The Weirdest European Christmas Traditions From Around the World

Christmas Markets | © Annie Spratt / Unsplash
Christmas Markets | © Annie Spratt / Unsplash
Photo of Evelyn Smallwood
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.


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.

Yes, that is what you think it is. Essential part of a Catalonian Nativity | ©Michael/Flickr


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.


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.

Bring home your own version of the famous Gävle Christmas Goat / Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons


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! | © tribp / Flickr


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


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.


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”.

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