I don’t claim this list of unusual Christmas folklore and traditions to be nuanced and impressively academic, but they’re fun!
Cribbed, with permission, from Doors & More, who has been doing some content marketing, this list of quirky Christmas folklore might inspire a bit of worldbuilding or some unusual scenarios or sidequests in modern setting tabletop RPGs.
It turns out that there are rather a lot of monsters and demons associated with Christmas once religions from around the world are merged, squished and otherwise blended together.
Unusual Christmas folklore from America
There are a few Christmas superstitions about marriage and finding the love of your life, but this one takes the cake.
According to an old Appalachian legend, if an unmarried lady goes to a hog enclosure at midnight on Christmas Eve and hears an old hog grunting, she will marry an elderly man. If, on the other hand, a young hog grunts first, her husband will be youthful and handsome.
Unusual Christmas folklore from Czechia
While many people in Western Europe prefer pork or poultry as the centrepiece of their Christmas feast, carp is more typically offered in Eastern Europe.
In the Czech Republic, a superstitious host may lay a single scale from the fish beneath a guest’s plate, believing it will bring them prosperity and remind them of the season’s kindness.
Unusual Christmas folklore from England
If you visited an English household on the last Sunday before Advent, you might have been required to help make the Christmas pudding.
However, superstition implies that there is a specific manner to do it. You must be sure you move from east to west, echoing the trip of the Wise Men to see Jesus. If you do this, you will be granted good fortune and a request for the future year.
Unusual Christmas folklore from Greece
You probably don’t think of burning shoes when you think of Christmas smells. However, old shoes are ritualistically burned in Greece over the Christmas season. The terrible odour is believed to drive the Christmas goblins, called locally “Kallikantzaroi,” away from your home.
It appears that Greeks have a thing for shoes at Christmas. They also believe that giving shoes as a present over the holiday season is a terrible idea since you risk that individual leaving your life in the future.
Unusual Christmas folklore from Guatemala
In Guatemala, cleanliness is second only to Godliness. Locals believe that the devil and other evil spirits reside in your home’s dark, filthy corners.
Guatemalans will go on a massive cleaning frenzy on the 7th of December, where all of the waste and useless objects acquired from the previous year will be stacked up outside the house. This is probably one of the most gruelling Christmas superstitions.
An effigy of the devil is placed on top of the waste pile and set alight, burning away all the bad from the previous year and providing a clean area for a new year to rise from the ashes. This is known as La Quema del Diablo (or the ‘Burning of the Devil’).
Unusual Christmas folklore from Latvia
The dragging of the Yule log around the house is an ancient superstition linked with Latvian Christmas.
After chopping it down and hauling it through the forest to your house and surrounding it, the Yule log is burned in honour of Mithras, the sun deity. The goal was to cause the gloomy days to fade and the sun to shine the next year again.
The term Yule itself means “wheel,” and the wheel is a pagan metaphor for the sun.
Unusual Christmas folklore from Poland
According to Polish folklore, any kid born over the twelve days of Christmas could be a werewolf or other half-human, half-demon hybrid. If this occurs, the only available treatment is to collect blood from the infant’s brow.
This superstition, however, is not exclusive to Poland. Some other European countries believe that kids born over the Christmas season will likewise transform into werewolves. One needs to question what happened in continental Europe to cause this myth to take root…
Unusual Christmas folklore from Portugal
Family is very important in Portuguese culture, especially during the holiday season. So much so that extra places at the dining table are frequently set aside for deceased relatives during the traditional Portuguese Christmas feast.
In addition to commemorating absent family members, it is believed to bring good luck and wealth to the household in the coming new year.
Unusual Christmas folklore from Serbia
The twelve days of Christmas were historically known as the “unbaptized days” in Serbian Christmas traditions. They were thought to be a time when demonic forces of all kinds would be more active and deadly than usual.
If one of these demons (known as karakondula) came across someone outside at night during this time, it would jump on their back and demand to be carried wherever it pleased.
When a cockerel crows at dawn, the demon will free its victim. Where to begin unravelling the origins of this Christmas superstition?
Unusual Christmas folklore from Spain
If you’re buying a present for someone you don’t particularly like, this Christmas superstition may come in handy. If you’re shopping for someone special, avoid anything with sharp edges.
In Spain, it is thought that giving blades or scissors as Christmas gifts to friends and family will ruin the relationship. You also don’t want to wrap their gifts in yellow; doing so will bring them bad luck for the rest of their lives.
Unusual Christmas folklore from the Philippines
The Philippines has a robust Christian population, and celebrations begin far earlier than the rest of the world, with many people getting into the spirit on the 1st of September. Many Christmas traditions and superstitions have been passed down through the decades.
One such Filipino Christmas tradition prohibits bathing on Christmas Day. If you do, it is said that you will wash away the blessings of Jesus’ birthday and may suffer from an unusual, long-term illness.
Unusual Christmas folklore from Ukraine
Why do we cover our Christmas trees with this sparkly, fluffy stuff? It turns out that it could be because of this really scary Ukrainian ritual.
It is thought that finding a spider’s web in the Christmas tree will bring good luck to the house and those who reside in it. To inspire good luck, Ukrainians have begun to place miniature tree ornaments in the shape of spiders alongside their webs.
Bonus Section: Other unusual Christmas traditions
- Christmas day swimming in the sea in the Netherlands
- Decorating a Christmas pickle in Germany
- Eating 12 grapes at midnight in Spain
- Exchanging books rather than gifts in Hungary
- Eating KFC on Christmas in Japan
- Singing traditional songs while walking from house to house in carolling in Ireland
- Having a Krippenspiel nativity play in Austria
- Celebrating with a feast of seven fishes in Italy
- Hiding wrapped gifts around the Christmas tree in France
Take part in the Geek Native community by leaving a comment below.