Not-So-Jolly Christmas Lore From Around the World

Around the world, many people celebrate Christmas. It’s a time for joy and giving, gathering with friends and family, and traditions. Many of those traditions involve dusting off old family recipes and crafting Christmas gifts while singing carols. But many other Christmas traditions are a bit more like Halloween. Some Christmas lore is not-so-jolly. 

Curious? Keep on reading to learn about some unique and strange Christmas lore from around the world.

What Is the Lore of Christmas? 

Christmas is more than just Christmas trees, presents, and traditions. It’s a unique season with a rich history and lore.

For example, Christmas has its roots tied to Norse mythology. It tells the tale of how Yule was the midwinter festival celebrating the end of long nights and the sun’s return. This ultimately led to Christmas being an important aspect in many Christian cultures where Christmas became Jesus’ birth. 

Although there’s no mention in the bible that Jesus was born on December 25, the church chose this date in an attempt to replace the pagan traditions of the time. By 432 AD, this custom of celebrating Jesus’s birth on December 25, originally called the Feast of the Nativity, had made its way from Rome to Egypt. It then took hold in England by the sixth century.

Close up on a Christmas bulb ornament hung on a tree.

Alongside traditions, Christmas also finds references in many aspects of culture, such as literature, music, movies, and theatrical performances. These recurring experiences through different mediums bring meaning and enchantment to Christmas every year.

Even beyond Christmas itself, there are legends like Santa Claus and Kris Kringle. They carry out holiday activities that we hold dear throughout the years. 

These timeless stories bring unity within families and communities during this special season. Christmas is a joyous occasion and an opportunity to appreciate heritage and culture.  

What Are the Weirdest Christmas Traditions in the World? 

Traditions are a part of most holidays, but few so much as Christmas traditions. From gift-giving to Christmas cookies and Grandma’s eggnog, most traditions elicit warm and cozy feelings. But there are traditions from across the globe that are a bit off, a bit bizarre, and even a bit freaky.

Ever heard of Belsnickel or Yule Lads? How about La Befana? These and more are some of the weirdest Christmas traditions in the world.

The Belsnickel

Country of Origin: Germany

About: Originating in southwestern Germany, immigrants keen to continue their homeland traditions brought Belsnickel to America (mostly Pennsylvania). As generations passed, Belsnickel became known more widely as a Christmas figure who is actually quite ratty looking. His face is blackened with charcoal, and he’s dressed in dirty furs. 

He brings tidings of the Christmas season, but there’s a catch. Belsnickel has come to scold children for their misbehavior and scare them into being good for Christmas.

He knocks on windows, jingles his signature bells, and holds a whip, threatening to use it if kids don’t shape up. Belsnickel has been standing the test of time after coming over from Germany all those years ago.


Country of Origin: Iceland

About: Christmas lore is full of strange stories and traditions, but few are as unique or eerie as the tale of Grýla. Hailing from Iceland, Grýla is said to be a giant troll with hooves and 13 tails. She is bitter and grumpy because she can never seem to get enough to eat, so she spends Christmas roaming the towns in search of unsuspecting children.

If she finds them, she puts them in a sack and drags them back to her cave. There they become the main ingredient for her signature stew. 

The legend continues stating that Grýla had three husbands (two of whom she killed), and 13 boys were born from these unions. These boys are known as the Yule Lads. They keep the creepy Christmas traditions going. 

Yule Lads

Country of Origin: Iceland

About: Continuing Grýla’s creepy legend, the Yule Lads, as mentioned earlier, are the offspring of Gryla the troll. And while they may not be looking to boil children, they can be quite obnoxious.

Every Christmas season, for 13 days leading up to Christmas, Icelandic children are visited each night by these prankster Father Christmas figures known as the Yule Lads. Each of the 13 Lads is known for a particular characteristic or habit, such as “Door Slammer,” “Sausage Swiper,” or “Sheep-Cote Clod.” 

How the Yule Lads celebrate Christmas is a bit different from Santa. They don’t come down chimneys carrying a hefty sack of presents. They come in through unlocked windows bearing candy or rotten potatoes, depending on if you have been naughty or nice! 

La Befana

Country of Origin: Italy

About: La Befana is a witch similar to Santa Clause. However, instead of Christmas (except on the morning of Epiphany), she brings treats if you’ve been good or coal if you’ve been bad. This Christmas lore has been around long before Santa, though. She’s been flying around on her broomstick since the 8th century. 

Not sure what Epiphany is? It’s the end of the Christmas season and lands on January 6. It honors the day the three Wise Men brought gifts to the manger. According to the legend, the Three Wise Men invited La Befana to travel to the manger with them, but she turned them down.

Having second thoughts, she trailed after them with gifts of her own. Searching the night for the Baby Jesus, she continues to do so today, leaving gifts along the way.

Frau Perchta

Country of Origin: Germany and Austria

About: Frau Perchta is an intriguing figure of Christmas lore and cultural legends. Depending on who you talk to, many see her as a goddess or a witch. But her main goal remains the same – ensuring she completes her work. 

According to legend, she visits each year before Epiphany to check if people are completing their duties around their homes and workplaces, especially spinning flax. If not, she can be known to take action. 

People portray her wearing rags and carrying a knife underneath her skirt – so it’s no wonder things get done when she’s watching! Along with Frau Perchta comes her annual procession of her Perchten soldiers. Some say they’re ugly, and others say they’re pretty. In any case, they demand that everything gets done. 

Frau Perchta doesn’t tolerate mess or idle hands. Get ready for her yearly inspections, and make sure you avoid the stern gaze of this mythical figure this season.

What Is the Strangest Christmas Tradition? 

You’ve just read about some strange, weird, and slightly terrifying Christmas traditions. But in reality, strange is a relative term. What might be strange or frightening to one might not be to another.

It could very well be the witch that flies around Italy, leaving treats or coal in her wake. It could be the terrifying Frau Perchta condemning Germans for their unclean abodes. Perhaps it’s the fat, jolly old man who sneaks down chimneys expecting cookies in return for his gifts.

Strange or not, Christmas, Yuletide, Epiphany, or other traditions, holiday lore has been celebrated for centuries and will continue. That’s unless you happened to be in the country that officially canceled Christmas.

Beware: Don’t become of a victim of these convincing Christmas scams!

Which Country Canceled Christmas for 30 Years? 

You may never think that a country canceling Christmas would be possible. But for Cuba, in 1969, that unthinkable thought happened. Fidel Castro, leader of the country for almost 50 years, canceled Christmas to avoid any interruptions of the sugar harvest.

This ban on Christmas lasted almost 30 years, until 1998. What brought about the change of heart? Only a Pope could do that.

Pope John Paul II was scheduled to visit Cuba in January 1998. We imagine Castro wanted to look good in the eyes of the Pope, so he reinstated Christmas.

It was only supposed to be for that year. But once Christmas came back, it didn’t go away. Today, Cubans celebrate with festivities, parades, and food. 

Learn More About Christmas Lore From Around the World

People across the globe come together for festivities for many reasons. But traditions and celebrations abound when it comes to Christmas lore around the world. Some are cozy and rosy. Others are chilling and thrilling. 

Whatever traditions you celebrate, you better be ready or be good. Santa Clause – or Frau Perchta, La Befana, the Yule Lads, Grýla, or Belsnickel – is coming to town!

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