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Christmas Markets | © Annie Spratt / Unsplash
Christmas Markets | © Annie Spratt / Unsplash
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The Weirdest European Christmas Traditions From Around the World

Picture of Evelyn Smallwood
Updated: 8 November 2017
Think your family is weird at Christmas? Find out what strange things other cultures get up to during the holidays with our selection of weird wonderful Christmas traditions in Europe.

Catalonia

Look carefully at the nativity sets in Catalonia (as well as in Andorra, Naples and parts of Portugal), and you’ll see a figure about to drop a deuce alongside the usual Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds and Three Kings. That’s El Caganer (literally, The Shitter). There’s no definitive answer as to why he’s there – or doing what he’s doing – but there’s no denying this poop bandit adds…interest to the otherwise standard scene.

Essential part of a Catalonian Nativity
Essential part of a Catalonian Nativity | ©Michael/Flickr

Norway

Attention ghosts: Halloween is over. In Norway, it was widely believed that witches and spirits would show up on Christmas Eve and steal brooms to fly on around the night sky, cackling away. To foil these nefarious plans, housewives would hide away brooms and men would fire their guns into the night sky.

Sweden

Every Advent since 1966, the people of Gävle, Sweden, have built a 13-m-tall (43-ft) straw goat. And every Advent season since 1966, local pranksters have tried to burn it down – sometimes twice in the same year – succeeding 29 times in 50 years,. Starting Dec 1, the goat’s wellbeing will livestream on Gävle’s GoatCam.

The famous Gävle Christmas Goat (pre-fire)
The famous Gävle Christmas Goat (pre-fire) | © Seppo Laine / Flickr

Greenland

Traditional winter festival treats in Greenland include kiviak, a piece of auk wrapped in seal skin and then left to mature (fester/rot) under a rock for a couple of months leading up to Christmas.

German and Austrian Alps

Children in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps live in fear of Krampus, a half-goat/half-devil that functions as the Hyde to Santa’s Jekyll. Krampus’ job is to cart away bad children in his sack so he could beat them later, though in newer versions, Krampus beats the children immediately. Offer Krampus some customary schnapps (and back away slowly).

Beware the krampuslauf!
Beware the krampuslauf! | © tribp / Flickr

Ireland

Forget cookies and milk – Irish Santa demands Guinness and mince pies. All that chimney sliding is hard work, after all.

Germany

Merry Christmas, here’s a pickle. In Germany, families with small children hide a pickle ornament in the tree, and the first child to find it gets a special present.

Canada

Canadian schoolchildren commonly write letters to Santa with their classes. and then mail them to North Pole, Canada, HOH OHO, where the letters are opened and answered, “With love, Santa”.