10 Unique Christmas Traditions From Around the World

Here are some of the world's most unique holiday traditions.

Forget Santa. Overseas, you might be celebrating the holidays with St. Nick’s evil counterpart, Krampus.

Countries around the world have unique end-of-year customs they've practiced for decades or even centuries. For example, several European countries offer an evil counterpart to St. Nick, a supernatural figure charged with punishing bad children in all sorts of ways — from leaving lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings to whacking them with a birch switch. Krampus is the most prevalent, especially in Alpine and Central European nations, according to the Smithsonian Magazine website.

Japan has its own special Christmas traditions, shaped in part by none other than Kentucky Fried Chicken. In the early 1970s, KFC kicked off an advertising campaign touting fried fowl as America’s favorite holiday meal. Special yuletide packaging and Santa hats on the statues of Colonel Sanders outside restaurants reinforced the message. Today, KFC Japan's highest sales occur during the festive season, maxing out on Christmas Eve, according to the KFC website.

While some traditions may be unfamiliar to people in the U.S., they’re well-loved customs for those who celebrate them around the world. It goes to show that Christmas comes in all shapes and sizes. After reading about other Christmas traditions below, perhaps you’ll be inspired to take on some new rituals this year.

Krampus, Several European Countries

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St. Nick’s devil-like counterpart has one task: to punish bad children before Christmas. In other words, his belly is not shaking like a bowl full of jelly. Instead, picture a half-goat demon figure (often seen with fur and horns). And rather than a bag full of toys, Krampus sometimes carries a basket or sack for abducting those especially bad children and hauling them to hell. Experience this holiday tradition at Krampusnacht parties and Krampus Runs, during which rowdy revelers cavort through town in beastly costumes.

Mari Lwyd, Wales

Horses and Christmas go perfectly well together in Wales. Mari Lwyd translates as “Gray Mare” and involves carting a horse — either a horse figure or someone dressed as a horse — door to door, accompanied by a group of townspeople. The exact origin is unknown, but the tradition dates back hundreds of years, according to Wales.com. The ritual kicks off with traditional Welsh songs and a petition to enter the home for more music and merriment. It can also include a rhyme contest between the troupe and home’s residents — a satirical back-and-forth not unlike a modern rap contest.

Beach Parties, Australia

Australian Christmas beach party
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Evergreen trees and white, snowy landscapes may be some people’s idea of a perfect Christmas, but this is not the case in Australia. Down Under, Dec. 25 falls in the middle of summer, making it the perfect time to throw a yuletide beach party. Another popular tradition is Carols by Candlelight, where people light candles and sing holiday songs in parks and other outdoor venues.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, Japan

Japan KFC Christmas
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Traditional Christmas dinner for millions of Japanese people is a bucket of KFC. Christmas itself isn’t really a religious holiday since most people in the country do not identify as Christian, but it’s a fun secular celebration all the same. This offbeat custom is the legacy of a 40-year-old marketing campaign wherein the fast-food chain touted fried chicken as a traditional American yuletide feast. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, Colonel Sanders statues outside Japanese KFCs wear Santa gear, and the chicken is served in special holiday packaging.

Spiderweb Decorations, Ukraine

This tradition goes back to a folk tale in which spiders decorated the tree of a family too poor to afford proper yuletide ornaments. When they woke up on Christmas morning, the spider webs woven overnight turned silver and gold. Nowadays, Ukrainian Christmas trees feature spider webs made from various materials such as crystal, paper, metal, and plastic.

La Befana, Italy

La Befana, Italy
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Who is that swooping down the chimney? Similar to Santa Claus, an old witch called La Befana flies around on her broomstick and brings good Italian children treats (and bad children, coal) on Epiphany Eve. The Italian Christmas custom is inspired by the Christian story of the Wise Men visiting Jesus, but its origin can also be traced to an ancient Roman pagan festival, according to TripSavvy.

Consoada, Portugal

Consoada is a traditional holiday dinner on Christmas Eve that honors dead friends and relatives who can no longer join in on the holiday celebration. One normally leaves an empty spot at the table for the alminhas a penar (or "souls of the dead"), who may be present at the feast, according to Visit Portugal.

La Quema del Diablo, Guatemala

La Quema del Diablo, Guatemala
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This ceremonial “burning of the devil” is a prelude to the Guatemalan Christmas. Residents sweep up, collect garbage, and amass everything in a huge pile outside, and after an effigy of the devil is placed on top, the whole thing is lit on fire, burning negativity from the past away.

Night of the Radishes, Mexico

Mexican Christmas radishes
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Dec. 23 marks the Night of the Radishes in Oaxaca, Mexico. This interesting tradition is a celebration of oversized radishes, which are carved into intricate displays. According to CNN, the annual Christmas market event began more than 120 years ago when market vendors carved radishes with detailed designs to attract customers.

Yule Lads, Iceland

Iceland has several unique Christmas traditions, ranging from the "Christmas Book Flood," when everyone receives at least one book for Christmas, to customary leaf bread. The Icelandic Yule Lads are another. During the 13 days leading up to Christmas, Yule Lads come down from the mountains to give children gifts — or potatoes. Kids put their shoes out each night, and in the morning, they'll find a small gift from the Yule Lad if they've been good, or a potato if they've been bad.

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