Flooded with Christmas imagery and music from our American cousins, it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of other Yuletide traditions out there. So we’ve turned our gaze outwards this week to have a look at some celebrations that are more quirky, offbeat and downright grizzly than our own.


We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow” – Led Zeppelin, Immigrant

Iceland has a remarkable rich Christmas culture and story. The Christmas period begins on December 23 and ends on January 6. Unlike most countries that have a single Father Christmas character, Icelandic children are fortunate enough to be visited by 13 Yule Lads. Or is fortunate the right word?


Icelandic children place a shoe in their bedroom window every evening in the 13 days before Christmas. Every night a Yule Lad visits, leaving small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how the child has behaved. 

Grýla is a horrible ogress who lives in the mountains; she is part troll, part animal, mother to the 13 Yule Lads and wife to Leppalúði, a horrible troll.


Every Christmas, they come down from the mountains. Grýla is in search of naughty children (to boil them alive!). She can only capture children who misbehave but those who repent must be released. Her 13 Yule Lads are each up to various forms of mischief.

From Pot Scraper who, as his name suggests, is on the lookout for leftovers to steal, to Door Slammer who’ll startle you in the night with his noisy mischief, Icelanders really have to keep an eye out for these Yule Lads.


Folklore states that every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas or they will find themselves in mortal danger. The giant black cat will eat anyone who does not get a new piece of clothing! What an elaborate way to get kids to behave and dress up for Christmas…

If you are single over the holidays and don’t want to be, you could try this Czech and Slovak tradition. On Christmas Day stand with your back to the door and throw a shoe over your shoulders. If the shoe lands with the toe pointing to the door, congratulations; you’re going to get married soon! No time frame on when your love will turn up exactly, though.


In Finland, ancestors’ graves are visited on Christmas Eve and candles and Christmas decorations are placed in the cemeteries in honour of loved ones who have died.

And in Germany there is a story about finding the “Christmas gherkin” in the Christmas tree. It’s better than it sounds; if you do you win a gift.


For more on other Christmas stories click here.


We’ll all be glued to our screens on Christmas Eve thanks to the Santa Tracker! It’s brilliant for children of all ages…