9 Weird And Wonderful Christmas Traditions From Around the World

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For most Brits, Christmas traditions are set in stone: A tree groaning under the weight of Christmas decorations, and enough turkey, booze and chocolate to knock an elephant out. 

Travel just a few thousand miles in any direction, however, and those Christmas traditions start to mutate. Other countries celebrate Yuletide in ways that are similar enough to our own to feel familiar, but with a few key differences that can appear utterly bananas from a British perspective…

1. Japan: Finger-Lickin’ Christmas Chicken

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As only 1% of Japanese people are Christian, Christmas in Japan dials down the religious side of the festival while keeping the 'be extra nice' and Santa Claus aspects. Christmas Day is not a national holiday – schools and places of work are open as normal – but Christmas Eve is differentiated by being a day on which fried chicken is widely and ravenously consumed: KFCs have queues around the block, and many fast-food restaurants receive orders days in advance. 

This 'tradition' dates back to a 1973 KFC ad campaign that promoted fried chicken – incredibly successfully, as it turned out – as a singularly Christmassy treat.  

2. France: Shoes Full of Sweets



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In many parts of France children leave their shoes out on Christmas Eve, only to find that they’ve been filled with some sweets and small presents by le Père Noël – Father Christmas – come the morning. (Younger children with smaller feet are clearly at something of a disadvantage here.) 

Badly behaved kids, however, are warned that they risk a visit from the black-robed, scraggy-bearded le Père Fouettard – Father Whipper – who dispenses only lumps of coal and, er, ferocious whippings!

3. Austria: Beware the Krampus



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Scary as France's le Père Fouettard is, however, he pales in comparison to Austria’s nightmarish Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon figure who punishes badly behaved children during the Christmas season, while the well-behaved kids are enjoying their gifts from St Nicholas. 

Alpine towns feature parades known as the Krampuslauf – the Krampus run – in which men dress up as the genuinely terrifying figure and dance their way through the streets, doubtless leaving quite an impression on any young children present. 

4. Ukraine: Benevolent Magic Spiders



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You’d probably only ever considering hanging a spider decoration in your home at Halloween – or possibly never, if you're one of the 30% of people who suffer from arachnophobia – but the eight-legged creatures, complete with webs, are commonplace on Ukrainian Christmas trees. 

The reason? An Eastern European folk tale in which an impoverished widow and her children were visited by a kindly spider who decorated their bare Christmas tree with webs that magically turned to gold and silver when the sunlight hit them on Christmas morning. This same tale, by the way, is the origin of the tinsel decorations on your tree. 

5. Serbia: Kidnapping Fun for All the Family



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Serbians do their Yuletide present-swapping not on Christmas Day – 7 January by the Serbian Orthodox Church’s calendar – but on the three preceding Sundays. On the first Sunday, parents will tie their kids up – usually with a length of rope to a chair or each other – and refuse to the release them until they pay the 'ransom' of a gift. The following Sunday the kids tie up Mum and demand presents of her, while on the next Sunday it’s Dad’s turn.   

6. Spain: Festive Pooping



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Nativity displays in Spain’s Catalan region invariably feature a figure known as Caganer – basically, a squatting dude who’s doing a poo. 

Committing fully to the Yuletide defecation theme, Catalonians also have their beloved Tió de Nadal: A hollowed-out log decorated with a smiling face and a blanket, which children 'feed' nuts and dried fruits from 8 December (the date of the Immaculate Conception) until Christmas Eve. Tió de Nadal is then relocated to the fireplace and savagely beaten with a stick until it 'poos' out sweets and small pressies for the kids, with the end of the assaulted log’s pooping session signalled by the defecation of a stinky piece of herring. Obviously. 

7. Iceland: The Murderous Yule Cat



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No doubt responsible for countless childhood nightmares, the Yule Cat is a monster of Icelandic folklore – a huge, ferocious cat that roams the land looking to devour people who haven’t received new clothes to wear in the run-up to Christmas (a less disturbing version of the legend has the Yule Cat merely eating all the food supplies of the insufficiently on-trend). 

It’s thought that the legend was originally disseminated by sly farmers eager to get their workers to finish processing the autumn wool before Christmas.

8. Australia: Barbecues And Boomers



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Christmas Day Down Under is about as Aussie as it gets. As it’s the blistering height of summer there, hefty turkey dinners are foregone in favour of epic barbecues on the beach. 

Meanwhile, it’s traditional for parents to tell their kids that, during his circumnavigation of the globe, Santa swaps his reindeer for 'boomers' – slang for very large kangaroos – to traverse the skies above Australia. 

9. Germany: The Traditional Christmas Pickles That Weren’t



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This is a strange one. Back in the 1880s, stores in the US began selling glass Christmas tree decorations, imported from Germany. These decoration sets would often feature a glass pickle, which was 'explained' by the importers as being inspired by a German tradition that involved parents hanging a pickle on the tree, with the first child to spot it on Christmas morning receiving an extra present from St Nicholas. 

However, there’s no record of any such tradition – and besides, St Nicholas brings his gifts to German kids on 6 December, not Christmas Day. Still, the pickle is now widely regarded as being a much loved German Christmas tradition – except by Germans themselves.

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