpipes. Usually performing in pairs, these legends break out the tunes in squares and piazzas across the regions, all while everyone goes about their festive business. Dressed in traditional sheepskins and wool cloaks, they do this in honour of the traditional shepherds in the nativity and it’s quite the spectacle! Talking of tunes, visitors will also be able hear the church bells ringing out on Christmas Eve across the country to mark Jesus’ birth. ‘Buon Natale!’
2. The French go big on Christmas Eve
In France, the Christmas traditions are wide-ranging but there’s one thing for sure – the French LOVE Christmas Eve. The evening begins with midnight mass (or ‘ La Messe de Minuit’). The country isn’t too religious any more but at Christmas the tradition lives on. This is when families gather together in the country’s stunning cathedrals to sing traditional French Christmas songs and carols. Of course, all this singing really works up an appetite, which is why you’ll find many locals hurrying home to celebrate ‘La Reveillon’ afterwards – a big feast held during the early hours of Christmas Day. Menus vary but think chestnut-stuffed turkey, goose, oysters and even foie gras and caviar for a super spesh meal.
1. Santa has a sinister sidekick in Switzerland
Finally, one of the most intriguing Christmas traditions from around the world…. A traditional Swiss Christmas involves not one but TWO unusual characters in place of Santa Claus. The first is ‘Samichlaus’, who pops up around 6th December and shares treats like mandarins, cookies and of course delicious Swiss Christmas chocolate. So far, so normal.
The second figure is his (pretty scary) helper, ‘Schmutzli’. And here’s where it gets weird… Schmutzli is basically the anti-Santa. He wears a black robe and has a dark beard. Originally, his ominous appearance – complete with a whip and empty present sack – served to deter children from being naughty throughout the year. If that’s not enough incentive to stay off the naughty list, we don’t know what is…
Nowadays, he helps Samichlaus hand out treats and presents at markets and events, so be sure to say ‘Fröhliche Weihnachten’ or ‘Joyeux Noël’, depending on which part of Switzerland you’re visiting!