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Christmas traditions around the world vary hugely from one country to the next. While many elements of Christmas look the same (Santa, presents and decorations) there are also many strange Christmas traditions that are frankly a little… surprising! We love celebrating the many differences between our member countries, so take a look at how Christmas is celebrated around the world with our round-up of the most festive yet quirky customs.

America

 Santa walking away
Americans enjoy a huge array of fantastic (and crazy!) Christmas traditions.
 

We love the extravagances of the USA, so it’s no surprise that America is home to some of the most bizarre Christmas traditions. In Chandler, Arizona, you’ll find the world’s largest tumbleweed Christmas tree, while in California, there’s a surfing Santa competition. Hawaii celebrates Christmas with a pig roast over an open fire, while in Louisiana, humungous log structures are burnt on December 24th – and of course a massive pub crawl known as the ‘Running of the Santas’ is a much-loved tradition!

 

South Africa

Christmas is all about delicious nibbles – but just how delicious you find another country’s favourite food is all down to taste (literally). In South Africa, they take it to a whole new level, with deep-fried caterpillars from the emperor moth being a local speciality. Don’t judge until you’ve tried it! There’s also the dark tale of a little boy called Danny who was killed by his grandmother when he ate Santa’s cookies – he’s now said to haunt homes at Christmas. Which is definitely not a happy festive thought, so let’s move onto the next country!

 

Iceland

 Person holding candy canes in the shape of a heart
In Iceland, good children can expect sweets from the Yuletide Lads.
 

Children around the world celebrate the same Santa. But Icelandic kids have 13 of them! Known as the Yuletide Lads, each of these mischievous Santas will leave sweets or a rotting potato for children throughout Advent, depending on the child’s behaviour that day. Many children choose to leave their shoe on their windowsill, ready for it to be filled with something delicious. They also have the Christmas Cat – an enormous black cat that prowls the streets looking for people to eat who haven’t been gifted a new piece of clothing. Brutal. 

 

Austria

When you think of how Christmas is celebrated in Austria, you probably think of the world-famous Christmas markets. From Innsbruck to Salzberg, there’s a twinkly tree and a wealth of gorgeous stalls selling traditional gifts that just beg to be explored. But the festive season also has a dark undercurrent in this stunning country, as a Christmas devil called Krampus keeps children on their toes. Naughty or nice is an easy decision when Krampus is said to take bad children to the underworld.  

 

Norway

 Broom leaning against wall
In Norway, you hide your broom if you want to stop the witches from stealing it!
 

One great example of the differences in how Christmas is celebrated around the world is in Norway. Christmas Eve is thought to bring the arrival of witches and evil spirits, so Norwegians hide their brooms before they go to bed, in case they’re stolen! Plus they eat Lutefisk, which is dried fish that has been rehydrated in a lye solution… though many Norwegians secretly confess to hating the delicacy.

 

Venezuela

 Lady wearing roller skates
Christmas + fun in Venezuela = time to get your skates on.
 

The lovely people of Venezuela have a pretty decent selection of strange Christmas traditions. From setting off firecrackers first thing in the morning through to roller skating to Christmas Mass, they’re a fun-loving bunch. And as legend has it, children tie a piece of string round their toe, then leave the string hanging out of their bedroom windows so that the passing skaters can give it a gentle tug!

 

Greenland

Love to share gifts at Christmas? Traditional presents in the breathtaking country of Greenland include a pair of polished walrus tusks, sealskin mitts or model sledges. But the locals then take it up a notch with their preferred festive foods. From raw whale skin (complete with blubber) through to dead fermented auk birds that have been stuffed into a seal skin, you’ll need to be open-minded to appreciate these treats. 

 

Great Britain

 Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding is a huge favourite in Britain – just watch out for the silver coin hidden within.
 

The Brits are renowned for their sweet tooth, so it’s no surprise that their strange Christmas traditions revolve around the Christmas pudding. For luck, every member of the family must help mix the pudding in a clockwise direction. Then before it’s cooked, a silver coin is hidden in the pudding. Whoever finds it on Christmas Day has an extra dose of luck (assuming they haven’t accidentally swallowed the coin, which is decidedly unlucky!) And on Christmas Eve children hang out a sock or stocking, ready for it to be filled with treats from Santa – though if they’ve been naughty, they might get a lump of coal.

 

Germany

 Christmas stockings
German children spread the joy of Christmas by opening their stocking on the 6th.
 

Christmas traditions around the world are often a bit surprising to neighbouring countries. But one thing we can all get on board with is the promise of sweet treats in exchange for good behaviour! On December 5th, German children leave a shoe outside their house, and wait to see whether they’ve been naughty or nice. Well-behaved kids find their shoe has been filled with sweets – but the naughtiest members of the family might only receive a tree branch. On 6th December stockings are opened to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, and on Christmas morning the adults hide an ornamental pickle in the Christmas tree – whoever finds it, gets an extra present!

 

Portugal

 Bananas on chopping board with knife
Bananas and Muscatel are the dream partners in the city of Braga.
 

In the city of Braga, people come together to eat bananas and drink Muscatel on Christmas Eve. This strange Christmas tradition started when the owner of a banana shop decided to earn a little extra money by selling the sweet, fortified wine. Beyond Braga, a nationwide tradition is that of celebrating Consoda, in which a place is set at the table for dead relatives – this is said to bring good luck to the household.

 

Catalan

Christmas traditions in the Catalan region come with a huge side order of comedy. Firstly, from December 8th, Caga Tió, or the Poo Log, is welcomed into the home. This log with a smiley face and a Catalan hat is ‘fed’ dried fruit and kept warm with a blanket, until on Christmas Eve when the children beat him with sticks so that he ‘excretes’ gifts and sweets. The poo theme continues with Caganer – a nativity figurine of a man squatting with his trousers down so that he can relieve himself in the stable!  

 

New Zealand

Pohutukawa flower
The Pohutukawa tree has symbolic meaning for New Zealanders.
 

The Christmas tree is recognised worldwide as a conifer, but in New Zealand, they also decorate the lovely Pohutukawa tree, and feature it on Christmas cards. Blossoming with red flowers in December and January, this gorgeous tree is an important part of Maori tradition, as they believe the red flowers represent the blood of a young warrior who died while trying to avenge his father’s death.

 

Czech Republic

Glittery shoes with flower petals
If you’re heading to the Czech Republic, chuck a shoe to determine your romantic future!
 

If you’re a single woman, then head to this beautiful country to embrace your inner Cinderella. Simply throw a shoe over your shoulder, and if it lands pointing to a door, then you’ll get married within 12 months. Not looking for Mr Right, but fancy being popular for the coming year? Then dab a little honey on your face on Christmas Eve – so sticky, yet so delicious!

 

Ukraine

Arachnophobes look away – because in Ukraine, Christmas trees are often decorated with sparkly spiders and their webs. Some even say these intricate ornaments were the basis on which tinsel came into existence. And that’s not the only bizarre Christmas tradition in this country, because men and boys are encouraged to play pranks on each other on December 13th, while children moo and bark underneath the table while Christmas Dinner is brought in!

 

Estonia

 Sauna in snow
Estonians sweat it out on Christmas Eve.
 

Adopting a simpler version of the advent calendar, every night Estonian children put their slippers on their windowsills, hoping that the elves will put some chocolate in there for them to discover in the morning. Which is lovely. Perhaps less lovely, is the thought of sharing a sauna with your entire family on Christmas Eve – but it’s an Estonian Christmas tradition which is much-loved. Don’t judge until you’ve tried it. 

 

Wales

How Christmas is celebrated around the world is an interesting topic, particularly when it involves parading the skull of a horse through the streets. While this tradition has lost popularity over the years, some villages still go from house to house with Mari Lwyd, trading rhyming insults (all in good humour of course!)

 

Sweden

 Snowy road with trees on either side
Sweden has one of the most Christmassy landscapes – but it’s also home to a giant straw goat!
 

As the founding nation of candy canes, and home to iconic Christmas markets and glogg (warm mulled wine), Sweden epitomises the Christmas spirit. One such example involves hiding an almond in a bowl of rice pudding – whoever gets the peeled almond will supposedly be married within the coming year. So far, so good. But did you know that the town of Gävle is also home to the yule goat? Made out of straw, this giant 13-metre high sculpture called Gävlebocken has been created every year since 1966. But alarmingly, it’s also become a tradition for mischief-makers to try and burn it down. 

 

Italy

From finding bagpipers in town squares through to not eating meat on Christmas Eve, the Italians are awash with interesting, if unusual Christmas practices! But one of the most bizarre Christmas traditions has to involve la Befana, a good witch who sweeps floors and leaves sweets for good children.

 

Ethiopia

While most of the world enjoys their Christmas festivities on either December 24th or 25th, Ethiopia holds off until January 7th, which they celebrate as the day of Jesus’ birth (also known as Ganna). Most Ethiopians fast the day before Ganna, then head to mass at 4am!

 

Canada

 Hand holding a pen
Children who write to Santa might be surprised to learn that he’s a Canadian citizen.
 

Children are encouraged to write to Santa at the following address if they want to get a response from the big man himself: Santa Claus, North Pole, Canada, Ho Ho, Ho. But this raises an interesting question: does Canada have a claim over the North Pole? Actually, Canada is the closest settlement to the North Pole (at just 820km away) and in 2008, the Canadian Immigration Minister declared that Santa was officially a Canadian citizen – and in 2013, he and Mrs Claus each received a Canadian passport. You can’t argue with facts like that.

 

Guatemala

 Small child hugging a dog
Dish out your Christmas hugs wisely in Guatemala.
 

Yet another country with a dark Christmas tradition, as the good folk of Guatemala sweep their houses clean, then create a pile of debris in the village which is set alight with a devil on the top. Yikes! On a much lighter note, a Christmas hug is given at midnight on Christmas Eve, before families welcome in the big day by blowing whistles and setting off firecrackers.

 

Latvia

Christmas traditions around the world often involve a nod to the darker side. Take Latvia for example, where costumed and masked ‘mummers’ scare away evil spirits and bring blessing to the household. Perhaps less dark is their tradition of burning the yule log, which represents getting rid of any problems that have occurred in the previous year.

 

Greece

Fire
Greek households keep a fire burning throughout Christmas.
 

Another country, another bizarre Christmas tradition – which surprise, surprise, involves evil spirits. During the 12 days of Christmas, it’s said that if you keep a fire burning without letting it go out, it will stop the hobgoblins from entering your home through your chimney. On a happier tangent, many villages display boat decorations to remember when women used to decorate wooden boats to welcome their husbands home from sea. Aaaaah! 

 

Cuba

Firework in night sky
You can expect to see some impressive firework displays in Cuba.
 

Fidel Castro banned Christmas in Cuba for nearly 30 years (so that he could keep people at work harvesting the sugar), but the Cubans are a festive-loving bunch, and in the run up to Christmas they celebrate Parrandas in which whole towns come alive with fireworks and electric light displays. A suckling pig is put on the bbq on Christmas Eve, so Christmas Day is all about recovering from the festivities of the day before.

 

Bavaria

How do you tackle the problem of pesky evil spirits lingering at the end of the year? You drive them out with a noisy display of course! In the Bavarian Alps, the men simultaneously fire old mortars in the mountains – all while wearing their traditional lederhosen! 

 

Finland

 Four red candles
Candle-lit tributes are important in Finland.
 

Remembering loved family members who have died is an important and special part of Christmas in Finland. Many people head to the cemeteries where their family members have been laid to rest, and leave a candle – making this a true winter wonderland.

 

Slovakia

Are you enjoying reading about these weird and wonderful Christmas traditions around the world? Then buckle up, because it’s about to get even kookier. In Slovakia, carp is the highlight of the Christmas meal, so many families buy a live fish several days in advance, then keep it in the bathtub where the fresh water makes it taste better. It’s then killed and eaten on Christmas Eve. Not only that, but loksa pudding (which is a tasty mixture of sweetened poppyseed, bread and water) is thrown at the ceiling. If it sticks, you’re in for a prosperous year. Delicious and messy.

 

Japan

 Strawberry and cream cake
Christmas cake or just a decadent strawberry shortcake?!
 

Did you know that Christmas Cake in Japan is a strawberry shortcake? Or that only couples exchange gifts on Christmas Eve? Or that oseibo – when co-workers exchange gifts in December – is a much bigger deal? Or that red Christmas cards are frowned upon, because red is traditionally associated with funeral announcements? Or that KFC’s ad campaign in 1974 was so impressive that many families now eat fried chicken on Christmas Eve? As a predominantly non-Christian country, Christmas simply isn’t a huge deal in this wonderful country – yet they’re bursting at the seams with the most fantastically unusual Christmas traditions!

 

A quick reminder... 

Fancy seeing a round-up of some of the info that we've just bamboozled you with? Then take a look at this helpful infographic that neatly summarises the key points... 

 Christmas traditions around the world vary hugely by states, cities, towns and even villages – and we’d love to know what yours are! Whether you’re enjoying the festive season at home or you’re going to be celebrating Christmas and New Year in a home swap, we’d love to see some pictures of your bizarre Christmas traditions – simply tag us on our social media channels using #welovehomeswap or fire up a festive conversation in our Facebook groups. 

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