Strange Christmas Traditions from Around the World

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While Thanksgiving in November is basically a national holiday in the United States, you can’t say the same about Christmas, which is celebrated around the world either as a religious holiday or otherwise. Now no two countries celebrate Christmas the same way which may be due seasonal patterns, old traditions, and other factors. In fact, while there are plenty of places that do celebrate Christmas some don’t at all. Yet, as for those that do, many may have certain holiday customs that may seem strange to American eyes or those in Europe. And there are even some mainstream Christmas traditions that were strictly national customs until quite recently. For instance, Christmas didn’t really become the mainstream secular holiday we celebrate now until the Victorian Era. And before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert got hitched, the notion of the Christmas tree was most strictly a German tradition. Not to mention, in early America, while you’d find people such as the Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans celebrating Christmas, you’d be pressed to see any house in Puritan Boston with Christmas decorations because for a time it was banned. Nevertheless, here is a list of some of the strange Christmas customs you’d see from around the world during the season.

1. The Netherlands (and to a lesser extent, Belgium)

And you thought the United States has problems with race relations? Still, I'm sure a Barack Obama visit in the Low Countries during the Saint Nicholas season wouldn't go very well at all.

And you thought the United States has problems with race relations. Still, I’m sure a Barack Obama visit in the Low Countries during the Saint Nicholas season wouldn’t go very well at all.

I’ll start the Dutch here. Now we all know that the Netherlands is one of the most tolerant countries on Earth as well as has legalized pot and prostitution. However, during the Christmas season, people in this country (and Belgium) open their gifts in early December for Saint Nicholas Day, where children leave their shoes out for St. Nick to deliver presents for every child. In the days leading up to December 5th, St. Nick arrives through ship in on Dutch shores in mid-November and goes to each kid’s house on a white horse. However, now while having Saint Nick dress up in a bishop’s robes isn’t unusual (though it’s a carry-over from his previous job as Bishop of Turkey) but what’s strange is that he has helpers ranging from 6 to 8 black men (including a guy named, Zhwart Piet or “Black Peter”). Anyone familiar with world history can easily figure out what these guys started out as in this tradition but they’re known now as St. Nicholas’s “friends” (even if we don’t know how many of them are). Oh, and there’s another folk tradition about St. Nicholas Day regarding bad children such as kicking and beating them with switches (or pretending to) or kidnapping and sending them back to Spain in a sack (his home). Also, when you see Saint Nicholas appears on the street, you’ll see his helpers in blackface and in a fashion that many African Americans would view as virulently racist.

This tradition was made famous by David Sedaris’ commentary on the subject in his essay called, “6 to 8 Black Men.”

https://thejesuitpost.org/2013/12/worth-listening-david-sedariss-six-to-eight-black-men/

2. India

Now I don't think I'm used to this. Also looks pretty freaky.

Now I don’t think I’m used to this. Also looks pretty freaky.

While India only has 2.3% of a Christian population, you need to consider that this consists of 25 million people here, which is more than some countries’ entire populations. While many Christian Indians celebrate Christmas with gift-giving and possibly midnight Mass like much of the Western world, yet they don’t have the fir or pine trees that more temperate areas in Europe and North America have. So these Christian Indians have to improvise with decorating banana and mango trees instead and sometimes they even use the leaves from those trees to decorate their houses.

3. Czech Republic and Slovakia

In these two countries, people who are still single but don’t want to remain so tend to stand with their backs toward the door and throw a shoe over their shoulders. Those about to get married soon will have their shoe toes pointing to the door. However, there’s no clue as to how long you’d meet the person of your dreams though.

Another marriage superstition in the Czech Republic in which woman place a cherry tree twig under water. If it blooms, it means she’ll marry next year.

In Slovakia, there’s also a curious tradition in which the family patriarch fills his spoon with loksa (a type of pudding), and flings it to the ceiling. The more he can get to stick up there, the better his harvest will be next year.

4. Japan

Yes, Japanese people spend Christmas at KFC that they need to make reservations well in advance. However, I'm sure that Kentucky Fried Chicken Christmas tradition can't be good for the arteries.

Yes, Japanese people spend Christmas at KFC that they need to make reservations well in advance. However, I’m sure that Kentucky Fried Chicken Christmas tradition can’t be good for the arteries.

Japan has a few Christmas traditions that you’d find are strange. And while only a few are practicing Christians, it’s a very popular secular holiday (and sometimes celebrated more like a wintertime Valentine’s Day). The first relates to a marketing campaign from more than 40 years ago that pertains to Japanese families eating KFC for Christmas dinner. This consist of KFC selling over 240,000 barrels of chicken which is 5 to 10 time its monthly sales. However, it’s unclear on how many years it takes off the lives of your average Japanese citizen as well as how much KFC for Christmas will increase their chances for cardiovascular disease, but I bet either is entirely possible.

Another Japanese tradition is the notion of Christmas cake which is a sponge cake that contains whipped cream, chocolate, and strawberries. These are ordered months in advance and are eaten on Christmas Eve. Any cake not sold after the 25th is unwanted. For the same reason, this is partly to explain why Japanese women over 25 were referred to as “Christmas Cake” if they weren’t married by their 26th birthday (this, until relatively recent times).

Still, if you want to send a Christmas card in Japan, avoid sending any one with red unless they are bereaved. Any Christmas cards with red colors should be avoided but good luck finding a redless Christmas card at your local Hallmark store. Also, their Santa Claus or “Santa Kurohsu”, has eyes in the back of his head to keep an eye on naughty children.

5. New Zealand

Rather than using the traditional conifer, New Zealanders decorate Pohutukawa trees for Christmas.

6. Cuba

Every December, the city of Remedios hosts the Parrandas festival in which the city divides in two halves with each building a themed sculpture from light bulbs, in preparation for Christmas Eve.

7. Finland

Of course, I'm not sure if going to a cemetery to light candles for dead relatives is my idea for a great Christmas Eve. But, hey, that's what the Finns do.

Of course, I’m not sure if going to a cemetery to light candles for dead relatives is my idea for a great Christmas Eve. But, hey, that’s what the Finns do.

Now while you think the Japanese tradition of eating sponge cakes and KFC is kind of weird, you should check out on what the Finns do on Christmas Eve. Now Christmas Eve is the time of year when Finnish families head to their home saunas since it’s believed that a sauna “elf” lives there to protect it and make sure people behave themselves. Thus, families would head to their sauna, strip to their toes, and enjoy a nice good naked soak, before visiting the graves of their dead relatives and lighting candles in their memory on the sites after sunset. And if they can’t, they go to a nearby cemetery instead as well as placed candles for those relatives buried elsewhere.

Oh, and it’s said that kids in Finland sleep on the floor on Christmas Eve so the dead can use their beds.

8. Venezuela

In Caracas, it’s customary for young children to go to bed with one end of a string tied to their big toe and leaving the other end outside their bedroom window. This is because before 8 a. m., the streets are closed to cars on Christmas so people had to get up nice and early to roller skate to “Early Morning Mass” as well as proceed to tug the strings that are still hanging to wake up the kids. Still, bet roller skating to Mass wouldn’t go well in my neck of the woods though (too many hills).

9. Sweden

While the Christmas goat is a Christianized Christmas tradition taken from the Norse, the Galve Goat has been a prime target for vandalism and arson since it first burned down around midnight on Christmas Day in 1966.

While the Christmas goat is a Christianized Christmas tradition taken from the Norse, the Galve Goat has been a prime target for vandalism and arson since it first burned down around midnight on Christmas Day in 1966.

From its first erection and 1966 Christmas Eve burning, the people of Galve build this 13 meter tall straw goat as vandals keep trying to burn it down. As of 2011, it’s been burned 25 times and by 1988 burning the goat happened so often that people began taking bets for its survival ever since. However, just so you know the people of Galve don’t want their goat burned down since an American tourist served time in jail for successfully doing so in 2011.

Another tradition in Sweden is families gathering around the TV at 3 PM on Christmas Eve to watch Donald Duck cartoons from a 1958 Disney program From All of Us to You (or as it’s called there “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”). None of these cartoons have anything to do with Christmas, yet many Swedes could recite the dubbed lines by heart. And it basically started in 1959 when there were just enough TVs in Sweden’s population but only a couple of channels to watch from.

There’s also a Swedish Christmas tradition in which pertains to the serving of rice pudding around Smorgasbord in which one peeled almond is hidden in it. The person who gets the almond is said to be married within a year.

10. Ukraine

No, this isn't Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas tree. Ukranians actually decorate their Christmas tree with spiders since they think it would bring them luck.

No, this isn’t Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas tree. Ukranians actually decorate their Christmas tree with spiders since they think it would bring them luck.

You may think that the notion of decorating a Christmas tree with spider webs seems to be straight from The Nightmare Before Christmas, but in Ukraine it’s a tradition based on local folklore. The tradition starts from a story of a poor woman who couldn’t afford to decorate her Christmas tree for her kids. So some friendly spiders decided to spin webs on the tree instead. When the kids woke up the next morning, they saw the first light turn this cobweb laden tree into silver and gold. Thus, not only the children had a great Christmas, but the family was never left poor again. So, in Ukraine to decorate your tree with spider webs will ensure you good luck and fortune in the coming year. And you thought that was something you’d see Jack Skellington do.

11. Philippines

The Philippines consists of 80% Christians in its huge country with Catholicism as the most prominent denomination. In this country, Christmas celebrations last all the way into January. However, unlike a lot of countries, children leave their polished shoes out for the The Three Kings when they pass through the houses that night for the Feast of the Epiphany, marking the end of the Christmas season.

12. Great Britain

Now this is what the Brits call Christmas pudding. I know it doesn't look like something you'd get from your pudding mix back in the States.

Now this is what the Brits call Christmas pudding. I know it doesn’t look like something you’d get from your pudding mix back in the States. Looks more like cake.

Now a lot of Christmas traditions come from the Brits, yet there are few that don’t. For one, they don’t have Santa Claus but Father Christmas that now looks like Santa but in previous years was the Ghost of Christmas Present. One of them has to do with the notion of Christmas Pudding served on Christmas Day. Of course, as the pudding is stirred clockwise, every member of the family makes a wish. Sometimes it’s said that people put coins, rings, and thimbles to the mix which can symbolize wealth, marriage, and good luck for life. Still, for Americans unfamiliar with the notion of pudding in the British world of cuisine, understand that British pudding looks nothing like the creamy stuff you’d find in cups at the grocery store.

Another tradition in Great Britain has to do with children writing their Christmas wish list burning them in the back of the fireplace, hoping that the draft would carry them to the North Pole. Too bad that they haven’t heard of actually mailing them. Yet, if the letter catches fire before being sent up the chimney, the kiddie must write a new one.

Oh, and in London, it’s said that a group of competitors gather on the shore of Serpentine Lake to take part in a 100 yard race through the freezing water.

13. Canada

Yes, you can really write to Santa at H0H 0H0 and the Canada Post will assist him. Yes, I mean Canada.

Yes, you can really write to Santa at H0H 0H0 and the Canada Post will assist him. Yes, I mean Canada.

Want to send that letter to Santa but don’t know how to get it to the North Pole. Well, you’re in luck since Santa has his own postal code that consists of H0H 0H0 where it will be sent to Canada. So while Santa’s elves help with making those Christmas toys, for the past 30 years, it’s been the Canada Post volunteers who have helped Santa reply to millions of letters each year from children around the world in different languages, including Braille.

14. Spain

Now Spain is home to a lot of weird Christmas traditions but none is crazier than Catalonia's Caga Tio, which is a magic Yule log that grows and shits presents. Believe me, I'm not making this up.

Now Spain is home to a lot of weird Christmas traditions but none is crazier than Catalonia’s Caga Tio, which is a magic Yule log that grows and shits presents. Believe me, I’m not making this up.

With the exception of the peeing on the snow sweaters and the pooping reindeer, the thought of holiday fun and bodily functions usually don’t go together. However, the sole exception to this is in Catalonia, Spain, home to the extremely odd Caga Tio, which translates to “pooping log.” And no, he’s not a character from South Park. He’s a hollowed out, smiley-faced piece of wood bringing laughter and joy to Catalonian children in a long established cherished tradition of him pooping out presents. Honest to God, I’m not making this up.

Beginning on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Caga Tio is placed on the fireplace, covered in a blanket, and treated as a pet. Each evening, the kiddies feed the log fruits, nuts, and chocolate in hopes that it’ll grow bigger. Meanwhile, the parents secretly swap out the log with a progressively bigger one until, it’s magically full grown by Christmas (again, I’m not making this up).

On Christmas Day, the family gathers around Caga Tio and sing songs to urge it to release its loot, which translate as, “Poop log, poop candy! If you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick. Poop log!” The brats then proceed to beat the log with sticks in order to force it to defecate traditional Christmas presents like Turon nougat candy, small toys, and coins. Now that’s the craziest shit I’ve ever heard so far.

Catalonia is also known for a certain defecating figurine known as a

Catalonia is also known for a certain defecating figurine known as a “El Caganer” or “The Shitter,” which is put in the back of a nativity scene. And as you can tell, there are many types you can choose from.

Catalonia also has another Christmas tradition relating to defecation in the form of a Caganer which sits in the back of every traditional Catalan nativity scene (for at least 2 centuries). It’s a figurine of a man with his trousers down pooping, which represents fertility and good fortune. Recently, businesses have many figurines that resemble celebrities. Still, while putting a Caganer in a nativity scene is perfectly acceptable in Catalonia, it would probably be seen as something deeply sacrilegious to so in a manger scene in Kentucky. It’s also a tradition in the rest of Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy.

After Christmas, Spain has a holiday known as the Day of Innocents on December 28, which is it’s April Fool’s Day with the pranks and a day in which kids go from door to door asking for sweets, similar to Halloween, though they tend to make noise as well.Of course, this is a day to commemorate the lives of those young children slaughtered by King Herod. In Valencia, this day is celebrated with people throwing flour at each other.

Oh, and on New Year’s Eve, it’s customary for Spanish to wear red underwear and there’s even a race of people wearing only that in La Font Figuera. People of all ages participate in it.

15. Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, it's said that the shepherds were playing ganna when they heard about Jesus's birth. Of course, despite Christmas being about

In Ethiopia, it’s said that the shepherds were playing ganna when they heard about Jesus’s birth. Of course, despite Christmas being about “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men,” this sport is anything but peaceful.

Ethiopians celebrate Christmas by playing a game called ganna on Christmas Eve. This stems from the tradition of shepherds playing it when they first heard of the birth of Jesus. However, this ball and stick game is anything but peaceful. The balls are made from olive wood or leather which can easily injure a player. And because there’s no rules on the field sizes, the goals are sometimes so far apart that neither team scores by nightfall on Christmas Eve.

16. Germany

How would you like to hear that every year on Christmas? Apparently, Christmas isn't much a

How would you like to hear that every year on Christmas? Apparently, Christmas isn’t much a “Silent Night,” in Bavaria.

While the glass pickle tradition in which a child who finds it gets an extra present may be mere rumor (it’s actually American), the tradition of the Bavarian Highlanders firing handheld mortars into air every year in traditional dress isn’t.

Yes, these are straw devils from Bavaria. And yes, they look pretty creepy.

Yes, these are straw devils from Bavaria. And yes, they look pretty creepy.

Also, in Bavaria around Christmastime, a group of people dress up as “straw devils” and run through the city of Bischofswiesen scaring the inhabitants.

In some German communities, during the celebrations, a fair haired girl would be anointed as, “Christ Child” in which she’d wear a crown of candles and visit nearby houses with a basket of presents.

And in most of Germany, kids leave their shoes outside their bedrooms for Saint Nicholas on December 5. In the morning, if they’ve been good, they’ll find a tree branch covered with sweets. If not, they’ll only find a branch, and we know what that’s going to be used for.

17. Greece

According to Greek folklore, subterranean goblins called Kallikantzaroi surface once every during the 12 days of Christmas and spend the rest of the year underground sawing the World Tree so that it would collapse and the Earth along with it. Yet, just as they’re about to make the final cuts, Christmas comes along causing them to forget about their mission so they decide to terrorize humanity. Yet, after the Christmas season, they find that the tree has healed itself and they have to start their sinister work all over again.

In northern Greece, there’s a tradition in which men get dressed in animal carcasses and carry swords, sing Christmas carols, and gather small gifts from the homes they visited. And if two different groups meet, they start a “war” until one of them surrenders.

18. Former Yugoslavia

2 weeks prior to Christmas, it’s become a tradition in the former Yugoslavia for children to sneak up to their mother and tie her feet to a chair. Then they dance and sing, “Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, what will you pay to get away?” She then gives them presents yet even that’s not enough to satisfy their materialistic appetites. So the next week they do the same thing to their father.

19. European Alpine Region

Man, I wonder if all these guys dressing up as the Krampus have something to do with the Furry fandom. Then again, why haven't I heard of this tradition from The Sound of Music?

Man, I wonder if all these guys dressing up as the Krampus have something to do with the Furry fandom. Then again, why haven’t I heard of this tradition from The Sound of Music?

Now I’ve written quite a bit about the Krampus in my series on mythological creatures, which is part of a Christmas tradition in parts of Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Now while we have Santa who delivers presents to good little boys and girls, it’s the Krampus who handles the bad kids, who looks like an evil creature from a 1980s fantasy film. Now his job is to wreak general havoc and dish out well-deserved punishments to the bad little children of the world. Carrying a large wicker basket on his back, similar to Santa’s sack, he kidnaps the naughtiest children and sends them straight to Hell. With less naughty kids, he simply whips them. Still, though of pagan origin, he’s been part of the Alpine Christmas tradition at least since 1600 with Krampus festivals going on since the 1800s. And now his popularity is spreading across the major US cities as an excuse to wear Krampus costumes and through bacchanal parties. Not to mention, there’s a Krampusnacht in early December in which some men dress as this demonic walking carpet, get drunk, and parade around town.

They also have a female Krampus called Perchta and when she gets her hands on naughty children, she’s said to rip open their abdomens, pull out their guts, and fill them with straw. Sweet dreams, children!

20. Switzerland

In Samnaun, Switzerland, you have ClauWau or the Santa Claus World Championships where red suited people gather from around the world to compete in Christmas themed contests. Though it's officially to see who's the best Santa team, the laughs are the real goal in this competition.

In Samnaun, Switzerland, you have ClauWau or the Santa Claus World Championships where red suited people gather from around the world to compete in Christmas themed contests. Though it’s officially to see who’s the best Santa team, the laughs are the real goal in this competition.

Switzerland is home to two crazy Christmas traditions in two towns that might as well put places like the Netherlands, Japan, Finland, the Alps, and Catalonia to shame. First, the little town of Samnaun is home to what’s known as the Santa Claus World Championships or ClauWau. Here, teams from all over the world dressed in their bright red and white Santa suits meet at a local ski resort to compete in Christmas themed contests. These events consists of relay races, a wooden rocking horse obstacle course, a gingerbread decorating contest, a chimney climbing contest where St. Nicks throw bags of toys over their backs and race to ring the bell at the top of the chimney, and more, all with the goal of crowning the best Santa team. Of course, at this holly-jolly event, gaining some holiday inspired laughs is the real goal here.

On December 5th, the Swiss town of Kussnacht has Klausjagan, or

On December 5th, the Swiss town of Kussnacht has Klausjagan, or “Chasing of the Claus,” which is a 2 hour festival of villagers chasing Santa Claus with 8 foot whips as well as having locals dressed in giant illuminated stained glass bishop hats in a procession. Also have people loudly blasting cowbells, instruments, and horns.

In another Swiss town called Kussnacht, an age old pagan celebration to ward off evil spirits has evolved into the tradition of Klausjagan, translating into, “chasing the Klaus.” This 2 hour festival begins on December 5th and celebrated as Saint Nicholas Day with villagers proceeding by cracking 8ft long whips all with the intention of harassing Santa Claus. And I’m not making this up. Afterwards, there’s a procession of 200 locals dressed in giant illuminated stained glass bishop hats in an ogle of 200,000. And the festival concludes with a march of over 1,000 locals loudly blasting cowbells, instruments, and horns. Sure it may make sense as a ritual to ward off evil spirits, but directing the focus on Santa Claus since Christianization is just plain weird. Then again, merging Christian theology with old pagan rituals is how many of these traditions were created in the first place.

21. Italy

Every Epiphany Eve, the witch La Befana goes to houses where she drops gifts for the children in Italy. Of course, despite looking like an old hag, she's said to be a very nice lady.

Every Epiphany Eve, the witch La Befana goes to houses where she drops gifts for the children in Italy. Of course, despite looking like an old hag, she’s said to be a very nice lady.

In addition to Santa Claus, Italian children also have another Christmas gift giver named La Befana who’s an old haggard witch on a broom, bestowing gifts to good Italian kids on the eve of Epiphany January 5. And like Santa Claus, she brings coal to the bad kids too as well as goes down chimneys. Like many Christmas rituals and despite looking like a Halloween caricature, La Befana was once a pagan figure of a woman on a pyre to symbolize death and rebirth. She was recreated in the 13th century with Christianity in mind with an established legend as well. In it, she’s said to have turned down an invite from the Three Wise Men to visit Baby Jesus in the manger. Wracked with guilt and regret, she now travels the world on the eve to deliver presents in order to make up for the mistake. Yet, I’m sure that only Italy got the memo. Then again, there’s a similar figure named Babouschka in Russia.

Also, Italians don’t have Christmas trees, but use small wooden pyramids covered in fruit instead.

22. Ireland

In Ireland, it’s a tradition to leave mince pies and a bottle of Guinness for Santa Claus.

The Irish also have a strange tradition of men caroling in straw costumes and carrying dead wrens on sticks.

23. Mexico

In Oaxacca, they have Night of the Radishes on December 23, in which artisans carve oversized radish art to compete in the local contest.

In Oaxacca, they have Night of the Radishes on December 23, in which artisans carve oversized radish art to compete in the local contest.

In the region of Oaxaca has a Christmas tradition known as La Noche de Rabanos on December 23 or “Night of the Radishes,” which has been going on for over 116 years. This was started by 16th century Spanish Missionaries who decided to incorporate the local native carving practices into the conversion. This tradition involves a surreal arts festival in which artisans compete by carving oversized root festivals with cash prizes for the best radish sculpture. Today this contests attracts a hundred annual competitors as well as thousands of tourists.

Oaxaca is also a place where the Christmas festivities begin with a parade with people walking down the lantern-lit streets, and knocking on every door to re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter. Then they break ceramic plates near the cathedral to signify the year’s end.

Mexico is also the native range of the Poinsettia which is the standard flower for Christmas. This became incorporated in the US traditions around the time of the Mexican War.

Mexico is also the native range of the Poinsettia which is the standard flower for Christmas. This became incorporated in the US traditions around the time of the Mexican War.

Mexico is also the native range for the poinsettia and the reason why it’s a Christmas tradition in the United States since the Mexican War. According to local legend, a poverty-stricken brother and sister left a bouquet of weedy branches as a gift to the Christ Child at their church. Other children laughed at their meager offering a cluster of red star shaped flowers began to bloom from the branches and they became known as Flores de Noche Buena or “Flowers of the Holy Night,” and would be named after US Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett.

24. Norway

Norway’s Christmas seems to be regarded share some parallels with Halloween, such as a night when evil spirits taunt the living. It’s believed in Norway that on Christmas, witches come out searching for brooms to steal from hapless citizens before flying off into the cold, dark night. Thus, before Christmas, it was said that Norwegian women would hide all the household brooms and mops while the men fire guns outside to scare away the evil entities. Not to mention, it’s said that some Norwegians engage in Julebukking or “Christmas-goating” where they dress up in goat masks while visiting people. Let’s just say that Christmas in Norway is anything but silent night if you ask me. And you thought that country was just known for Lutefisk.

25. North Korea

Sure North Korea is an atheistic and communist state as mandated in which most of the residents don’t have access to electricity. Yet, the state has its own way of celebrating the Christmas season-by threatening to declare war on South Korea whenever it erects a Christmas tree near the border. Of course, North Korea said that the illuminated Christmas tree is “propaganda” that might convince people on the North Korean border that South Korea may be a better place (it is).

26. South Africa

A common Christmas dish in this country is deep fried Emperor Moth caterpillar. Doesn’t exactly look like a gourmet treat but maybe it tastes delicious.

Children are also told about the story of Danny, a young boy who angered his grandmother by eating the cookies left for Santa. She killed him in a rage and he’s said to haunt homes at Christmas.

27. Greenland

A traditional Christmas dish in this area is Kiviaq, which is better explained by one BBC commentator quoted from the Huffington Post:

“The delicacy is created by first preparing a seal skin: all the meat is removed and only a thick layer of fat remains. The skin is then sewn into a bag shape, which is stuffed with 300-500 little auk birds. Once full and airtight, the skin is sewn up and seal fat is smeared over all over the join, which acts as a repellent to flies. The seal skin is then left under a pile of rocks to ferment for a minimum of three months to a maximum of 18 months.”

Disgusting.

28. Iceland

Iceland has a Yule Cat who's not very nice and is said to devour lazy children without clothes for Christmas. You can see why Icelanders work so hard.

Iceland has a Yule Cat who’s not very nice and is said to devour lazy children without clothes for Christmas. You can see why Icelanders work so hard.

While Italy has La Befana and Catalonia has Cago Tio, Iceland has Jólakötturinn the Yule or Christmas Cat. However, he’s not a nice cat and could possibly eat you. In many Icelandic families, those who finished all their work on time receive new clothes on Christmas, slackers didn’t (though this might be a threat). So to encourage kids to work hard, parents tell their kids that Jólakötturinn can distinguish lazy children by the fact they don’t have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas. And these children would be sacrificed to him. You can see why Icelanders put in more overtime hours than most Europeans.

Here is a chart on the 13 Yule Lads and their parents. Each of them has a name in which they're best known for doing. But, let's just say they really mellowed with the coming of Santa Claus.

Here is a chart on the 13 Yule Lads and their parents. Each of them has a name in which they’re best known for doing. But, let’s just say they really mellowed with the coming of Santa Claus.

Iceland also has a group of men called the Jólasveinar or Yule Lads who are Icelandic trolls and used to steal things and cause trouble around Christmastime. And like the Yule Cat, were used to scare the kiddies straight. Yet, after the introduction of Santa Claus in the 20th century, these guys have soon mellowed to be nice enough to leave gifts in kids’ shoes. And the gift giving lasts for 13 days straight because there are 13 Jólasveinar, each with their own distinct personality, which is from December 12-24. Yet, it’s said their mom isn’t so nice and is said to stew naughty kids. Oh, and their names are Spoon Licker, Bowl Licker, Door Slammer, Sausage Swiper, Door Sniffer, Window Peeper, Meat Hook and Candle Beggar, just as an example. And it’s said that bad kids end up with a bunch of potatoes which I wouldn’t mind to tell the truth.

29. Latvia

While Mummering is done in a lot of European countries and Newfoundland, it's very prominent in Latvia. Of course, it's basically a mix between Christmas caroling and trick or treating.

While Mummering is done in a lot of European countries and Newfoundland, it’s very prominent in Latvia. Of course, it’s basically a mix between Christmas caroling and trick or treating.

In Latvia, Christmastime is still associated with pagan European roots as well as often celebrated from December 22nd to the 25th. Now the Latvian Christmas traditions bear a lot of similarities to Halloween in which people dress up as mummers wearing some kind of mask associated with dead animals and go from house to house playing music and bestowing blessings on the places they visited. In return, they’re given food to eat. In a way, this kind of ritual is like a cross between Christmas caroling and Halloween trick-or-treating. Mummering is also done in Newfoundland and other places as well.

30. Iraq

Iraq has only a few Christians but they have an unusual Christmas ceremony with lighting a bonfire from dried thorns outside their houses. The future of the family’s house depends on how the fire burns. If the thorns are reduced to ashes, then the family would have good fortune. And when fire becomes ashes, everyone jumps in to make a wish. Of course, this tradition may be on the decline due to the rise of ISIS and the fact that lighting fire may make Christians easier targets around the holidays. So sad.

31. Estonia

Like the Finns, the Estonians celebrate Christmas with a visit to the local sauna where they usually bathe nude on Christmas Eve. Basically this entails bonding with your folks in a hot room while drinking vodka, sharing stories, and relaxing. Of course, depending on point of view, this could be either a great alternative to the norm or downright horrifying (the latter in my case).

32. Wales

In Wales, we have Mari Lwyd, which is a festival in which a chosen member of the community parades around the street in a dead horse's skull. Must be traumatizing to the Welsh kiddies.

In Wales, we have Mari Lwyd, which is a festival in which a chosen member of the community parades around the street in a dead horse’s skull. Must be traumatizing to the Welsh kiddies.

Well, Mari Lwyd is more of an after Christmas tradition as well as New Year’s but it’s very crazy nevertheless. Each year in some Welsh villages, Christmas caroling takes a twisted turn when a villager is selected to perform Mari Lwyd, which consists of parading around the streets in a decorated mare’s skull (sometimes with a spring loaded jaw to snap at people) fashioned to a wooden pole covered by a white sheet, while villagers sing. Bet you wouldn’t see that in How Green Was My Valley.

33. Australia

While Europe and North America tend to associate Christmas with snow, Australia basically associates the holiday with volleyball, beach parties,

While Europe and North America tend to associate Christmas with snow, Australia basically associates the holiday with volleyball, beach parties, “Christmas Bush,” and surfing Santas. After all Christmas is a summer holiday for them.

While people in Europe and North America are dreaming of a white Christmas, that dream is basically impossible in Southern Hemisphere nations like Australia who celebrate Christmas in the summer where temperatures are between 68 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit. So images of Santa pulling up a surfboard are a common sight down under. And instead of decorating a fir or pine tree, they use a native plant known as “Christmas Bush.” Oh, and for Australians, Christmas is a time for picnics, beach parties, swimming, and volleyball, you know, traditions most Americans would associate with the 4th of July.

34. Guatemala

On December 7, Guatemala kicks of the Christmas season with La Quema del Diablo where people sweep their homes and gather trash in a big pile where the burn it with Satan in effigy.

On December 7, Guatemala kicks of the Christmas season with La Quema del Diablo where people sweep their homes and gather trash in a big pile where the burn it with Satan in effigy.

Around December 7, Guatemalans celebrate a holiday known as La Quema del Diablo where they sweep their homes and collect trash from around their property creating a massive heap of refuse on the street. The pile is crowned with a Satan effigy and set ablaze and the Christmas season can begin. No, this isn’t how “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” got started, it’s actually a cleansing ritual said to expunge evil spirits and negative energy from upcoming festivities. Seems similar to the celebration relating to the Aztec goddess Tochi sans the human sacrificing part, of course.

35. Portugal

During Christmas dinner, it’s not unusual for Portuguese families to set extra places at their tables for deceased relatives. It’s thought the practice will ensure the household good fortune.

36. Scotland

While Christmas is treated as a time of quiet reflection with family and friends, their New Year’s Eve is a loud, joyous occasion celebrating the birth of the New Year called Hogamanay. An important tradition relating to New Year’s is called First-Footing. Once midnight sets in, all eyes await the arrival of the year’s first visitor who’s said to be the predictor of good fortune in the year ahead. Tall, dark handsome men like Hugh Jackman, Gregory Peck, and Jon Hamm are preferred while women and blondes are deemed unlucky. It’s also supposed to bring an array of gifts like coins (symbolizing fortune), bread (food), and whiskey (good cheer).

Scotland also has a festival known as Up Helly Aa dating from the 1800s in which young men would mischievously drag flaming barrels of tar into the streets. Nowadays, after the fiery parade, participants gather and toss their torches into replica Viking long ship. Then they hold private parties in flamboyant costumes. This celebration signals the end of the Christmas season.

37. Denmark

On Christmas Eve, Danish families leave rice pudding or porridge to make sure the devilish elf Nisse is nice to them. It’s said if they don’t then he may steal presents before the kiddies wake up on Christmas morning.

38. Poland

In some parts of Poland, it’s still tradition for people to make their own elaborate nativity scenes for Christmas with a backdrop of local architecture. Called szopka, these scenes are painstakingly created from materials like cardboard, plastic, and tin foil. This tradition began by local craftsmen to earn extra money on Christmas. In Krakow, there’s even a szopka competition on the first Thursday in December.

39. Belgium

In Belgium, they have two Santas who come around for Saint Nicholas Day which is either Saint Nicholas or Pere Noel depending on what language you speak but they leave either gifts or sticks depending how good the kiddies are. However, they do things a little differently. For instance, while Saint Nicholas goes on a preliminary visit to know how good the kiddies are, Pere Noel just  asks Pere Fouettard, whoever he is.

40. Brazil

In Brazil, Santa Claus or they call him Papai Noel, flies down from Greenland where he drops his heavy Santa attire and opts for sleek vacation like duds. Well, what do you expect from a guy carrying a sack of toys in 90 degree heat?

41. Former Soviet Union

Instead of Santa Claus, Eastern Europe has a guy named Ded Moroz who shares many of the big guy in the red suit's characteristics. Of course, in his earliest tales, he's a cruel sorcerer who froze people and kidnapped children. And the parents had to give presents to him to get their kids back.

Instead of Santa Claus, Eastern Europe has a guy named Ded Moroz who shares many of the big guy in the red suit’s characteristics. Of course, in his earliest tales, he’s a cruel sorcerer who froze people and kidnapped children. And the parents had to give presents to him to get their kids back.

While Ded Moroz “Father Frost” has been present in Russian folklore since the 17th century, he would be reinvented by the Communists as a symbol for the New Year along with “Snow Maiden” and “New Year Boy.” Originally considered an enemy by the Communist regime, Ded Moroz was said to be an ally of the “priests and boyars” Ded Moroz was quickly adopted as New Year symbol or the Soviet replacement Christmas since the communists either hated Christmas’ religious significance or how it’s embroiled in the reckless consumerism and commercialization in the United States. But he was in a lot of Soviet style nativity scenes. Now after the fall of the Soviet Union, Ded Moroz is now a Christian Symbol once more as well as relatively popular.

42. United States

The United States isn’t above holding strange Christmas traditions either as I’ll list the following that covers certain areas:

If my relatives sent me a Christmas card like this, I would wonder what the hell was wrong with them. Seriously, this is just wrong on so many levels.

If my relatives sent me a Christmas card like this, I would wonder what the hell was wrong with them. Seriously, this is just wrong on so many levels.

Now the state of Arizona is known for right wing politics and a distaste for gun control. The Scottsville Gun Club in Scottsdale, Arizona has an event called “Santa and Machine Guns” which allows families (even those with children and babies) take their pick of weaponry from a large arsenal of pistols, shotguns, AK-47s, grenade launchers, and machine guns and use them as props in a cozy Christmas photo op with Santa Claus. Elves give gun safety instructions to the uninitiated before the picture is taken and the pictures are put on Christmas cards to send to families (one of them I put in a Christmas card post last year). Disturbingly enough (especially in the wake of Newtown), it’s a very popular event attracting hundreds lining up.

From the 16th to 19th centuries in the United States, Britain, and Canada, it wasn’t uncommon to play snap dragon around the Christmas season which people tried snatching raisins out of a bowl of burning brandy in which people would pop into the mouth to extinguish them. Successful players would be seen with their hands and mouths dripping with blue flames. It has died out for obvious reasons regarding fire safety.

Another odd US Christmas tradition that has really taken off is SantaCon, which is a time when people dress up as Santa, elves, and reindeer, sing Christmas songs, and go on bar crawls.

Another odd US Christmas tradition that has really taken off is SantaCon, which is a time when people dress up as Santa, elves, and reindeer, sing Christmas songs, and go on bar crawls.

Since 1994, the Cacophony Society in San Francisco has hosted the annual SantaCon. Originally created as a thinking man’s demonstration as a lighthearted protests on Christmas consumerism and commercialism, it’s become a worldwide Christmas convention where thousands of followers dress up as Santa Claus, elf, or reindeer and travel around a given city in massive packs bursting into Christmas songs, stopping at local bars, and stunning passersby. It’s also evolved into an elaborate party and drinking event with widespread rowdiness and public drunkenness like on Saint Patrick’s Day. Lately, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon and sometimes called, “The Running of the Santas.”

This is just a primer on Festivus for those unfamiliar with it. Of course, this was a holiday invented by a father of one of the Seinfeld writers.

This is just a primer on Festivus for those unfamiliar with it. Of course, this was a holiday invented by a father of one of the Seinfeld writers as a parody for Christmas.

And let’s not forget the old tradition of Festivus, a parody Christmas tradition popularized by Seinfeld that takes place on December 23rd. Ironically, this tradition was started by the father of one of the show’s writers. Now this includes a Festivus dinner that includes, an unadorned Festivus pole. It includes practices with the “Airing of Grievances” with each person lashing out words at others and the world about how they’ve been disappointed this year as well as the “Feats of Strength” with the head of household selecting a person at the Festivus celebration and challenging them to wrestling match. And it’s said that Festivus isn’t over until the household head is pinned. Then there’s the notion of “Festivus Miracles” which pertain to easily explainable events. Since the 1997 Seinfeld episode, “The Strike,” it’s gained a widespread adoption.

People in Southern Louisiana are known to have massive bonfires to light up the Mississippi River so that the French Papa Noel can find their houses.

In New York since 1966, TV station WPIX basically broadcasts of a Yule log burning for 24 hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

For more: http://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/

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