Market, Germany

Alternative Christmas Traditions Around the World

Christmas is a time for traditions, for enjoying the annual rituals and routines that have come to symbolise the season. Around the world, traditions vary enormously as different countries have their own ways to come together and celebrate the festive season.

Yule Goat, Sweden

Some nations put up a Christmas tree, some decorations, but the town of Gavle in Sweden creates a 40ft tall goat made out of straw. And every year, without fail, someone tries to burn it down.

Yule Goat, Gavle, Sweden. Image credit: By Christian Gidlöf, wikimedia commons

The Yule Goat tradition has been going strong for over 50 years. But each festive season, like a red rag to a bull, people will try to set the sculpture on fire. It’s become as much of a tradition as the goat itself, with ludicrous heist style plans to remove it – including one attempt in 2010 which involved a helicopter to kidnap the goat. The goat has survived the last three consecutive years; can it make it four in a row?

Image: By Christian Gidlöf - Photo taken by Christian Gidlöf, Public Domain,

Holidays to Sweden

Kentucky Fried Christmas, Japan

Colonel Sanders as Santa, Japan

Not many people have ovens in their kitchens in Japan; the cuisine doesn’t call for it and space is at a premium. So when Christmas comes round and the traditional roast turkey is hard to come by, locals tried to come up with the closest approximation for their expat friends… which turned out to be a bucket of KFC chicken. What began as a sweet and respectful attempt to replicate overseas traditions unexpectedly became become a major phenomenon, and now you’ll see the streets lined with people waiting to collect their pre-ordered KFC. The fast food chain quickly latched onto the potential, rolling out a nationwide marketing campaign in the 1970s and even though less than 2% of Japan is Christian it’s now a huge phenomenon. KFC even offer a “premium” whole roasted chicken that will set you back a whopping 5800 yen – that’s £40!

Image credit: 

Holidays to Japan

El Caganer, Catalunya

El Caganer figurines, Alternative Christmas Traditions

Nobody’s really sure where El Caganer comes from, but he’s a staple of the Catalan Christmas nativity scene. The name translates directly as ‘the crapper’ and this small figurine appears in nativity scenes as a lovingly sculpted and painted figurine of a peasant defecating in the corner of the otherwise recognisable scene. Rather than being disrespectful, the figure of El Caganer is incredibly popular longstanding custom dating back centuries and is a firm held tradition to this day.

Holidays to Spain

Mass Roller Skating, Caracas, Venezuela

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, San Martin,Caracas,Venezuela

In Venezuela there are many Christmas traditions, from nativity scenes to special Christmas foods, but our favourite is the citizens of Caracas who have taken it upon themselves to make roller skating to church a seasonal tradition. Services are well attended here, with Midnight Mass being a favourite, but those hoping to attend the early morning service on time are literally getting their skates on – it’s so popular authorities even close the roads in the early hours to create pedestrianised routes for the skaters.

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