Revealed: 10 weird and wonderful Christmas traditions around the world

Sleigh, what? From carving radishes to building giant goats – 10 weird and wonderful Christmas traditions around the world

  • Step aside St Nick, there are plenty of other ways to celebrate Christmas
  • READ MORE: The world’s biggest castle – which took 132 years to build

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. 

And what better way to welcome it than with giant straw goats, deep-fried caterpillars, radish carving and decorated horse skulls.

These are just some of the strange Christmas sights that feature in our list of 10 weird and wonderful festive traditions around the world

Scroll down for more on the customs that’ll leave you exclaiming ‘sleigh, what?’ 

Sweden – giant goat a go-go

The city of Gävle in Sweden is perhaps best known as the home of a giant straw goat. Erected every year around Christmastime

Every year a 13-metre-tall (42ft) straw goat is constructed in Slottstorget Castle Square in Gävle, Sweden.

The tradition is a young one – dating back only to 1966 –  with the structure the brainchild of advertising consultant Stig Gavlén, who thought it might be nice to construct a version of the Swedish Yule Goat.

Alongside the building of the goat, a festive subtradition of attacking it has emerged. Since 1966, the giant structure has suffered an attempted helicopter kidnap, being run over by a car and there are almost yearly (illegal) attempts to set it on fire.

Another (less criminal) Scandinavian tradition is tuning in to Sweden’s main public television channel on Christmas Eve for an episode of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck.

Mexico – Night of the Radishes

Forget carving the Christmas turkey – in Oaxaca, Mexico, the festivities kick off with radish carving

In Oaxaca, Mexico, a radish-carving competition takes place every December that’s known as ‘The Night of the Radishes’. 

The bizarre tradition traces back to 1897, to a time when market vendors would create sculptures with their produce to lure in shoppers. Now thousands gather in the city’s main square for the annual festival.

Competitors transform the oversized vegetable into fantastical scenes – often religious in nature – and compete for a cash prize.

Austria, Germany and Eastern Europe – Krampus

St Nick’s evil match, Krampus, comes out at Christmas time in Austria, Germany and Eastern Europe to scare mischievous youngsters

In many countries, the likes of Santa or St Nicholas arrive bearing gifts for children.

However, in Austria, Germany, and parts of Eastern Europe, an ominous counterpart emerges. 

A curious blend of half-goat and half-demon, Krampus, is said to roam the streets while brandishing a wicker basket in search of mischievous youngsters.

 South Africa – deep-fried caterpillar

In South Africa, deep-fried emperor moth caterpillars are served as a starter on Christmas Day

Nothing says Christmas like deep-fried caterpillars.

Although it sounds more like a Bushtucker Trial, emperor moth caterpillars are cooked by South Africans on Christmas Day.

The crunchy snacks, Atlas Obscura notes, are said to be quite nutritious, with a flavour reminiscent of tea. 

Czech Republic – tossing shoes

Shoe tossing is a festive tradition in the Czech Republic, with the ritual indicating whether marriage could be on the cards

In the Czech Republic, it is believed that single women can predict whether they will get married in the upcoming year through a festive ritual that revolves around the tradition of tossing shoes. 

The shoe is thrown over the shoulder, and if it lands with the heel towards the door, then it is believed the thrower will remain single. But if the toe points towards the door, then wedding preparations could be on the way.

To embrace the unique tradition, First Choice recommends jetting off to Prague.

Italy – La Befana 

Step aside St Nick, La Befana, an old witch, is Italy’s most popular gift-giver. Pictured are people dressed as the witch during a boat race in Venice called the ‘Regatta of Befana’

In Italy, the end of the Christmas season is celebrated on January 6 – the day of The Epiphany. 

The evening before, La Befana, a friendly witch, brings candies and goods to well-behaved children. While naughty children, instead of rewards, get chunks of coal, onions, and garlic, or even a straw from her broom. 

She wears a dark shawl and enters houses through the chimney – and children will leave out food and wine for her. 

Spain – red underwear 

Many Spaniards will wear red underwear to welcome in the New Year

While technically a New Year’s tradition, the Spanish Christmas lasts until January 5, and many welcome in the New Year by wearing red underwear called ‘Bragas Rojas’.

The unique end-of-year tradition is supposed to welcome luck for the year ahead.

In the Village of La Font de la Figuera, close to Valencia, they even host a Red Underwear Run, where locals strip off to celebrate the new year, no matter the weather.

Wales – Mari Lwyd

A giant horse skull is carried door-to-door in Wales to mark Christmas. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons licensing

A well-known Welsh Christmas tradition, says, is Mari Lwyd, meaning ‘Grey Mare’. It is the name given to a giant horse skull, which is carried door-to-door by a group of people playing music.

The skull is adorned with colourful streamers, lights or baubles, and a white cloak concealing a person. adds: ‘You’ll never forget the moment you first see a Mari Lwyd.’

Guatemala – burning of the devil 

This fiery festive tradition in Guatemala sees people burning effigies of the devil – and their unwanted goods

Every year on the evening of December 7, Guatemalans build bonfires and burn effigies of the devil. The fiery festivities kick off the Christmas season. 

The tradition known as ‘La quema del diablo’ also sees people cleaning out their houses and throwing their unwanted goods onto the bonfire. 

Finland – Sunrise saunas

To prepare for the festivities ahead, the Finnish spend Christmas Eve in a sauna. And go back in on Christmas Day

The Christmas Sauna is one of the most traditional Finnish rituals. 

According to, many Finns have the habit of going to the sauna twice on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.

The traditional Finnish sauna experience involves cooling off between sessions by taking dips in cold pools or rolling in the snow.

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