Every year on Christmas Eve the city of Remedios in Cuba becomes the site of Parrandas, a religious carnival that began 200 years ago when a priest sent altar boys into the street banging on pots and pans to keep people awake for midnight mass.
Krampus and Perchta
In most places when children are bad they get coal. Not in the Alpine countries. Here, St. Nick is accompanied by two demonic figures who certainly look the part. Krampus, children are told, will put them in a sack and drag them of to hell if they have been bad. But that’s only if you’re lucky. It’s a bad day when Perchta gets her hands on the naughty children. She allegedly will rip open their abdomen, pull out their guts, and stuff them with straw. Sweet dreams!
Every year in Italy during the festival of Epiphany an old witch known as “La Befana” walks through the village streets giving gifts to children.
Skating and Toe Tags
If you ever happen to be in Caracas, Venezuela early on Christmas morning you will find the streets closed to traffic as hundreds of people roller skate to mass. Sometimes kids will even tie a piece of rope to one of their toes and let it dangle out the window as they go to sleep the night before. On their way to church the next morning, skaters will tug at any rope they see hanging down from a window and the children will wake up to watch the spectacle.
In acknowledgement of the Christmas Holidays, Bavarian Highlanders fire handheld mortars into the air every year while wearing their traditional dress.
According to Greek folklore, these subterranean goblins come up to the surface once every year during the 12 days of Christmas. During the rest of the year they stay underground sawing away at the World Tree so that it will collapse and the Earth along with it. When they are just about to make their final cuts, however, Christmas comes around and they forget their original mission as they surface to terrorize humanity. After Christmas though, they return to their underground dwellings only to find that the tree has healed itself so they must begin their sinister work anew.
Rumor has it that in Germany the last decoration to go on the tree is a pickle and that the first child to find it on Christmas receives an extra present. As popular as this story is around the world, the truth is that most Germans would have no idea what you are talking about. It’s a rumor, albeit a rumor that someone is making a killing selling glass pickles off of.
Every year, 2 weeks before Christmas children in the former Yugoslavian Republics sneak up on their mother and tie her feet to her chair. They then dance around singing, “Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, what will you pay to get away?” She then gives them their presents. Evidently it’s not enough to satisfy their little materialistic appetites though, as the following week they do the same thing to their father.
In southern Louisiana massive bonfires are burned every Christmas Eve to light up the river so that Papa Noel (the south Louisiana Santa Claus) can find their houses.
Also known as Black Peter, Zwarte Piet is Sinterclaas’s helper. Usually depicted as a young boy with a blackface and curly hair, ever since immigration to the Netherlands increased in recent years there has been a slew of racist allegations against the figure. As a result parents have begun to tell their children that his black face is a result of chimney soot rather than the original story of him being an Ethiopian slave boy rescued by St. Nick.
In the Ukraine, Christmas trees have an extra decoration. Legend has it that a mother was so poor she couldn’t afford decorations for her tree. When she woke up on Christmas morning she found that spiders had decorated for her. For this reason, every Christmas Ukrainians add spider webs to their tennenbaums.
Every December a group of competitors congregates on the shore of Serpentine Lake in London as they get ready to take part in a 100 yard race through the freezing water.
Tradition has it that whoever is making the Christmas pudding in England should make a wish as they stir clockwise thus ensuring that their wish will come true.
Christmas Eve in the Czech Republic is supposedly a single lady’s chance to find out what her future holds. Standing outside her front door if she throws a shoe over her shoulder and it lands with the toes pointing towards the door she’ll be married within the year.
For those of you living in the northern hemisphere (most of you probably) remember that seasons work differently south of the equator. In the land down under going to the beach on Christmas is quite normal.
If you want to be able to clean up after the holidays in Norway you had better hide your brooms on Christmas Eve otherwise broom stealing witches might come to your house…and steal your brooms.
Tio de Nadal
In one of the stranger traditions on our list, every year on December 8th in Catalonia, children begin to feed a log that the family keeps in their home. Sounds crazy right? But that’s not all. They also cover it up so it doesn’t get cold and then, on Christmas Eve, all the children begin beating the log so that it will poop out their presents. Who could make this stuff up?
In a custom dating back to pagan times, every year around Christmas a group of Bavarians dress up as “straw devils” and run through the city of Bischofswiesen, scaring the inhabitants.
In Slovakia, there is a curious tradition where the patriarch of the family fills his spoon with loksa, a type of pudding, and flings it at the ceiling. The more he can get to stick up there the better his harvest will be for the next year.
Meaning “gray mare” in English, this Welsh tradition involves a person covered in a sheet while holding a horse’s skull on a pole. The jaw is usually spring loaded so as they walk around town the Mari Lwyd snaps at people and wreaks havoc.
You’ve read our article about the 25 of the strangest foods from around the world then maybe you’re already well versed in the eating habits of other cultures. This one really takes things to another level though. In Greenland, Christmas lunch usually consists of Auk (a type of bird) that has been wrapped in seal skin and buried for over half a year. Yum.
Once again, it’s back to Catalonia, the land of poop logs. This time, rather than a log pooping however, it’s a person. And not just any person – it’s a person in the middle of a nativity scene. Why he’s there is the subject of debate, but after the poop logs, nothing surprises us anymore.
A testament to KFC’s marketing team, they somehow managed to get the entire country of Japan to consider their chicken a holiday staple. It has become so popular in fact, that people sometimes have to reserve their buckets months in advance.
Every year in the town of Gävle, Sweden since 1966 a huge goat has been constructed out of straw and every year groups of vandals have made an attempt to burn it down. Over the past half-century it has actually only survived 10 times and while the event has brought the village of Gävle a certain amount of fame the official stance of the town is that it disapproves of the burnings. Only 4 people, however, have been caught and prosecuted in the past 50 years.
Although North Korea is a resolutely atheist state as mandated by it’s communist government, their party crashing leadership has its own way of celebrating the holidays – by threatening to declare war. When South Korea built a Christmas tree near the border in 2010 the North threatened to shoot it down because it was nothing more than “propaganda”. You see, North Korean border towns don’t have the luxury of electricity, and seeing a huge tree with millions of lights on it across the border might convince people that the South is the place to be (it is).