The strangest Christmas traditions

It comes for everyone, but everyone celebrates it in their way because, after all, diversity is what most represents the nuances of our world and those who inhabit it. Christmas is one of the most eagerly awaited and enjoyable times of the year, also because beyond religions, it is the customs and traditions of each people that make it vibrant.

Rooted in time and hard to die despite a society increasingly devoted to consumerism that tends to live by the present and neglect the past, traditions are a point of union with ancestors and a model to be handed down to children and grandchildren, precisely to continue to preserve rituals, beliefs and legends over time.

Then, let’s look at some of the most bizarre ways of celebrating Christmas, ranging from Europe to Asia, from the Americas to Oceania and Africa.


The approach to 25 December is a countdown that is punctually welcomed in Spain, where, among the various customs, what is happening in Catalonia stands out. In the Barcelona region, the Tió de Nadal, which stands for ‘Christmas trunk’, is staged. On 8 December, each family makes its trunk, then digs it up and draws eyes, mouth, legs and hat. From that day on, the log is fed with sweets and candy but also protected with a blanket during the night to avoid the cold.

The treatment ends on Christmas Eve when the log is placed in the unlit fireplace and clubbed by children singing a series of local songs so that it will throw out presents. Once the beating is over, the children are called away and, on their return, find what they had hoped for under the log’s blanket.

Tió de Nadal – Catalunya (credit Naturaki)


Here too, there are those who start the celebrations earlier than the designated day, as in Verona, where Santa Lucia brings gifts, not Santa Claus. The change is due to the epidemic that spread through the city at the beginning of the 13th century, affecting children, in particular, endangering their sight. So to ward off bad omens, mothers used to take their children on a pilgrimage to ask for help from Santa Lucia, the patron saint of the eyes and the blind.

To reach the destination, the little ones had to be persuaded to set out barefoot at one of the coldest times of the year, so a very effective solution was needed. Like the gifts, the children would find on their return. A tradition that has continued over time, and today see the little ones of Verona waiting for Santa Lucia’s gifts on the night between 12 and 13 December.


In addition to St Nicholas leaving gifts in the polished shoes that children put under their beds, in Germany, Santa Claus undergoes a metamorphosis and turns into Krampus. The demonic creature who embodies St Nicholas himself punishes children who have been naughty, sometimes by scaring them with his less than friendly face, sometimes by stuffing them into black sacks, or by chaining them in a basket. However, a bizarre legend has persisted over time, so much so that many adults dress up as Krampus to scare the children they meet on the street and distribute coal to them.

Krampus (credit Alessio Zaccaria)


Varied and original is the way of celebrating Christmas in Central and South America. Fires are the trait d’union among the Guatemalans, who used to welcome the occasion by burning objects, clothes and (especially in the past) rubbish together with icons of the Devil to drive away evil spirits.

Marking the start of the celebrations in Mexico is La Noche de Rabanos (‘The Night of Radishes’), with sculptures of radishes going up in artisans’ shops and being used as centrepieces for Christmas Day. In Venezuela, until a few years ago, one could also see a large number of skaters in the vicinity of churches. Lots of people were moving around on roller skates, partly because of the warm season and the impossibility of using cars until the early hours of the morning.


While in the Swedish town of Gavle, people burn a giant straw goat to get into the Christmas spirit, in Norway, the aim is to make all wooden brooms disappear. Why? According to the country’s oral tradition, witches are the bearers of evil, so on the night of 24 December, families hide their brooms at home to prevent some more enterprising witch from getting her hands on them.

In Denmark, it is not Santa Claus who brings the presents but mischievous goblins ready to set traps for the children, who play in anticipation and prepare a soup in their honour. On the other hand, the work starts earlier for the Icelandic children because there are 13 goblins, and for each of them, a shoe must be prepared and placed on the bedroom window to ingratiate themselves and secure a gift.

Christmas Traditions
Yule Lads, Icelandic Santas (credit

Australia and Africa

In the upside-down world, Christmas is celebrated on the beach with swimming and picnics, as well as the inevitable surfers sporting the red Santa Claus hat for the occasion. And by virtue of the time zones, everyone celebrates earlier here.

As impossible as it is to generalise about a continent that brings together countries with antipodal seasons and different religions, Africa has many different customs. In Egypt, people fast (no meat and meat products for 43 days); in Ghana, they go to the beach; in Liberia, they decorate palm trees as a replacement for the unobtainable fir trees; in South Africa, people gather in front of the barbecue.


This story is probably the most surprising for those unfamiliar with the story because it combines Japan and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The American fried chicken chain is a popular choice among Japanese on Christmas days. The credit for this goes to an advertising campaign in 1974, when Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii (meaning ‘Kentucky for Christmas‘) was so successful that it was repeated every year.

Christmas Traditions
KFC Japan (credit KFC)

Another version that would explain the peculiarity is that Kentucky chicken was the remedy of an American teacher at a Christian school operating in the country. Faced with a lack of turkey to celebrate as is the custom in his homeland, the stranger fell back on fried chicken, starting a process that spread like wildfire thanks to the intuition of KFC employees, who devised an ad hoc advertising campaign.

Regardless of the truth, it remains that for so many Japanese, Christmas rhymes with KFC, that to avoid nasty surprises, it is customary to book the Christmas menu several weeks in advance.

Alessio Caprodossi is a technology, sports, and lifestyle journalist. He navigates between three areas of expertise, telling stories, experiences, and innovations to understand how the world is shifting. You can follow him on Twitter (@alecap23) and Instagram (Alessio Caprodossi) to report projects and initiatives on startups, sustainability, digital nomads, and web3.