The Strangest Christmas traditions from around the world

The Strangest Christmas traditions from around the world

If you celebrate Christmas, the great likelihood is you follow a set of festive traditions that are replicated in homes across the UK; decorating a Christmas tree, eating a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and exchanging gifts with loved ones. 

But have you ever thought to dine on a KFC Xmas Family Bucket? Or toss your shoe over your shoulder out of the front door? Perhaps you've spent Christmas Eve hiding the broomsticks in your house?

No? Well then maybe it's time to discover some unusual Christmas traditions from around the world to mark this holiday season, from giant straw goats to festive saunas, these are 10 of the best. You can even experience some of them on your next winter break...

The Strangest Christmas traditions from around the world : Section 2

1. Christmas with KFC in Japan

Forget carving the turkey at the Christmas dinner table, in Japan the holiday tradition is to tuck into "Finger Lickin' Good" fried chicken!

Back in December 1974, American-born fast-food chain KFC began to promote itself as the place to eat the ideal Christmas meal. This clever marketing idea sparked a trend, and since then a Christmas trip to KFC has become part and parcel of the celebrations for many families. In fact, an estimated 3.6 million families gather together to share a KFC bucket every year. This tradition means KFC is incredibly busy in Japan throughout December, with pre-orders made weeks in advance.

Served in festive packaging, dining on 'Kentucky for Christmas' from Santa doppelganger Colonel Sanders is now a somewhat unusual Christmas tradition that Japanese families use to mark the festive season. But it's one you can experience year-round on a holiday in Japan (minus the festive bucket!).

The Strangest Christmas traditions from around the world : Section 4

2. Hiding broomsticks in Norway

From a stay in the world's most northerly town to sleeping in the bucket list Snowhotel, a winter break to Norway is packed full of unique and extraordinary experiences.

But for something wholly out-of-the-ordinary, in Norway there is the somewhat terrifying tradition of hiding all the broomsticks in the home on Christmas Eve to prevent witches and evil spirits from stealing them!

Unfortunately we've never had this 'holiday tradition' actually verified by a Norwegian person, and it seems likely that joy-riding witches aren't in reality a feature of Norway's national holiday.

But if you're celebrating Christmas in Norway, then Julebord is a festive tradition that you should definitely get on board with. Translating as 'Christmas table', if you're invited to Julebord then expect a Christmas party of epic Norwegian proportions, with a feast serving traditional roasted pork belly, meatballs and gløgg - Norway's version of mulled wine. 

A traditional Swedish Christmas goat A traditional Swedish Christmas goat

3. Enormous Christmas goats in Sweden

As strange traditions fare, a gigantic straw goat statue has to be up there. 

Dating back to pagan times, the story of the Yule goat has morphed over the centuries, from a sacrifice to the god of harvest, to Saint Nicholas' symbol of control over evil in the 11th century. Later it was seen as the giver of gifts and today it's a traditional ornament in Scandinavian countries, where a straw goat is wrapped in red ribbon and used as a decoration (one you're certain to pick up from a Christmas market in Gothenburg).

However, this long yuletide history has now made way for a very special annual Christmas tradition: the Swedish town of Gävle's giant goat!

Every year an enormous goat is constructed in Slottstorget Castle Square in Gävle, Sweden, some 200 miles north-west of Stockholm. This gigantic version of the traditional straw Swedish Yule goat stands tall and proud in the square for the whole of the Christmas season, and on its record-breaking year, the gigantic straw goat statue measured a whopping 49ft!

Sadly most years vandals get to the Gävle goat and burn it down. Although illegal, it has become a Christmas tradition and a mark of pride if the goat is able to be destroyed.

Fortunately, the local fire station is just around the corner and the blaze can usually be put out before the goat’s skeleton is damaged, and the city rebuilds the yule goat in time for Christmas.

The Gävle goat has now been damaged or destroyed an astonishing 38 times. Despite this, it is able keep its global fan club updated throughout advent on X. 

In order to prevent arson and the yule goat being destroyed, more elaborate security measures are added each year and now include a double fence, 24-hour CCTV and 24 guard patrol with a K9 unit!

The Strangest Christmas traditions from around the world : Section 8

4. ...And Men Dressed as Goats in Romania

Romania is a fascinating country to visit, but even more so if you happen to be there on Christmas Eve when you might catch the sight of men dressed as goats, called capra, walking through the streets accompanied by singers. The traditional garments worn by the capra are brightly coloured with a wooden goat mask and sheepskin on the back.

In some areas this lively tradition is undertaken on New Year's Eve, but whenever you get to watch it, it certainly makes for an authentic experience. 

Christmastime in Greenland Christmastime in Greenland

5. Eating raw whale and decomposed auks in Greenland

Did you know that in Greenland mattak and kiviak are considered a great delicacy reserved for Christmas?

Mattak is whale skin with some blubber attached that is supposed to be chewed, but is often just swallowed as it can be a little tough. Apparently it tastes like coconuts. 

Kiviak is made from the raw flesh of auks, a small Arctic bird. The auks are buried in sealskin a long time before Christmas and then dug up to eat when they have reached an advanced stage of decomposition.

Don't fancy it? Not to worry, as there is usually barbecued caribou on the menu too.

Or you could always join in with the Christmas Eve tradition of wearing national clothing to a church service; for men that's a white anorak, a colour chosen because for hunters it would mean they could blend into the snowy landscape. 

Other ways to get into the holiday spirit in Greenland include children 'screaming for Santa' at the start of December, and the terrifying tradition of the entire family telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. 

Christmas in Latvia Christmas in Latvia

6. Giving treats to the Christmas mummers in Latvia

In Latvia mummers roam the streets during Christmastime. But "what are mummers?" we hear you cry!

A tradition in a number of northern hemisphere countries, even in some parts of the UK, mummering is when groups get together dressed in disguise, going from house to house during the twelve days of Christmas. 

In Latvia, these masked processions are rooted in tradition and known as Kekatas, and although they started to disappear in the 19th century, they've had something of a revival since the 1970s. 

A kind of moving social gathering, the group dressed in masks depicting animals, or more macabre figures like death and living corpses, are offered food and drink at the houses they visit, and are often invited inside for treats... in exchange for a dance or performance. 

If, however, the individual is recognised underneath the costume, then they have to remove the outfit.

Tradition says that when you treat the mummers well, they bring blessings to the house and encourage fertility whilst scaring away bad spirits.

Another Christmas-related fact you may not know is that Latvia is thought to be the home of the very first Christmas tree.

Candles decorate a graveyard in Finland Candles decorate a graveyard in Finland

7. Finland's Candlelit Graveyards and the Sauna Elf 

At first glance this might feel a little morbid, but it is in fact surprisingly uplifting - and beautiful too. On Christmas Eve, families in Finland visit the resting places of their lost loved ones and light a candle to place on the grave.

Not only does this tradition help people to remember those they have lost, it turns cemeteries into tranquil, glittering havens of light that some choose to walk in just to appreciate their beauty.

The Finnish take this tradition seriously - as many as 75% of Finnish families take part.

A common tradition you're likely to associate with a winter holiday to Finland is sauna, and with many homes having their own, families will often get together on Christmas Eve for a sauna together.

Joulusauna - Finnish for 'Christmas sauna' - is a tradition in most households. It aims to be relaxing before the busyness of Christmas day, as well as an opportunity to pay tribute to the sauna elf - Saunatonttu - by leaving him treats and thanking him for keeping the sauna tidy and warm. 

Our Helsinki city break includes a stay in a city centre hotel with a rooftop sauna - perfect for warming up after a day's exploring. 

8. Icelandic Yule Cats and Rotten Potatoes

Bad children don't get coal in Iceland at Christmas, they get rotten potatoes!

Yes you read that correctly, Icelandic Christmas folklore tells stories of monsters who live in the mountains. Of these there are the sons of Grýla, known as the 13 Yule Lads; mischievous boys who come to visit children on the 13 nights in the lead up to Yule.

In what is a similar holiday tradition to advent calendars, Icelandic kids place a shoe on their window sill, with the Yule Lads leaving gifts to children who've behaved, and rotten potatoes for naughty children.

Grýla and the Yule Lads also have a pet called the Yule Cat, a giant, vicious animal that prowls the snowy countryside. The holiday tradition of the Yule Cat is thought to go way back, though there are only written mentions of the mythical creature since the 19th century. 

The story goes that farmers would reward their workers with new clothes for getting their work done in time for Christmas. Those who didn't would be eaten by the Yule Cat!

Thankfully today the holiday tradition is to just treat loved ones to new clothes without the terrifying giant snow cat. 

9. Shoe Throwing in the Czech Republic

Now this really is an unusual Christmas tradition... and in a similar way to the throwing of a bouquet at a wedding, for Czech women it's all about predicting who will soon be the married women, and who remain the unmarried women. 

In the Czech Republic this festive tradition sees single women throw a shoe over their shoulder and out of the front door. If the shoe lands with its toe pointing in the direction of the door then buy a hat, she's getting married that coming year!

However, should the shoe point in the other direction it's bad news and the poor woman will have to try her luck at a festive matrimonial shoe throwing event the following year.

10. ... And Pudding Throwing in Slovakia

In Slovakia there is the odd Christmas tradition of throwing pudding on the ceiling.

As a way of finding out how much luck a family will have in the coming year, the most senior member has to throw loksa pudding at the ceiling. The more that sticks the more luck the family will have.

The traditional recipe includes milk, bread, poppy seeds and something to add a little sweetness... or stickiness as the case may be. 

Looking for an alternative Christmas break?

The festive season has different traditions across the globe, with these 10 unusual Christmas customs just the start. Other unusual traditions include heading to Christmas Mass services on roller skates in Venezuela; hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree in Germany; and the Austrian tradition that puts fear in the hearts of children, the evil Krampus. 

If you're seek a change to the culture and traditions of home, speak to a member of the Regent team who can point you in the direction of unique places to visit this holiday season for a Christmas to remember. 

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