The World’s Strangest Christmas Traditions

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Podcast Transcript

Christmas is the time of year where we celebrate traditions that have been handed down to us over the centuries. 

However, traditions can vary from place to place and not all traditions are old. Some traditions are very modern. 

…and some traditions are downright bizarre. 

Learn more about the world’s strangest Christmas traditions on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

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Christmas is a time of year for traditions, but the traditions we celebrate aren’t universal. 

The traditions surrounding the holiday can differ between countries, religions, and even families. 

So, without any further ado, let’s go into some of the oddest and strangest Christmas traditions around the world. 

Any discussion of odd Christmas traditions has to include Catalonia. I’ve already done a complete episode on Catalonian Christmas traditions, but I’ll give a quick overview. 

They have two which stand out. One is the caga tio, which is a log that children feed in the lead up to Christmas and then beat it until it poops presents and candy. 

The other is the Caganer. The Caganer is a part of every nativity scene in Catalonia. It depicts someone, usually a shepherd, who is defecating off in the corner of the nativity scene. 

This has become a thing in Catalonia and there are now shops that sell them year-round. 

As I mentioned, I’ve done an entire episode on this and I go into far more depth on the subject. 

Another very odd Christmas tradition can be found in Japan.

Japan isn’t a Christian country so Christmas doesn’t have any long-standing traditions. One rather modern Christmas tradition which has found a place in Japan is eating at KFC.

The tradition of going to Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas started in the mid-1980s. 

The 70s and 80s saw a huge rise in the Japanese economy and an expansion in western fast-food restaurants. One of the most popular chains is Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC.  

In 1974 they began a marketing campaign called “Kentucky for Christmas” where they touted fried chicken as a traditional American meal for Christmas to encourage sales. 

Images of Colonel Sanders would appear dressed as Santa Claus, which if you think about it isn’t a huge stretch. He’s a white guy with a white beard, and all you have to really do is put a red Christmas hat on him.

Fried chicken isn’t really a stretch for Japanese tastes as fried food such as tempura is popular, as is chicken. 

Chicken buckets became the thing to get for dinner on Christmas eve. 

Today, the average KFC restaurant in Japan will do ten times the business on Christmas Eve as they would on a normal day. It isn’t unusual for people to be lined up around the block to wait for Christmas chicken.

Japan isn’t the only country with modern Christmas traditions. 

Another country with an unusual modern tradition is Sweden. 

Every year on Christmas Eve at 3 pm on Swedish television they will air a 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special which was originally titled “From All of Us to All of You”.  In Swedish, and I’m not even going to try to pronounce it, it is titled, “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”

The show is Jimminy Cricket introducing a series of Disney cartoons from the 1930s to the 1960s, and only a few have anything to do with Christmas. 

The program has been aired every year at the exact same time, on the same date, without commercial interruption, since 1959 on Sweden’s SVT1, the main public television station. 

Back when the show first aired, there were only two television stations in Sweden, so it garnered a significant audience. 

Over time, it became a regular event and a part of everyone’s Christmas eve. It is estimated that up to 50% of everyone in the country tunes in to watch the show. 

Many families will plan their Christmas eve around the show so they aren’t eating or cooking while it is aired. 

The only difference with the original broadcast is that instead of Walt Disney himself hosting the show, a Swedish TV personality will host it. 

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, just search for “From All of Us to All of You” and you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube. 

Another modern tradition has sprung up in Caracas, Venezuela. 

Venezuela is a predominantly Catholic country and in many such countries, it is a pretty common occurrence to attend mass on Christmas day. 

What makes the tradition in Caracas unique isn’t waking up early to go to mass, which happens in many places. What makes it unique is how they get to church. 

Masses of people in Caracas will go to church by roller skating. 

So many people will roller skate to church that many of the streets are closed off for skaters before 8 am. 

No one is really sure how the tradition started, but it has been a thing for years. One best guess is that kids got roller skates as presents, and then wore them when they went to church. From there, it just became a thing. 

In Norway, there is a pretty ancient tradition that is still practiced today.

It used to be thought that witches and evil spirits would come to your house on the night of Christmas Eve. If they found any brooms, they would take them to fly around in the sky. 

So, before you to bed on Christmas Eve, you have to hide all the brooms in the house so the witches don’t find them. 

What is amazing is that eating Lutefisk isn’t the weirdest Christmas tradition in Norway.

Odd Christmas traditions aren’t just modern ones. Some are traditions that were honored years ago, but no longer are today. 

One, in particular, I found very odd. It was a parlor game played around Christmas in Victorian England that was called Snapdragon. 

To play Snapdragon, you would take a bowl and put about 1 or 2 dozen raisins in it. Then you would fill the bowl with brandy or rum……and light it on fire. 

The game was trying to quickly pick the floating, burning raisins out of the bowl and pop them into your mouth. 

I don’t know when this tradition died out, but if there is one Victorian Christmas tradition I would bring back, it is this one.

Granted, it should probably be done outdoors. 

I’m not saying I would play snapdragon, but I”m also not saying that I wouldn’t do it either. 

They also played a similar game called Flapdragon. 

With Flapdragon they would put a lit candle in a mug of ale so that it would float. Then, the players would try to take a drink from the mug without burning their hair or eyebrows. 

Speaking of flames, I’ll end with one tradition that people don’t really want to be a tradition. 

This one again takes place in Sweden, but in particular in the town of Gävle (Yav-la).

Every year the town of Gävle builds a giant goat made of straw. I do mean that this is a giant goat. They are around 40 feet high and weigh over 3 tons. 

They have done this every year since 1966….and every year someone tries to burn it down. 

This isn’t one of those things where city officials try to make a token effort to stop the arsonist in the name of tradition. They really don’t want the goat burned down.

Yet, almost every year, it is burned down, or someone at least tries to burn it down. Since 1966, it has been burned down 38 times. Since 1984, the town has had two goats built by two different groups.

After four consecutive years of survival of the goat, arsonists succeeded on December 17 of 2021. 

This is despite having a double fence surrounding the goat, with cameras, and a 24-hour guard.

Next year, the perpetual battle between the city’s goat builders and the anti-goat arsonists will begin anew. 

To the members of the underground Gävle anti-goat league, I have one word of advice for you: drones.

Regardless of whether it is roller skating to work, burning down straw goats, or making a log poop out candy, Christmas traditions are really different all around the world. Even though we can’t make sense of them, they are cherished by the people who celebrate them.