5 Bizarre Christmas Traditions From Around the World
Christmas traditions vary from family to family. For mine, Christmas Eve always involves eating Chinese food and watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But whatever the type of celebration, in North America, most traditions hinge on the idea that a benevolent fat man in a red suit visits us in the night and brings gifts to the good boys and girls.
However, in other countries and cultures, Christmas myths and traditions involve everything from devils and spiders to horse skulls and shitting logs. You can’t make this stuff up.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Christmas traditions are significantly weirder outside North America. But think about this: Santa’s a guy who watches kids while they sleep and then breaks into their houses and eats all their cookies. I don’t know about you, but for me, the thought of some old guy eating all my cookies is just about the most terrifying thought I could possibly have. So yeah.
Apart from a break-and-enter fat man who travels by flying reindeer, here are the five weirdest Christmas traditions from around the world.
Think a lump of coal stuffed into a stocking is the worst thing a kid can get for ending up on Santa’s naughty list? You’ve obviously never heard of Krampus.
Krampus, a figure who appears mainly in European holiday celebrations, is sort of like Santa’s evil twin: a terrifying devil who kidnaps naughty children and takes them to hell. Sure does bring a whole new meaning to “be good for goodness’ sake.”
According to Krampus.com, in places such as Austria, Northern Italy, Finland and France, people participate in the Krampus myth by celebrating Krampusnacht (“Krampus Night”). On the night before St. Nicholas Day, they get in the spirit by getting drunk, dressing up as Krampus and other ghouls, and running through the streets brandishing torches and scaring the ever-loving crap out of anyone who crosses their path. Happy holidays!
The Yule Cat
The Yule Cat is a giant black cat that, according to Icelandic folklore, stalks the countryside and devours anyone who doesn’t receive a piece of clothing before Christmas. The idea behind Yule Cat is that in Iceland, children who finished their chores received a piece of clothing for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not — and it turns out the threat of being devoured by a giant, flesh-eating cat is a great motivator (mental note: remember this when I have children). Icelandic poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum explained the legend of the Yule Cat in a poem:
He picked on the very poor
That no new garments got
For Yule – who toiled
And lived in dire need.
From them he took in one fell swoop
Their whole Yule dinner
Always eating it himself
If he possibly could.
Hence it was that the women
At their spinning wheels sat
Spinning a colorful thread
For a frock or a little sock.
Because you mustn’t let the Cat
Get hold of the little children.
They had to get something new to wear
From the grownups each year.
See? You always hated it when your mom put socks and underwear in your stocking, but it turns out she was just saving you from being eaten by a killer kitty.
Have you ever proclaimed one of your Christmas presents to be the shittiest gift ever? First of all, you’re a terrible person and should be ashamed of yourself. Second, you’re wrong.
Tió de Nadal (“Christmas Log”), better known by its colloquial name Caga tió, which literally translates to “shitting log,” is a Christmas tradition celebrated in Catalonia. The tió is a small log that’s hollowed out and adorned with little legs and a face. Every day between December 8th and Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve, depending on how the family chooses to celebrate), the family gives their tió something to “eat” and then covers it with a blanket.
When the big day arrives, everyone gathers around the tió, beats it with sticks, sings traditional songs and orders it to “shit.” One of these songs, when translated to English, goes like this:
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
If the tió is sufficiently motivated by the combination of being sung to and beaten by a stick, a member of the family will be able to reach beneath the blanket and procure a gift (typically nuts and candies) that the log has… er… expelled. This process is then repeated until there’s nothing left.
This one isn’t a Christmas tradition, but it’s close enough. The Mari Lwyd is a Welsh New Years’ tradition in which a man dons a decorated horse’s skull on a wooden pole and conceals himself with a white sheet. He, along with a group of merrymakers, wander through the town singing songs and engaging in rhyme battles to try to gain admittance to peoples’ homes and other establishments (like pubs, obviously). Once inside, more songs are sung and sometimes gifts are exchanged before the party heads to the next house.
For those of us who aren’t fond of any creature with more than four legs, the idea of decorating a Christmas tree with spiderwebs isn’t a terribly pleasant one. But in the Ukraine, it’s a staid tradition that’s been practised for hundreds of years.
Ukrainian legend tells of a desperately poor widow who had nothing with which to decorate her Christmas tree. When she and her children awoke on Christmas morning, they discovered a spider had spun its web over the tree during the night, and the result was a beautifully decorated tree. When a beam of sunlight hit the spiderweb, it turned into silver and gold, and the widow was poor no more.
Because of this legend, Ukrainians consider spiders and their webs to bring good luck. Each Christmas, they decorate their trees with artificial webs to bring luck in the new year.