Christmas is celebrated (and not celebrated) in countless ways around the globe. Some decorate trees, hang mistletoe and drink egg nog while others go out to the movies and eat Chinese food. Then there are those that display pooping figurines, hide all the brooms in the house or roller skate to mass. Read on for some of the world’s strangest and most interesting Christmas traditions.
If you thought that being on Santa’s naughty list was the scariest thing to happen around Christmas, you’ve never heard of Krampus Night. Krampus is Santa’s evil twin whose job is to beat and punish all the children who have misbehaved. On December 5th men dress up in some of the scariest devil-like costumes you can imagine and drunkenly run around towns hitting people with sticks and switches. The Krampus legend originates in the Germanic alpine regions and is widespread throughout Hungary, Bavaria, Slovenia and is especially popular in Austria.
Spain, Portugal and Italy
A traditional Christmas tradition in parts of Spain, Portugal and Italy, is to set up a model village of Bethlehem. Along with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, a Caganer, or “Shitter” in English, is placed in the scene. The Caganer is a figurine, traditionally of a man, in the act of defecating, pants around his knees bending over with pile of feces at his heels. He is usually placed in a corner, perhaps because he needs privacy. The Caganer has been around for a few hundred years and in recent times it has evolved from a traditionally dressed man taking care of business to figurines of celebrities, nuns, politicians and Santa Claus.
On Christmas Eve, unmarried Czech women practice a traditional fortune telling method to predict their relationship status for the upcoming year. If you’d like to give this a try, here’s how to do it: Stand with your back to your door and toss one of your shoes over your shoulder. If it lands with the toe facing the door it means that you will get married within the year. If it lands with the heel facing the door, you’re in for another year of unmarried status.
Caga Tió, the pooping log, is a bizarre and widespread Christmas tradition in Catalonia. It starts with a hollowed out log, which is propped up on four little leg-like sticks and then painted to have a face. Every night, beginning December 8th, Caga Tió is “fed” and covered with a blanket (so that he doesn’t catch a cold). On Christmas Eve or Christmas day Caga Tió is put in the fireplace, beaten with a stick and ordered to “poop”. He is encouraged, along with the beating, by singing songs with catchy lyrics such as:
caga tió (poop log)
caga torró (poop turrón)
avellanes i mató (hazelnuts and cottage cheese)
si no cagues bé (if you don’t poop well)
et daré un cop de bastó. (I’ll hit you with a stick.)
caga tió!” (poop log!)
When he is done pooping candies, nuts and such, Caga Tió will then give one last push to reveal an onion, a head of garlic or a salt herring.
Norwegian legend says that on Christmas Eve witches and evil spirits come out looking for brooms to ride on (a bad omen). To thwart the witches, all brooms in the house are hidden and men go outside and fire a shotgun to scare the bad spirits away.
For many Japanese, traditional Christmas dinner is Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is so popular and well marketed that reservations may have to be made to eat at a KFC on Christmas in Japan.
In Caracas, Venezuela, church-goers attend an early morning mass between December 16th and December 24th. Not so strange for a mostly Catholic population. What is unusual about this practice is how everyone gets to church: on roller skates. The streets are blocked off to vehicular traffic until 8 am and children, the night before, tie one end of a piece of string to their big toes and hang the other end out the window. As roller skaters go by the next morning, they give a tug to all the strings hanging out the windows.
In Ukraine, Christmas trees are decorated with all the typical kinds of ornaments and one not so typical. An artificial spider and web are hidden in the tree and good luck is given to the one who finds it. A Ukrainian folk tale says that a poor widowed mother could not afford decorations for her family’s Christmas tree. One Christmas morning she awoke to find a spider had beautifully decorated the tree with its web, making for a very happy Christmas. (Can you find the spider web hidden on this Christmas tree?)
If you would like your Christmas wish to come true in Great Britain, all you have to do is take a turn stirring the Christmas pudding. Traditional Christmas pudding is made of dried fruit and nuts, similar to fruitcake. It is often doused in brandy and flambéed in a dimly lit room for a dramatic effect.
La Font de la Figuera
Spain seems to have quite a few unusual Christmas traditions. Here is a New Year’s Eve’s one for you: In Spain it is customary to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve. The small town on La Font de la Figuera has taken this tradition one step further – a New Year’s Eve run wearing just red underwear. People of all ages participate in this event.