7 Strange and Wonderful Christmas Traditions from around the World

Origins

Christmas is right around the corner. And there are more than a few traditions that people partake in every year, from newer ones like Santa-Con where thousands of people dress up like Santa, to more ancient ones like the hanging of the mistletoe.

In England we have a few pretty obscure ones ourselves that make foreigners scratch their heads in bemusement. Our puddings for example; mince pies and our traditional brandy soaked flaming fruit cake. And let’s not forget Christmas Crackers, invented in the 1845 by Tom Smith, these are iconically British. In fact, ask an American about them and you’ll get nothing but a blank stare.

We have compiled a few of the strange and magical Christmas traditions from around the world for your pleasure.

THE PHILIPPINES

Every year, the Saturday before Christmas, they hold The Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando in The Philippines. This festival had fairly simple origins, with (relatively) small festival lamps being constructed of Japanese origami paper. Today though the festival is a fierce competition between the 11 participating villages as everyone tries build the best and most elaborate lantern possible.

The lanterns are today made of a variety of materials and are up to 6 metres in length! Illuminated by fairy lights and electric bulbs, these are the pinnacle of lantern creation and an incredible sight to behold.

Find out more about The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu)

Image Credit: Ramon FVelasque, "Ligligan Parul" Giant Lantern Festival, CC by SA 3.0

DENMARK

Before Christianity the Danes celebrated jól on the 25th of December, the celebration of brighter days Today, homes are decorated with superstitious characters called Nisse who are believed to provide protection. On the evening of December 24, Danish families place their Christmas tree in the middle of the room and dance around it while singing carols.

COLOMBIA

Like The Giant Lantern festival tradition in the Philippines this grew out of a seemingly innocent tradition of people placing candles and lanterns in their windows, balconies and front gardens. It has however grown, and now entire towns and cities across the countries are lit up with fantastical displays that are glorious to behold.

Some of the best are found in Quimbaya, where neighbourhoods compete to see who can create the most impressive arrangement.

Sweden

Okay this one made us do a double take when we found references on the internet for this. We are talking about the Yule Goat (of course…)

This is a fairly recent local tradition, sadly contained to a single village. We feel the world would be better off with more Yule Goats. Since 1966, a 13 metre tall Goat has been constructed in the centre of the Gävle’s Castle Square for the Advent.

Obviously though, the Swedes, not happy to simply have their giant goat flaunting its horns in the square developed another ‘tradition’ of sorts. The burning down of the Yule Goat! Masked and under the cover of night groups attempt to set fire to the giant goat and they have succeeded 29 times in the last 52 years.

If you want to see how the Goat fares this year when it goes up on December 1st, you can follow its progress on the Gävle website through a live video stream.

Austria

We all know the story of Krampus, right? The evil accomplice to bonny St. Nick. The beast like demon creature (probably just masked men…) roams the city streets with the sole purpose it would seem of frightening children.

In Austrian tradition, St. Nicholas rewards nice little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack. In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus (especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day) frightening children with clattering chains and bells.

Iceland

There are a couple of odd Icelandic traditions that we thought worth mentioning. The Yule Lads, and the Yule Cat.

Let’s start with the Lads. During the 13 days leading up to Christmas, these 13 mischievous naughty troll-like creatures come out to play. Girls and Boys leave their best pair of shoes by the window and each day a different lad visits leaving a gift for nice children and an old rotting potato for the less nice ones…

Clad in traditional Icelandic costume, these fellas are pretty mischievous, and their names hint at the type of trouble they like to cause: Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), Stúfur (Stubby), Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker), Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper), Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker), Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer), Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler), Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper), Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper), Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer), Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook) and Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer).

The Yule Cat is another weird festive tradition. It is said that a giant cat roams the countryside at Christmas time. Those that don’t work hard will be devoured by this cat, who clearly dislikes lazy people. But those that do work hard will be rewarded by the farmer with a new set of clothes. Whilst the cat isn’t such a popular tradition any more, it is still customary to get a new set of clothes for Christmas.

Norway

Dating back centuries a tradition in Norway is to hide one’s broom. It is believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride. And we think that the lack of witches in Norway today proves just how effective this tactic has been. To this day many people still hide their brooms at Christmas time.

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Final thoughts

There are marvelous and magical traditions all around the globe, some seem strange or antiquated, whilst others are beautiful expressions of creativity, art and the spirit of love. Through all these places though, whether they share religion, history or not, there is one Christmas Tradition that is nearly universal, the giving of gifts.

CHECK OUT OUR HBB CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE

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