Unusual Christmas traditions from around the world

Where in the world would you have KFC for Christmas dinner or roller skate to church?

Unusual Christmas traditions from around the world Getty Images

As the festive season rolls around, many of us look forward to enjoying certain traditions in the run up to Christmas. 

Whether it’s decorating the tree, pulling crackers or serving turkey with all the trimmings, each tradition is steeped in history from Christmasses gone by. 

Yet in other parts of the world, Christmas is a time for benevolent witches, shoes filled with treats and even a KFC bucket for dinner. 

Take a look at some of the more unusual ways people around the world will be celebrating this Christmas.


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In Italy, one of the big celebrations during the festive period is Epiphany on January 5, which commemorates the three wise men visiting baby Jesus following his birth. 

According to folklore, an old woman named Befana helped the three wise men on their journey to Bethlehem but declined to join them as she was sweeping her house. 

On Epiphany Eve, she flies on her broomstick looking for the baby Jesus to shower him with gifts but cannot find him.

Instead she leaves gifts for children alongside a lump of coal candy, which symbolises that children will likely have been naughty at some point during the year. 


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The majority of the population in Venezuela are Roman Catholic and visiting church is an important part of the Christmas celebrations in the South American country. 

However in the capital of Caracas, it’s not unusual to see people roller skating to church during December. 

The celebrations begin on December 16 with the first of nine morning masses which run until Christmas Eve, and families tend to travel by roller skates to church.

Skating to mass has become so popular that the streets are closed in the morning to allow the tradition to be practised safely. 

The origins of roller skating to church are unknown, but it has been suggested it’s an alternative to sledging in the hot climate. 


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It may seem like a tale more suited to Halloween than Christmas, but in Ukraine the legend of the Christmas spider is a popular tale told during the festive period.

According to folklore, a pine cone fell inside a hut belonging to a widow and her children during the summer and took root on the earthen floor. The family became excited by the prospect of a tree by Christmas, but when Christmas Eve arrived, they couldn’t afford to decorate it. 

Hearing their sadness, a spider spun webs around the Christmas tree as the family slept and when they opened the windows in the morning, the sunlight turned the webs silver and gold.

As a result, many people in Ukraine decorate their trees with spider web ornaments and it is thought the tale inspired the use of tinsel when decorating trees.


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While many people across the world celebrate with a home cooked meal at Christmas, in Japan the dish of choice is Kentucky fried chicken. 

It may seem an unusual choice, but when KFC launched in Japan in the 1970s, many in the country didn’t celebrate Christmas. 

But when expats missed their traditional roast turkey, KFC began marketing ‘party barrels’ of fried chicken over the festive period.

The idea took off and is now so popular, people have to order the special family dinner weeks in advance.

It’s not unusual for huge queues to appear outside KFC restaurants on Christmas Eve as people wait for their fried chicken feasts.


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While children in the UK traditionally leave out stockings to be filled with gifts from Father Christmas, in Iceland it’s pairs of shoes. 

From December 12 to Christmas Eve, known as Yule Eve in Iceland, children leave their shoes on the windowsill at bedtime each night hoping for treats from the 13 ‘Yule Lads’ who are said to come down from the mountains.

The Yule Lads will either leave sweets and small gifts in the shoes if children have behaved, or rotting potatoes if they have been naughty.

Children are also told the story of the Yule Lads mother Grýla, who comes in search of naughty children at Christmas to boil in her cauldron, but will release them if they repent.


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In Scandinavian countries, the start of the festive season begins following St Lucia Day on December 13, also known as the feast of St Lucy. 

Each country celebrates the day slightly differently, which honours the fourth century martyr Lucia of Syracuse who brought food to Christians in hiding using a candle-lit wreath worn on her head to light her way.

In Finland, the eldest daughter usually dresses up as St Lucia to mark the celebration, donning a white robe and a crown of candles while serving sweets and drinks to her parents. 

The celebration of St Lucia is said to be a beacon of brightness during the dark winter months.