Christmas means snow, lights, presents, Santa and mistletoe. That’s what we have seen in the movies right? But countries across the globe celebrate the festive time with their own unique customs, traditions and stories. Here are some of the quirkiest Christmas traditions from around the world.
Stay clear of the Bad Santa in Austria
We all know the big bellied, white bearded, gift bearer Santa Claus, but have you heard about his evil counterpart called Krampus? He is the bad cop to St Nick’s good cop, a demon-like creature with one task: to punish bad children before Christmas. The half-goat, half-demon Krampus is said to wander the streets carrying a wicker basket in search of badly-behaved children. The scary figure is a well-known part of holiday folklore in countries between Hungary and northern Italy, particularly in Austria and southern Germany. Many cities have an annual Krampuslauf, during which men dressed as Krampus run through the streets carrying torches. This means you won’t be seeing a lot of kids running on the streets.
Roller Skate in Venezuela
In the week leading up to Christmas, Venezuelans attend a daily church service called Misa de Aguinaldo (Early Morning Mass). The capital city of Caracas sees people arriving in style everyday – on roller skates. This practice is so widespread that many roads in the capital are closed until 8am to provide Christmas worshippers with a safe passage. It’s even said that children will sleep with one lace from their skates tied around their toe, the other skate dangling from the window so that their friends can wake them up with a friendly tug on the lace. So are you ready to roll?
Decorate Christmas trees with cobwebs in Ukraine
No, I am not talking about Halloween. It’s the usual Ukrainian Christmas. The story goes that a poor widow and her children had grown a Christmas tree from a pine cone, but once it was big enough to be decorated for the holidays they realized they had no means to decorate this tree. The spiders in the house took pity on the family’s plight, and spun beautiful webs all over the tree, which the children awoke to find on Christmas morning. The youngest child opened a window and daylight shone on the web, turning it into silver and gold. In honour of this legend, Ukrainian people often decorate their trees with plastic spiders and webs. To see a spider web on Christmas morning is said to bring good luck.
Enjoy a KFC Christmas dinner in Japan
Enjoying some finger – lickin chicken is not strange, but when the entire country head to their nearest KFC outlet for Christmas dinner, you might need to know what’s so special about it. Christmas isn’t a big deal in Japan, apart from gift-giving and light displays. However, they do have an unusual Christmas Eve dinner. Back in 1974, the American fast-food restaurant KFC released a festive marketing campaign in Japan. The seemingly simple slogan “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) spawned a national tradition that still thrives to this day. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, Colonel Sanders statues outside Japanese KFCs wear Santa gear, and the chicken is served in special holiday packaging.
Find Christmas Pickle in Germany
While Ukrainian are happy decorating their trees with cobwebs, the Germans also have an unusual addition to their ornaments. They hide a pickle ornament somewhere within the branches of the tree. On Christmas morning, the child who found the pickle first would either receive an additional present or be the one to open his or her gifts first. You should never shy away from a god treasure, or in this case Pickle Hunt.
Befriend Belfana the Witch in Italy
Like every place, Santa visits the children in Italy on Christmas Eve. But they get another visit on January 5, the eve of the Epiphany. According to folklore, an old woman named Belfana visits all the children of Italy to fill their stockings with candy and leave them presents if they’ve been good. It’s said that the witch turned down an invitation from the Three Wise Men to visit baby Jesus in the manger, and quickly regretted her decision. The story says that she still flies around looking for baby Jesus and giving gifts to children to make up for her mistake. Children often put out a glass of wine and some food for her.
Hide the Brooms in Norway
From distributing presents in Italy to stealing brooms in Norway, it’s funny how every culture interprets the festivals in their own way. In Norway, a unique Christmas tradition is that on Christmas Eve, all broomsticks are hidden out of sight. It’s thought by Norwegians that the night before Christmas, bad witches and spirits will come out, and if there are broomsticks to be found, they will take them and fly them through the skies. Sometimes, spruce logs are burned in the fireplace to prevent witches from coming down the chimney, and men occasionally fire shotguns into the air outside to scare off evil spirits.
Meet the Poop Log in Spain
Welcome to the bizarre Catalan tradition of caga tió or ‘defecating log’. Locals in Catalonia create a character called Caganer out of a log, drawing a face on it and giving it a hat. It is treated kindly from December 8th – 24th when children offer him nuts, fruit and cover him in a blanket for warmth. And then comes the Christmas eve when they beat him with sticks while singing traditional songs which include amazing lyrics such as “Poop log, Poop nougats, Hazelnuts and mato cheese, If you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick, Poop log!”. Following the beating they lift up the blanket to reveal the log has pooped a pile of candy. The log is then considered useless and thrown in the fire. The tradition is quite weird and violent. Am I the only feeling bad for the poop log?
Let the shoe decide your wedding in Czech Republic
There are a number of Christmas traditions in the Czech Republic that are said to predict whether a woman will get married in the following year. On Christmas Day, an unmarried woman throws a shoe over her shoulder, towards the front door. If the shoe lands with the toe pointing towards the door, she will marry within the next year, but if the heel looks towards the door, she will remain single for another year.
So tell us, will you be incorporating anyone of these customs in your Christmas celebration?