Christmas is a time for joy, family and spending time with your loved ones. We all know about Santa, Christmas trees and reindeer, but not all countries celebrate Christmas the same way...
Some unique and peculiar Christmas traditions can be found in different cultures around the world. Some of them are adorable, while others are pretty spooky!
Many of them involve some kind of magical gift-bringer who’s loved by all children, but there are also some eerie characters to scare them if they are misbehaving. Have you been good this year?
Let’s take a peek into some interesting and unusual Christmas traditions around the world.
Tió de Nadal – Catalonia
Of all the magical Christmas gift-bringers, none are cuter and more unique than Tió de Nadal – the Catalan Pooping Christmas Log!
Every year, children in Catalonia can’t wait for Caga Tió to appear in their homes on December 8th on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
They take good care of him for the rest of the month, feed him and keep him warm with a blanket and a traditional Catalan hat called a barretina. Then, come Christmas Eve, they sing a funny traditional song and beat him with a stick to make him poop out gifts!
Play the game
If you haven’t already, you can meet Tió de Nadal in our interactive Christmas card. Click here to play!
Thought one little pooper was enough? Well, there’s another one!
He is called the Caganer, literally “the pooper”. It’s a little figurine of a man crouching with his pants around his ankles and going number 2. He can often be seen in nativity scenes in Catalonia and other regions of Spain.
The Caganer is basically fertilizing the soil while doing his business, so he’s a symbol of good luck for an abundant harvest in the year to come.
La Befana – Italy
Forget about leaving cookies by the fireplace for Santa. La Befana likes it when children leave her a good glass of wine!
According to legend, La Befana was a benevolent witch with exceptional housekeeping skills who gave food and shelter to the Three Wise Men on their way to find baby Jesus. They were so pleased with her hospitality that they invited her to join them on their journey.
She turned down the invitation, but later changed her mind and went out in search of baby Jesus on her own. Ever since, she’s been flying on her broom on January 5th on Epiphany Eve, leaving gifts for children who were good and coal for those who weren’t. It’s her way of making up for never finding baby Jesus.
Festivities are held every year in Italy where hundreds of people dress up as La Befana. And that piece of coal in the bad kid’s stockings? Nowadays, it’s actually rock candy from black caramel!
Yule Lads and Yule Cat – Iceland
One Santa not enough for you? How about 13?! Well, they’re not actually Santas. They’re a group of mischievous pranksters who come down from the mountain around Christmas to play tricks on the local population.
On December 12th, kids in Iceland leave their shoes on their windowsills in hopes of getting some gifts from them. Then, the 13 Yule Lads take turns visiting the children every night until Christmas. The good kids find candy in their shoes. The bad kids get rotten potatoes!
The Yule Lads actually used to be way scarier in the old times. So much that in 1746, parents were officially banned from terrifying their kids with stories about these troublesome mountain fellows. Today, they are depicted as harmless and benevolent tricksters.
But don’t think everyone is off the hook yet, because there’s still the Yule Cat!
It’s a humungous blood-thirsty cat that roams the snowy countryside during Christmas time, eating anyone it finds who isn’t wearing a new piece of clothing. Well, that sounds a bit harsh. But what do you expect from the Yule Lads’ pet?!
Mari Lwyd – Wales
Can’t get enough of Halloween? Then this South Welsh Christmas tradition is right up your alley! It dates back to the end of 18th century, but it’s believed to have much older pagan origins.
Mari Lwyd is a horse skull on a stick, decorated with ornaments, ribbons and a large cloth that hides the person who is carrying it. Mari Lwyd is taken door to door around Christmas by a group of merrymen who sing songs and challenge the people inside with rhymes and riddles.
This ritual is known as “pwnco”, where the Mari Lwyd troupe tries to gain entry into the household by outwitting its occupants in a battle of rhymes. If they succeed, they are welcomed inside and treated to food and refreshments before moving on to the next house.
Mari Lwyd is considered good luck for every household it enters, so it’s rarely defeated in a rhyme contest. Win or lose, most people are happy to let it in!
Krampus – Germany and Austria
Heard of Bad Santa? Well, Krampus is as bad as it gets. He is St. Nick’s evil counterpart who, instead of delivering presents, punishes the children who have been naughty.
He’s a half goat – half demon with fangs, a long tongue and big pointy horns, who carries chains, bells and whips to bring all the misbehaving children in line. Kind of like a Christmassy boogeyman.
It’s believed that Krampus dates back to old pagan traditions, but he’s been appearing alongside St. Nicholas since the 17th century. Today, this sinister character can be seen in Krampus festivals and parades held in various cities around Germany and Austria.
Every year on the night of December 5th, thousands of people dress up in Krampus costumes and roam the streets with torches, scaring all the kids they come across into being good little boys and girls.
Burning of the Devil – Guatemala
Christmas season in Guatemala is kicked off each year with a tradition called “La Quema del Diablo”, which translates to “Burning of the Devil”.
According to folktales, it’s believed that the devil and other evil spirits dwell in the dark and dirty corners of people’s homes. So, Christmas season in Guatemala begins with people cleaning out their homes of all dirt and rubbish and collecting it into a big pile outside.
Just like a star on top of a Christmas tree, an effigy of the devil is placed on top of this trash bonfire, which is then burned on December 7th as a unique cleansing ritual.
Each year, big crowds gather on this day for different fire ceremonies and festivities. It symbolizes the burning away of all the misfortunes from the past year, so that the new year can be started afresh!
Roller-Skating to Mass – Venezuela
Okay, enough with the spooky stuff. Put on those skates and let’s roll!
Each year between December 16th and 24th, special holiday masses are held in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. But what makes them even more special is the mode of transportation that people use to get there. Roller-skates!
No one is really sure how this unique Christmas tradition began, but it’s believed that the roller-skates are meant to be a tropical alternative to ice-skating and sledding.
Legend has it that children would go to sleep each night during the week before Christmas with a little string tied to their toes while the other end hangs out the window. As the skaters start to congregate in the morning and pass by their homes, they give a little tug on the strings to wake the kids up to put on their skates and join them.
This tradition has grown so much over the years that many streets in the city are closed off for traffic during those days, so that the parades of roller-skaters can make it to the Christmas Masses safely.
So, there you have it. We hope that these unique Christmas traditions helped you get into the holiday spirit and brought a smile to your face.
No matter how you celebrate Christmas in your culture and tradition, may you spend it with your dearest ones in health, love and harmony!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!