Strange Christmas traditions from around the world

In the Philippines decorations are put up on 1st September... and you thought we celebrated Christmas too early
Strange Christmas traditions from around the world
© Chito Pachica Photography
11 Dec 2018 AT 11:18 AM
11 Dec 2018 AT 11:18 AM

It’s not long now until Santa makes his way down your chimney to deliver gifts, and while you’re busy leaving out a mince pie and glass of milk, there are plenty of others getting into the festive spirit - in their own unique way. From terrifying cats, to mythical beasts to carving radishes, these are the bizarre Christmas traditions from around the globe.


In the Philippines, decorations are put up on 1st September to ‘officially’ begin the countdown to Christmas. It’s one of the longest festive celebrations in the world and includes nine Masses in the lead up to Christmas day, known locally as ‘Simbang Gabi’. The holiday season even continues into the near year before coming to an end on January 9th.

Austria and Germany

Krampus, a scary mythical beast, roams the streets of Austria and Germany scaring naughty kids during the festive period as punishment for playing up. If that wasn’t terrifying enough the ugly creature, which bears large horns on his head and is covered in fur, carries a small pile of sticks to use as a weapon. Also in Germany, kids leave a tree branch outside their door on 5th December and when morning comes it’s covered in sweets – but only if they’ve been good all year.

Catalonia, Spain

Caga Tio, which in English means, “pooping tree” is a bizarre Christmas tradition where families care for a log with a face painted on the end of it, and two front legs propping it up. Children keep the log as a pet, feeding it treats and keeping it warm with a blanket until Christmas Eve when they beat it with sticks and it delivers presents. Ho, ho, ho.


While many in the Western world are darting downstairs to open presents on Christmas morning, the locals in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, dash down to the church in their roller skates. Authorities close the roads specifically because of the large numbers involved.

Czech Republic

Single ladies use an old tradition at Christmas to help predict whether or not they will get married in the New Year. Women stand with their backs to a door and throw a pair of shoes over their shoulders. Should the shoe land with the toe facing towards the door, the lucky lady will likely walk down the aisle within the next twelve months. Time to buy a new hat.


While Christmas is a time of joy in most households, families in Norway believe evil spirits arrive on Christmas Eve and so parents hide brooms out of sight before they go to bed.


Forget putting tinsel on your Christmas tree in this part of the world you’re expected to cover it in fake spiders and webs. The odd Ukrainian tradition is said to bring good luck.


Christmas dinners are a thing of beauty in most places, but diners in Greenland have added a unique item, which will have you desperately reaching for the sprouts. Mattak, eaten during the festive period, is considered a delicacy and is basically raw whale skin with blubber. Another local favourite is kiviak – a small bird wrapped in seal skin, buried for a few months, and then eaten once decomposed. Bon Appetite.


Despite only a small amount of people celebrating the festive season in India, there are around 25 million Christians who exchange gifts and get in the holiday spirit. However, the traditional green pine trees are seldom found locally so banana trees and mango trees are decorated instead.


Jólakötturinn or Yule Cat (which we much prefer to call him) is a not-so-friendly kitty that goes on the prowl in the snow on the lookout for people who haven’t received new clothes for Christmas. Traditionally, bosses used to tell wool workers the cat was coming for them if they didn’t get their job done before Christmas.


While the pumpkin takes centre stage at Halloween it’s the radishes’ time to shine when Christmas season hits Mexico. Vegetable carving hits new heights as revellers compete to produce the most detailed sculptures made of nothing but the humble radish. Called ‘Noche de Rabanos’, or Night of the Radishes, the tradition in Oaxaca, Mexico stretches back more than a century. It began with shopkeepers trying to catch the eye of potential customers with over-the-top carvings made of the vegetable. Radish carving was made an official celebration by the mayor in 1897.  


Every year a giant goat structure is burned down in Sweden to celebrate the start of the Christmas season. Locals in the town of Gavle decided to modify an ancient tradition where a Yule goat delivered festive gifts into something a bit more, ahem, exciting. Locals decided to burn down the giant straw goat in 1966 and it’s now become a tradition to reduce the sculpture to ash before Christmas day. Over the past 50 years the famous Gavle Yule goat has been destroyed 35 times.