The world's 9 strangest festive traditions

Dec 25, 2015

From defecating logs to KFC-fuelled feasts, Christmas provides a host of odd traditions

Christmas is a time for giving, a time for receiving and - in various parts of the world - a time for tossing shoes, roller-skating to church and feasting on KFC.

Here are the nine strangest Christmas traditions from around the world:

Finland: A festive sauna

The peak of Finnish Christmas celebrations comes on Christmas Eve, when Finns head to the sauna to strip off and relax before the evening festivities. But they have to be quick: according to folklore, the spirits of dead ancestors bathe in the sauna after the early Nordic sunset.

India: Christmas banana trees

Given the lack of pine trees in India, it is traditional for families to decorate a banana or mango tree in much the same way. The 25 million Christians in India often decorate their houses with Mango leaves and place oil-burning lamps on their roof-tops, symbolising the light of Jesus.

Czech Republic: shoe tossing for a husband

A Christmas Eve custom invites single Czech women to stand with their backs to the front door and remove a shoe. They hurl it over their shoulder towards the door, and how it lands will predict their romantic prospects for the year. If the toe of the shoe faces the door, the thrower is destined to marry. If it's the heel, it's another painful 12-month wait.

Ukraine: web-savvy Christmas

The traditional Ukrainian Christmas tree is draped not with tinsel and baubles, but with spiders webs - or in most cases, an artificial substitute. The tradition grew up around the legend of a family so poor that their tree would have gone bare, had it not been for a spider spinning a beautiful web over it in time for Christmas morning. 

Japan: Kentucky Fried Christmas

Over the past few years, it has become customary for the Japanese to tuck into a festive feast of KFC on Christmas Day. Thanks to a successful advertising campaign, KFC branches throughout Japan report that families will queue around the block to pick up their battered thighs and wings. It has now become so popular that orders for the KFC Christmas Party Barrel are taken as early as October.  

Venezuela: Christmas roller-skating

Every year between 16 and 24 December in Caracas, Venezuela, roads are closed to traffic to let people  roller-skate to the early morning Christmas mass. On their way, skaters will tug on the ends of long pieces of string tied by children to their big toes and dangled out of the window.

Netherlands: Black Peter

Every November in the Netherlands, Father Christmas - or Sinterklaas, as he's know to the Dutch - arrives from Spain by steamship, bringing with him an escort of Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters), all with blackened faces, red lips and curly hair.
The role of the Black Peters is to assist Santa and perform impressive acrobatic feats to amaze the children who turn out to see them every year. The tradition has led to controversy, with the UN condemning it as “a throwback to slavery”, although its supporters insist that it's a harmless Christmas tradition.

Norway: edible logs

In Norway, families will burn a 'Yule log' in a tradition that dates back to the ancient Norse celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. The Norse believed that the Earth was heated by a huge wheel of fire (the Sun), which rolled closer or further away as the year progressed. Norwegians are also partial to edible Yule logs - a traditional dessert made of rolled-up sponge cake that resembles a tree trunk.

Mexico: processions and piñatas

In Mexico, from 16 December to Christmas Eve, children often perform the 'posadas' – a series of nine processions to re-enact the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary go in search of somewhere to stay. On the final night of the posadas, a Church service is held featuring food, games and fireworks. One game that recurs is the smashing of a piñata – a decorated clay or papier-mâché container filled with sweets and hung from the ceiling or tree branch. To play the game, children are blind-folded and take turns hitting the piñata with a stick until it breaks open pouring its contents (usually sweets or other treats) onto the floor. 

Spain: Caga Tio the Catalan poop log

Caga Tio (pictured above) is a hollowed-out log with a happy face and legs, which must be fed with goodies such as sweets, candies and nuts in the run-up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, families put him by the fire and beat him softly with a stick until he's pooped out all the goodies. The last thing to come out is normally a garlic bulb, onion or maybe even a salt herring. During the beating, families often sing a song like this to encourage the log:

Poop log, poop nougats, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don't poop well, I'll hit you with a stick, poop log!

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