A Yuletide Tour of Strange Christmas Traditions

Category: Culture

While many countries adopt common secular, commercial icons of the season (Christmas trees, lights, and the Nutcracker in Hong Kong, for instance, as you may have seen last year in this blog post), they also add their own lore and traditions that may defy your expectations.

Let’s travel first to Japan, where you might just find yourself waiting in line for KFC. That’s right, KFC might as well stand for Kentucky Fried Cheer (or Christmas!) in Japan, where it’s a bestseller on Christmas Eve. Believe it or not, you’ll have to reserve yourself a KFC Party Barrel if you want a taste of the fried bird in the Land of the Rising Sun this year. The origin of the tradition appears to be linked to a successful advertising campaign dating back to 1974.

After a dozen chicken pieces, why not make a stop in Iceland to pay a visit to a baker’s dozen of Santa Claus incarnations? Meet the jólasveinarnir (Yule Lads) or jólasveinar (Yulemen), a motley bunch of bearded creepers who are infamous for their naughty tricks instead of gift-giving cheer. As the tale goes, the thirteen ne’er-do-wells arrive in order of the last thirteen nights before Christmas and hang out for two weeks each. Be on the lookout for Stekkjastaur (“Sheep-Cote Clod”) a peg-legged sheep harasser, and Bjúgnakrækir (“Sausage-Swiper”) the Yule Lad in charge of hiding in the rafters and snatching your smoked sausage. A full list of of the Yule Lads and their dirty deeds can be found here.

Finally, circle around to Germany to pick up that pickle that’s been hidden in the Christmas tree (and featured as today’s post picture, above). After all, if you find the pickle, you’re in for good luck the following year! Can’t find it? There’s a good reason for that: The tradition of Weihnachtsgurke is likely an American invention falsely attributed to Germany. Though the exact origins are unknown, speculators point to a couple of possible sources, notably an advertising campaign to help Woolworth’s sell glass pickle decorations imported from Germany in the 1890s (and later, France). 

While this hardly covers the globe, you can do a little research on your own to discover some of the more shocking traditions. If you visit Austria, though, watch where you double-park your sled. There’s always a chance you’ll feel the wrathful justice of Krampus, the dark doppelgänger of St. Nicholas! 

Wherever you are in the world, we hope you’re enjoying a festive holiday season.

(Pssst: don’t forget — there’s still time to send a perfectly translated holiday card to friends and family around the world with our free online multi-language card creator!)

Photo attribution: ~diges