Christmas Quiz: Which of these customs really exist?

12 min reading time
Christmas traditions around the world can be quite odd. You’d need a lot of imagination to come up with some of them, and we would know because that’s what we did: Can you guess which of these Christmas customs are real and which ones we made up?

Christmas traditions in Germany: Santa’s Dark Side

First up, the Krampus, a Christmas tradition in Germany and Austria. He‘s the evil shadow and companion of Saint Nick, the Christian saint that Santa Claus is based on. If the kids were good, they get nuts, oranges and candy. But if they were bad, then the Krampus gives them coal, and in earlier times would even thrash and kidnap them. Germans and Austrians celebrate with Krampus parades where people dress up as terrifying, goat-like demons, complete with glowing eyes and fangs, and roam the streets at night carrying torches and birch twigs.

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TRUE

This tale about Krampus is true

Yes, this one is real. It sounds like a long-forgotten parenting shortcut from the Middle Ages, but rest assured, it‘s still alive and well today – although hitting and threatening children is no longer part of it, of course.

Russians take Christmas for a drive

It is an oft-bemoaned fact in Russia that since the country is so large but has a comparatively small population, most people have to travel for a long time to be with their families to celebrate Christmas. That’s why in the 1980s, some families started decorating the interior of their cars to infuse the long drive to their families with some holiday spirit.

The custom spread and has now become a fast Christmas tradition in Russia. You can even buy special ‘Christmas car kits’ online, complete with lights, tinsel and plastic mistletoe. In the beginning, Christmas ornaments made of glass were also used, but they were banned after a few years because they kept breaking during the ride. So now Christmas kits include shiny balls made of plastic as a substitute.

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WRONG

The Russian Christmas car – just a dream

Fooled you! (We hope.) Every year there will always be some Russians who decorate the outside of their cars, but this is far from being one of the standard customs for Christmas.

Holiday Hitting: Christmas traditions in Mexico

It’s every child’s goal to stretch Christmas out as long as possible. Mexico turned this desire into reality by having a party every evening on the nine days leading up to Christmas eve. For every celebration, they have star-shaped piñatas. Yes, the kind of piñata that‘s filled with candy and nuts and is broken open by a blindfolded child with a stick. In fact, this is the original use of piñatas in Mexico. If one of the kids ends up empty-handed, there are goodie baskets called colaciónes to cheer them up. But if they‘re unlucky, they all get nothing because the piñata is a trap filled with flour, confetti or water!

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TRUE
TRUE

A true Christmas tradition in Mexico

This one is also true, though it‘s hard to imagine that many parents go to the trouble of creating fake piñatas for the pleasure of witnessing an angry six-year-old. Augustinian monks created the nine celebrations as well as the Mexican piñata tradition, which are believed by historians to have been adapted from a similar Aztec celebration.

The Curious Case of the Catalan Caganer

Many Christmas traditions in Spain may be the same as they are in other countries, but this one is definitely a wild card. What sounds like the name of a fictional pirate ship is actually one of the most unusual traditions around. “Catalan Caganer” translates into “pooper” and at least one specimen can be found in every nativity scene in the Spanish province of Catalonia. The caganer is a figurine in nativity scenes that – as his name suggests – is bending over and pooping. Traditionally, the figurine is a man wearing a white shirt and a bonnet, but you won‘t be surprised to hear that nowadays you can find a version with every celebrity and politician you’d care to name, from the Queen to Katy Perry. Among Christmas traditions around the world, this one sounds the most like it was invented by children.

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TRUE
TRUE

This Christmas tradition in Spain is real

Amazingly, this Christmas custom really does exist. Nobody is really sure where it comes from or what it means, even though it only goes back to the 18th century. But what‘s for sure is that the caganer is here to stay: The local council in Barcelona decided to remove the figurines one year, but there was such an outcry among the public that they reinstated him. And so the Catalan Caganer has continued to garnish the nativity scenes of Catalonia ever since.

Sweets or Snow! The unusual highwaymen of Scotland

If you're on the road in Scotland on a Sunday in December, snow may not be the only thing stopping you. On every day in Advent, Scottish children put up roadblocks and ask the passersby for small change or candy. If you refuse, you are giving them implicit permission to pelt your car/motorcycle/head with the snowballs they have ready lying by the roadside. Of course, this is hard to do if you live in a city, but this Christmas custom is practiced enthusiastically by all children wherever traffic permits. Its origins may lie in a pagan practice for the winter solstice that was later incorporated into Christianity.

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No need to be afraid of Scottish roadblocks

This one's a fake. It might be a good thing that this isn't really a Christmas tradition. This way, children don't stay out until they get frostbite and parents spend enough money on Christmas presents as it is.

A Christmas pickle for Christmas presents

Christmas traditions in America aren’t all about the lights. Among the retina-searing displays commonly found both within and on the outsides of American houses during the holiday season, you may not notice one small, nondescript glass cucumber hanging in a secluded spot of the tree. This is the so-called Christmas pickle, and it‘s not easy to find for a reason: It‘s traditionally the last ornament to be hung on the Christmas tree. The first child to find it on Christmas day gets an extra present or more candy, so of course you have to make the search a little difficult.

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TRUE

A truly international Christmas tradition

This one‘s real – sort of. Some Americans did start hanging decorative pickles on their Christmas trees at the end of the 19th century, but only because they seemed to think it was a Christmas tradition in Germany, which it definitely isn’t. There is a theory that this ‚holiday tradition‘ was invented by manufacturers of glass decorations that started exporting their wares to the States. Now this originally fake German custom may become a real international christmas tradition, since the glass pickles are now sold outside of the states, too.

And you thought Santa Claus was a colorful dresser

If you're an expat in southeastern Brazil at Christmas and you hear your doorbell ring, be advised: these are not your typical carollers. Open the door, and you'll find a group made up of musicians, the three kings, a flagbearer and clowns in extravagant costumes standing on your porch, ready to start their performance. This seemingly mismatched group go from door to door singing songs. The clowns hold masks and perform acrobatics; in return, the families they visit give them money or food.

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TRUE
TRUE

The clowns perform at “Folia de Reis”

No, we didn't just play into the stereotype of Brazilian carnival, this tradition called “Folia de Reis” really exists. It started in the late eighteenth century in farms and sugar mills along the coast and then spread inward. It may have European roots, although this is strongly debated among historians. The money gathered during Folia de Reis is used for a big celebration on January 6th.

You’ve Goat to be kidding me

If they found a huge burning goat effigy in their town square, most people would likely be extremely bewildered. If they were from the Swedish town Gävle, on the other hand, they would shake their head and say "Not again." The Swedish Gävlebocken (Gävle Goat) is a giant goat made of straw and one of the most dispute-laden Christmas traditions from around the world. Building it every year has become a Christmas custom – and so has trying to burn it down or destroy it. It's an annual struggle between firefighters and pranksters, and so far team mischief seems to be winning: The Gävle Goat has been burned down or destroyed prematurely more times than it hasn't, sometimes mere hours after it was finished.

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TRUE
TRUE

Poor goats: this Swedish christmas custom is true

Yes, this tradition is real. An advertising consultant came up with it in 1966. The idea stems from the traditional Yule Goat, which is a pagan symbol that can still be found throughout Northern Europe – although it is now primarily a Christmas ornament.
Fun fact: The first goat was designed by the advertising consultant's brother – who also happened to be the head of the fire department. The construction was carried out by firemen.

Christmas custom in the air

If you are on a long-distance flight on the Japanese airline Tatami Airways on Christmas Day, you may be in a for a surprise. No, that noise isn't coming from your headphones or the loudspeakers. On December 25th, it has become a Christmas tradition for all flight attendants to sing Carols while serving drinks and meals. This Christmas custom may not be very old, but it's remarkably popular and so probably here to stay. Many passengers organize their trips around Christmas Day just so they can be on one of the musical flights.

It started in December in the year 1995, when a pilot on the Japanese airline Tatami Airways and his American wife were going on vacation to celebrate their anniversary. They had married at Christmas ten years ago, but he knew she was sad they would miss part of the holiday season in the US, so he asked the crew on their flight to sing a few carols while they were walking through the aisles. She loved the surprise – and so did everyone else. The next year, many passengers asked if they would be doing it again, so the head of the airline decided to try hiring singing stewardesses every year. It worked; more people fly Tatami Airways than any other Japanese airline at Christmas Day.

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WRONG

Too good to be true

Unfortunately, this isn't true, although we wish it were. Christmas isn’t really seen as an important holiday in Japan, but many Japanese passengers would probably still really enjoy this custom. 

You’d better behave or Yule be sorry

Have you ever worried that someone named Giljagaur (“Gully Gawk”) would steal the foam off your cappuccino? Or that a little man named Stúfur (“Stubby”) would steal your leftovers? If not, then you're clearly not from Iceland. Meet the "Thirteen Yule Lads", the sons of mountain trolls that take turns visiting every home in Iceland on the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas. Each of them has a different personality and characteristic prank that they like to play. No prizes for guessing what Þvörusleikir (“Spoon Licker”), Pottaskefill (“Pot Scraper”) and Bjúgnakrækir (“Sausage Swiper”) do.

It's a Christmas tradition for children in Iceland to put a pair of shoes on the windowsill and if they were good – the children, not the shoes – the visiting Yule lad leaves them presents in them. But if not, then the children get rotten potatoes!

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TRUE

There are even more strange beliefs in Iceland …

This Christmas custom is real and still alive and well today, although the Thirteen Yule Lads used to be a lot more frightening. So much so, in fact, that parents were officially banned from telling their kids the unrevised version of the story in 1746. Other Christmas creatures from Iceland include a troll that makes bad children into stew and a man-eating Christmas cat that eats everyone that's not wearing a new piece of clothing.

DON’T LEAVE IT TO THE YULE LADS.

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