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Unique Christmas Traditions around the World

Approximately 45% of the world’s population celebrates Christmas. While the generally accepted date for celebrations is 25 December each year, some cultures celebrate earlier in December, or even in January! Here in Australia, we celebrate on 25 December, in the middle of summer, so Christmas is usually spent in the air con, or by the beach, with a barbecue and a nice cold drink! In the lead up to Christmas, here’s my top 5 fun and unique ways some countries around the world celebrate the festive holiday!


Santa hat on a beach chair in Australia

Gävle Goat – Sweden

The tradition of the Yule Goat dates back to the days of ancient pagan rituals. These days, no actual animals are harmed to celebrate the festive season, instead a giant straw goat graces Slottstorget (Castle Square) in Gävle, Sweden. The goat is erected each year on the first day of Advent – depending on the calendar year, this date could be anytime in late November to early December. The incredible Gävlebocken stands at an impressive 13 metres high and 7 metres long and weighs 3 tonne! The modern tradition started in 1966 with the first massive structure being erected in Gävle – since then a goat has been erected each year, even surviving the pandemic in 2020 though no official ceremonies were held to prevent people gathering. Unfortunately it is rare the goat makes it through the entire season and succumbs to vandals and arsonists most years – there’s a page on the official website that lays out the fate of the goat each year since it’s inception. More information about the Gävlebocken and its construction, including a live feed of the goat, can be found on the Visit Gävle website page dedicated to the tradition.

Kentucky for Christmas! – Japan

Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan – only approximately 1% of the population is Christian – but it’s citizens still like to celebrate in the best way – with a fried chicken feast! Foregoing the turkey dinner, Japanese families head to their local Kentucky Fried Chicken for a “finger lickin’ good” feed. The tradition began in 1974 when the fast food chain started a marketing campaign that turned out to be wildly popular – "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" or "Kentucky for Christmas!" Each year, KFC continues to be so popular that people order their boxes of chicken months in advance to avoid hour-long lines to get their unconventional Christmas feast!


Krampus – Central and Eastern Europe

It’s not just Jolly St. Nick that brings gifts on the happiest holiday of the year. If you end up on Santa’s naughty list you won’t just run the risk of missing out on presents – you could be snatched away in the wicker basket of the terrifying Krampus, Santa’s horned beast of an enforcer. In some towns, citizens celebrate Krampusnacht on 5 December, when dozens of men dressed as Krampus roam the streets, brandishing sticks, and terrorising children. No thanks!


La Befana – Italy

On the eve of the Epiphany (5 January), Italians leave out a glass of vino and a plate of sausages for the witch known as La Befana, who pops down the chimney on her broomstick. According to Italian folklore, the Three Wise Men invited an old lady to accompany them to witness the birth of Jesus Christ. She declined the invitation, and after the birth was devastated that she missed it, s each Christmas, she travels around Italy searching for the Baby Jesus, giving out gifts to good children and coal to naughty ones on her travels. The biggest La Befana festival takes place in Urbania, her traditional home. Every year residents of Urbania host an enormous celebration that attracts between 30,000 and 50,000 people. Activities include dancing and juggling, singing in the streets — and appearances by hundreds of Befanas, who begin their Epiphany gift-giving journeys by handing out sweets to children at the festival.

The Yule Lads – Iceland

In Iceland, kids don’t just get Santa Claus, they get 13 mischievous fellows in the two weeks leading up to Christmas as well! Each night, Icelandic children leave one of their shoes on the windowsill for the Jólasveinar (Yule Lads) to leave them a treat – good kids can expect candy, however naughty kids will have to content with rotting potatoes! Each Yule Lad has his own personality and name too! Each year, children can expect a visit from: Stekkjarstaur (Sheep-Cote Clod) who harasses sheep, Giljagaur (Gully Gawk) who hides in gullies waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk, Stúfur (Stubby) who is abnormally short and steals pans to eat the crust left on them, Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker) who steals and licks wooden spoons, Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper) who will steal leftovers from pots, Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker) who hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their askur (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes) which he then steals, Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer) who loves slamming doors to wake people up, Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler) who has a love for skyr (similar to yogurt), Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper) who hides in the rafters and snatches sausages that are being smoked, Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper) a snoop who looks through windows in search of things to steal, Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer) who has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate leaf bread (laufabrauð), Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook) who uses a hook to steal meat, and Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer) who follows children to steal their candles.

This is just a very small sample of the unique traditions around the world – it would be Easter by the time I got through them all – so I couldn’t touch on them all. What’s your favourite of these five, or do you have another Christmas tradition? I’d love to know!

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