Christmas around the globe: demon goats & mischievous brothers

By Izzy Gehringer

Christmas is celebrated all over the world, and many countries have different holiday traditions than the ones we are used to.

A traditional American Christmas is known for decorated trees, beautiful lights, family feasts, and beautifully wrapped presents. We listen to songs, hang stockings, and send Christmas cards. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the major days, and they come with plenty of hustle and bustle.

Much of what you know about Christmas has been Americanized, meaning the holidays look very different elsewhere. What feels or looks normal to us would probably be viewed skeptically elsewhere. And many other countries have their own twists on the holiday. Here are some of the most noteworthy:

Christmas in Germany

The idea of decorating Christmas trees originated in Germany way back during the Middle Ages. Traditionally, Christmas trees are brought into the house on Christmas Eve (we put up ours around Thanksgiving) and German children watch as their parents (traditionally the mother) decorate the tree.

The Germans also celebrate several other Christmas traditions, including St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 5. On St. Nicholas Day, German children sing songs and are rewarded with an early-Christmas gift if they perform well. German kids also use Advent calendars and wreaths, and people enjoy Christmas markets that line the streets of big cities. The Germans also have a spooky Christmas tradition with Krampus Night on Dec. 6. German folklore says that Krampus is Santa’s arch nemesis. Krampus is a half goat, half demon creature who stalks naughty children. By the description of him, kids should behave.

Christmas in Sweden 

In Sweden, some celebrate Christmas with something called a “yule goat.” The straw goat, which is built to mark the start of Advent, has a long and crazy history that involves bets on whether it will survive attempts to destroy it. Destroying the goat can result in a 3-month prison term and heavy fines, but that hasn’t stopped the yearly attempts. The yule goat, which is also known as a “Gavle goat,” can be traced back to Pagan traditions.


Christmas in the Philippines

American cities can sometimes get a little crazy with Christmas decorations, but you should see what the Philippines does! In the city of San Fernando, residents holds a giant lantern festival that spans nine days of lights and celebrations. Normally, the lanterns are built to symbolize the star of Bethlehem. These can get super crazy with their designs. Some are as big as houses. You can look up pictures and watch the little designs in each one. 


Christmas in Iceland

Christmas in Iceland is wacky, fun, and a bit scary looking.

That’s because Iceland celebrates Christmas with 13 Santa Clauses, which they actually call Yule Lads.

The Yule Lads are creepy looking visitors that are made up of 11 brothers, a mother, and a Yule Lad cat. Each brings a particular treat to kids for the two weeks prior to Christmas Day.

The tradition requires kids to place their shoes near windows or doors in hopes they will be filled by the Yule Lads. The treat, which is normally some candy, can also be a small toy or gift. Kids who misbehave may find their shoes full of rotten potatoes, which is comparable to our story of coal.

Christmas season starts when the first Yule Lad comes to town (13 days before Christmas Eve), and finishes when the last one leaves town (Twelfth Night). This is a super cool way to celebrate Christmas, even if the Yule Lags make sore eyes sorer.


Christmas in Poland

A Christmas in Poland isn’t that different from a Christmas in America, largely due to the fact there are many Catholics in Poland.

But there are some key differences. One is the fact that Polish families prepare for Christmas by cleaning. They wash everything from their floors to their windows. Their homes need to be clean for the holiday.

On Christmas Eve, some families share an “oplatek,” which is an unleavened religious wafer. Each person breaks off a piece of the wafer as they wish the others a Merry Christmas. There is also a great deal of superstition, as people believe the foods they eat will bring them luck.

A Christmas dinner in Poland features 12 dishes, each designed to bring goodwill to a particular month in the next year. Those who are hungry may need to wait a while to eat the 12 foods, as dinner may not begin until the first star appears in the night sky.


1 thought on “Christmas around the globe: demon goats & mischievous brothers

  1. this is a good story. my son spent some time in iceland and came back with a set of yule lads. did u know that scary stories about these characters were made illegal because they got too scary for kids? thank u for writing.


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