The first thing you need to know about traditions, is that they are always weird.
If you aren't yet convinced, think of it this way: You wouldn't bother calling breathing or eating or any sort of normal activity a tradition, because it's just something you do. Traditions are things sufficiently abnormal that people would ask you why you are doing them, so you can respond, "It's tradition!" If nobody would ask you about it, it's not weird enough to be a tradition.
Naturally, it's much easier to see how weird traditions are when they are not yours. In Scandinavia, they dress up as goats and ask their neighbor for treats, as well as sometimes making a small goat out of straw and then sneaking it into their neighbor's house, or sometimes just making a giant goat together as a family. (Because you can't have too much quality time with the kid.)
Now you might be thinking, what do goats have to do with Christmas? Well, sometimes there are goats in mangers. And more importantly, goat horns are sported by Krampus, the European St. Nick's devil-companion who whips naughty children with chains and drags them to hell in an a handbasket. Or if you prefer, there's Zwarte Pete, St. Nick's other companion who wears renaissance garb and blackface and throws cookies at the children.
Not that Europe has a monopoly on twisted traditions. Christmas borrowed heavily from the Roman tradition of Saturnalia with partying and gift-giving. And although it obviously has less connection with the popular tradition of Bacchanalia, there are some countries where sex is still a large part of Christmas. In one country's particularly bizarre tradition, two of the most popular holiday songs are about sex: One featuring a couple who pretend to get married so they can have sex, and the other starring a woman's futile protestations to a man who serves her strong drink and insists she spend the night.
Not that all traditions have to be creepy. In the Ukraine, there is a traditional puppet theatre called a "Vertep," which usually includes a puppet nativity play. Northern Cyprus has a similar tradition, but instead of a theatre, they have a puppet government. (Some have criticized this, but it worked fine for Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and that was a monarchy.)
Oaxaca in Mexico has "La Noche de los Rabanos" (literally "Night of the Radishes"), where they used to carve giant radishes into nativity scenes, but now carve them into all sorts of different scenes. I was going to make a joke about people traditionally saying "Darling, you look absolutely radishing tonight," but so far everything in this column has been true, so I hate to add confusion.
Instead, I'll simply end with my own Christmas tradition for the past seven years, which has been to have my friends sit around with me eating Chinese food and having conversation for hours on end. You might well point out that wanting to spend time with friends for good food and conversation shouldn't qualify as a tradition because such is naturally to be desired on a regular basis, and thus such invitations wouldn't be weird enough, and you're quite right.
The weird part is that on Christmas, they show up.
Seth Brown is a humor writer, the author of "From God To Verse," and bids good food and conversation to all. His work appears weekly in the Banner, and weakly on RisingPun.com.