It’s the most wonderful time of the year! A time of sparkling fun and heartwarming traditions like leaving out magic oats for Santa’s reindeer, decorating the tree in garish but gorgeous baubles, stringing sparkling lights, getting gifts from benevolent drunks, bashing poo logs and being eaten by wild cats…
While most of the Christmas customs and traditions we celebrate owe their roots to Victorian England, our travels have exposed us to a bunch of lesser-known Christmas traditions from around the world – some of which lean a little away from quaint and traditional and more towards the batshit crazy.
We’ve also been introduced to mention a surplus of festive figures who haven’t yet gained Santa’s popularity. Perhaps it is because they didn’t cough up for a decent PR. Or maybe its just because they are sociopaths.
Strap yourself in, because we’re about to take you on a wild ride to introduce you to just a few of the WTF festivities that add a sack full of crazy to Christmas around the globe…
Ukraine: Christmas Webs
A Ukrainian Christmas custom is decorating Christmas trees with spider webs. Because who needs tinsel and pretty baubles when you’ve got perfectly good webs lying around. Spiders are considered good luck in the Ukraine. Not needing to clean up after Halloween is a bonus.
Austria: Krampus run
Krampus is Austria’s Santa’s satanic counterpart who beats naughty children and drags them to hell, if he doesn’t eat them first. To celebrate the merry hairy half-goat, half-demon, drunken dudes dressed as child-napping furry devils take over the streets for a Krampusnacht Run, chasing folk through the streets. You better watch out, indeed!
Germany: Stuffing shoes
Well-behaved German kids get the pressies in earlier than the rest of the world. Sinterklaas visits children on December 6th and leaves presents in their shoes. Here’s hoping they have odour eaters fitted for the poor bugger.
Wales: Mari Lwyd’s Horse Head
In South Wales the Mari Lwyd is a Christmas custom where a villager is chosen to parade through the streets on Christmas Eve with a beribboned horse’s skull on a pole. Meanwhile his pals sing and go from house to house and pub to pub where they challenge folk to a battle of rhyming insults in Welsh. Because decorated dead horse heads are said to be good luck. Well, unless you’re a horse.
France : La Pere Fouettard’s Coal
In parts of Northern and Eastern France, La Pere Fouettard (an evil butcher who was said to have salt-cured a couple of errant children in the 1100’s) accompanies St. Nicholas dispensing lumps of coal and floggings to the naughty while St. Nick leaves gifts for the nice.
Italy: La Befina’s Sausage
Stuff Santa, Italy has a boozy sausage-scoffing witch! La Befana is a benevolent old crone with magical powers who delivers presents by broomstick to Italian children on the eve of the Epiphany. The kids leave her wine, a plate of sausage and… broccoli. Just between you and me La Befana, I’d be casting a spell or two to get all that broccoli traded up for something a little tastier.
In the Catalonian region of Spain, a Caganer has appeared in traditional Nativity scenes since the late 17th century. The Caganer is a squatting bare bottomed figure said to be fertilising the ground of the nativity scene. Because nothing says Christmas quite like someone taking a sh*t! In fact, it seems Spain is disturbingly obsessed with Christmas excrement. In Catalonia, decorated logs are fed sweets through December and then, while they sing an ode to the “poo” log, children brutally beat it with sticks come Christmas Eve. The “poo” log then defecates treats for them to enjoy. I’ll pass.
Finland: Saucy sauna
Many Finnish folk have their own saunas and believe an elf lives inside to protect it. On Christmas Eve it is custom for Finnish families take to their elf-infested sauna for a long, nude steam. They’re sure to clear out by sunset though as they believe the spirits of their dead ancestors nude up for a spooky sauna after dark. Wait, what Finland? The family that sweats together, eh?
Sweden: Firey goats
The Swedish town of Gävle builds a 40-foot straw goat every year as part of their Yule festivities which is generally torched by local vandals, because what could be more Christmassy than louts setting fire to goats?
Switzerland: Santa Chase
Klausjagan translates roughly to “Chasing the Klaus” which is exactly what they do in the Swiss town of Küssnacht on the eve of St. Nicholas Day. In fact, the townsfolk chase poor Santa around town for several hours whilst wielding sheep whips and wearing ornate pointy hats. Then they eat pastry and hit the pub. Oh, Switzerland, don’t go changing.
Iceland: Killer cat
In Iceland there’s not one but 13 Santa figures who come to visit in the 13 days prior to Christmas. But that doesn’t mean 13 times the merriment! No, with names like Sausage-Swiper, Meat-Hook and Doorway-Sniffer, the mischievous troll-like folk are as likely to shove rotten potatoes in your shoes as they are to leave gifts, depending on whether the kids have been naughty or nice. Indeed, Iceland really loves to rock the festive weirdness as another Icelandic Yule tale tells of a giant cat that kills children who don’t receive new clothes at Christmas. Guess that’s one way to get them to appreciate the socks and undies from Nanna.
Greenland: Fermented seal
Forget the turkey and fruit mince pies, Greenland’s Christmas customs see folks feast on whale skin with a side of blubber. Or perhaps you might prefer auk birds stuffed into seal skin and left to ferment for half a year! Rotten seal and whale fat? I’m sorry Greenland, it’s just not going to work out between us.
Slovakia: Ceiling toss
During Christmas Eve dinner in Slovakia dad takes a spoonful of Loksa, a mixture of sweetened poppy seed and bread, and chucks it at the ceiling. The more that sticks, the bigger it is said that the next year’s crops will be. And the more pissed off whoever gets the job of cleaning the ceiling is.
Serbia: Christmas hostage
Serbians are always up for a little Christmas B&D. Tradition dictates that two Sundays before Christmas Day children tie up their mother who has to pay them a ransom in the form of gifts to be released. The following Sunday it is the father’s turn to be taken hostage. Unless their dad is Liam Neeson, then they best back off.
United States: SantaCon Pub Crawl
In New York City thousands of people dress up as Santa to carry on, get shit-faced and generally tarnish the reputation of the North Pole’s most famous resident at SantaCon New York, a citywide Christmas pub crawl. You stay classy, New York.
Venezuela: Get your skates on
In the days leading up to Christmas, the city streets of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, are closed to motor traffic so the entire city can roller skate to attend daily church services called Misa de Aguinaldo. I must have missed the bit in the Bible where The Three Wise Men brought the new born King gifts of gold, Frankincense and rollerblades.
Guatemala: Devil’s in the details
In order to rid houses of bad spirits, Guatemalans clean house in December. Gathering all the dirt and dust they create an enormous pile in each neighbourhood on which a giant effigy of the devil is placed and torched! Which seems a little counterintuitive if they’re trying to get rid of him, giving he kinda rocks that whole flame thing at home in hell. Just sayin!
In a country with a Christian population of less than 1%, it’s become common practice to pre-order KFC chicken on Christmas day. Around 250,000 barrels of the Colonel’s finest is purchased on the day. Because Japan.
South Korea: Noodles and blue Santa
Around 30% of the population identify as Christian and it’s fashionable to attend a Christmas church service. But Santa wears blue and Christmas dinner tends to lean towards noodles, bulgogi and kimchi (pickled cabbage). Sign me up Korea, I’m in!
Gif images via giphy.com