9 Strangest Christmas Traditions From Around The World
December 05, 2017 6:00 AM ‐ Christmas
This article is more than five years old.
It's a tradition that at this time of year newspapers and websites publish a list of Christmas traditions. Higgypop is no stranger to that festive tradition, only we're doing it in our own way. But what's a 'normal tradition' for us might seem strange to others. For example, in the UK it used to be the habit that a strangely dressed, bearded fellow would appear as if by magic in everyone's living room on Christmas Day. But enough about Noel Edmond's TV specials, what do the rest of the world get up to when celebrating the birth of little baby Jesus?
1. Christmas Log
Putting a tree in your house is for beginners. Take things to the next level like the Catalonians with their magic shitting Christmas log!
Catalonia, the region of North West Spain which is currently enjoying a somewhat frosty relationship with the Spanish Government, is home to one our favourite Christmas traditions.
Tió de Nadal translates as Christmas Log, and you'll see one in many homes in Catalonia, and other parts of Spain. The idea is that this little log brings presents into the home at Christmas. It is often dressed up with a little face, and kept warm with a blanket, and maybe even a little red hat, a berretina. So far, so Christmassy.
Things become a bit more unusual from December 8th, the Day of The Immaculate Conception. Households start to feed their log every night, in a similar way to children leaving mince pies out for reindeer.
By the time you get to Christmas Eve, after weeks of feeding, the log is ready to 'produce'. He is moved to the fireplace, and the family take it in turns to whack the log with a stick and demand it shits out presents. Yes, like a defecating piñata, the household sing traditional songs about the log whilst whacking him with sticks and asking him to shit out presents. What do they sing? How about…
Hazlenuts and mato cheese.
If you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick.
As if by magic, if you look under his blanket at this point you should find small presents and sweets have been 'crapped out'. The present pooping come to an end when the log shits out a herring!
Then they burn the log on the fire. What a life!
This could also explain why another name for this tradition is Caga tió, or 'Shit Log'. If Iceland, Kerry Katona and Peter Andre's Christmas supermarket of choice, are looking for another product to get on the shelves this Christmas then look no further – the Chocolate Shit Log could be a winner!
2. El Caganer
Off to Spain again for this one. We're all familiar with the Nativity scene, little figures, often carved of word, which depict the scene round the birth of Jesus. Complete with Mary and Joseph, some shepherds, the Three Wise Men, even a few lambs and a donkey perhaps. Right there in the middle, wrapped in swaddling clothes, a little baby Jesus. But, head to parts of Northern Spain, and some parts of Italy, France and Portugal, and hidden away somewhere in that scene you might spot an El Caganer – literally 'the crapper' or 'the shitter'. A little figure, often in traditional dress, squatting down on the ground and having a crap. You'll even find modern celebrity versions of El Caganer, with models of The Queen, Donald Trump and famous singers and footballers making an appearance.
The tradition has been going on for at least two hundred years, and shows no signs of slowing down. It's seen by many to be a symbol of fertilisation, with the crap being used to enrich the new year's activities. Others say the figure of famous politicians as caganers acts as a leveller, bringing the mighty down. Charges of blasphemy have been levelled at this practice, but defenders point out that the grotesque nature of the caganer acts as a parallel to the grotesque nature of the death of Jesus.
This is definitely one Christmas tradition we'd like to see more of!
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3. The Yule Lads
Photo: © Jennifer Boyer
Originating in Icelandic folklore, the Yule Lads are 13 trolls who individually visit all children in Iceland for the 13 days preceding Christmas. Each night, the kids leave a shoe on their windowsill, and if they've been good, the Lad will leave them a small gift or some sweets. If they've been bad, then it could be a rotten potato, for example.
Then Yuletide-lads each have their own name and personality, such as Door-Slammer, Window-Pepper and, er, Sausage-Swiper.
The Lads are often shown alongside the Icelandic Yule Cat, an enormous black cat who roams the country at Christmas time eating any children who didn't receive new clothes for Christmas.
You might discount these stories as just fairy tales, but Iceland is a country which takes its folklore very seriously. It's not too difficult to see why, with a land sat atop a rip in the tectonic plate of the North Atlantic, with hot springs and volcanoes in plentiful supply. In Iceland they still regularly alter plans for new roads, bridges and buildings so as not to disturb the Huldufólk, or hidden folk, who are said to live there.
4. A Bucket Of KFC's Finest
Christmas, being a Christian festival in origin, isn't viewed with such importance in many non-Christian countries like Japan. Whilst the festival is acknowledged, the country lacks the deep sense of tradition you may get elsewhere. Thankfully, into this void stepped the marketing department for KFC, who started marketing the idea of a 'party barrel' of fried chicken as a way to celebrate Christmas.
Now, millions of people in Japan every Christmas celebrate with a bucket of finger lickin' good chicken.
5. The Christmas Pickle
Allegedly this tradition originates in Germany, perhaps as a result of the number of German immigrants who settled in the American Midwest. This tradition involves hiding a decorative pickle ornament somewhere on the Christmas tree. The first child to spot it receives a gift and good luck for the next year.
Sounds like the kind of things the Germans would get up to, right? They love their pickles. Well, apparently it's unheard of in Germany, they've probably got enough on their hands with Krampus...
Austria & Germany
Krampus is best described as a horrific and terrifying Christmas devil. A horned beast with long hair and huge fangs, he's very much the stuff of nightmares. A hybrid beast culled from a mixture of Norse and classical mythology, he is said to arrive on the 5th December on Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night.
He arrives ready to beat naughty children with birch twigs, and if they're naughty, cart them off to hell. Sounds like an ideal threat to use on naughty children if the line 'Santa won't bring you anything' isn't having the desired effect.
7. Befana, The Christmas Witch
Befana, in Italian folklore, is an old woman who travels across Italy on the 5th January, the eve of Epiphany, delivering gifts to children. She is said to fill the socks of the children with toys and sweet if they've been good, or coal, dark sweets, onions and garlic if they've been bad. So pretty similar to Father Christmas/Sanata Claus in that respect.
She travels by broomstick, wearing a black shawl and covered in soot due to her habit of flying into the home via the chimney. For this reason she is known as the Christmas Witch.
The legend of Befana says that she offered shelter to the Three wise Men on their journey to find Jesus. They were so impressed with her hospitality they offered her the chance to come with them to visit, but she said she was too busy doing her housework. (Men, eh? Why didn't they help?) She later regretted not going, and to this day she continues to fly around searching for Jesus.
Any children seeing her in their house are said to receive a whack from her broomstick. A handy way of keeping the kids in bed on Christmas morning we guess.
8. Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?
You might think it's a bit of squeeze getting everyone around the table on Christmas Day, getting Gran down one end and pervy Uncle Roger at the other. Spare a thought for the followers of the Portuguese tradition 'Consoda'. Here, families set a place for recently deceased relatives. If you can get over the thought of your dead rellies watching you stuff sprouts and stuffing in your mouth it will apparently bring good luck.
9. Making Sprouts Sound Delicious
If there are some aspects of Christmas food you're not so keen on, mincemeat, sprouts, cinnamon, anything by Heston Bloomenawful, then spare a thought for the chilly citizens of Greenland.
A large country occupying 836,000 square miles yet with the a population of 56,000, the same as Hertfordshire's finest town, Hemel Hempstead, maybe food being in short supply could explain what's on the menu at Christmas. How about some Mattak? Raw whale skin with blubber. And to follow, some kiviak.
An auk, a small bird, is wrapped in seal skin, buried for several months, and then eaten once decomposed. But please make sure you leave some room for the Quality Street!
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