We all have our usual Christmas traditions, but in other parts of the world the typical festive celebrations can be a bit unusual…
In Spain’s Catalonia region, the traditional home Christmas decorations are joined by another, unusual addition known as the Tió de Nadal. Essentially a hollow log with four stick legs, a painted smiling face and a little red hat, the Tió de Nadal (meaning Christmas Log) is a character from Catalan Christmas mythology. From 8th December (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) onwards, Tió is fed little bits to ‘eat’ by children who must take care of the log and keep it warm with a blanket, until Christmas Day when it is ordered to defecate the sweets and beaten with sticks by singing children.
In Japan, where Christmas isn’t a national holiday, the locals have a slightly different tradition when it comes to Christmas dinner. Instead of the usual Christmas turkey, Japanese families get together to share… a bucket of KFC. Shortly after the first branch of KFC opened in Japan, its manager Takeshi Okawara overheard a group of foreigners express how they missed eating turkey during the festive period. Thanks to an insanely successful marketing campaign in 1974 called Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, or Kentucky for Christmas, the Christmas chicken party bucket became an almost overnight phenomenon.
Every year in Sweden, the little town of Gävle celebrates the run up to Christmas by constructing an enormous goat statue made of straw. And every year, someone tries to burn it down. What began as a novel idea to decorate the town square with a (very flammable) straw goat that, originally, made it all the way to New Year before burning down, has now become an unusual tradition where half the town wants to preserve the goat and the other half revels in burning it down. In the past 50 years, the goat has been destroyed 35 times! Why a goat? In northern European countries big Yule celebrations have taken place for hundreds of years, and one of those celebrations involved the Yule goat, which helped deliver presents (so sometimes Santa’s sleigh is replaced by a goat!).
In old Central European folklore, Krampus is a demon-like creature, usually with animal horns and a goat skin suit, who accompanies St. Nicholas and the angels on the eve of 5th December, visiting households to reward good children and reprimand the bad. This anti-Santa has been a mythical figure in alpine regions for at least a millennium. Traditionally, he is represented by men dressing up in wooden masks, with bells and horse hair whips, who roam the streets and frighten children and onlookers, and in Austria, Krampus parades take place during the first two weeks of December, where crowds gather to watch the demonic spectacle.
According to an Icelandic tradition, anyone who finished all the chores before Christmas would be gifted with new clothing. Anyone who didn’t, however, would have to face the Jólakötturinn, or Yule Cat. Not just some household moggy, the Jólakötturinn is a Christmas monster that towers above houses and eats up any lazy children who have not been gifted new clothes. The mythical creature may well date back to the dark ages, and was used as a threat by farmers who wanted to scare their workings into finishing off the wool processing before the Christmas period.
In Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, it has become a yearly tradition for the whole city to rollerskate to church for early Morning Mass. In fact, access to many parts of the city is blocked for vehicles before 8 am, allowing both young and old to skate to church safely. Children will often tie string to their big toe and dangle the string out of the window for morning skaters-by to wake them up with a gentle tug. Religious celebrations kick off in Venezuela on 16th December, when morning masses are held every day until 24th, and the locals light firecrackers and ring bells in the early hours to wake everyone up.
The Italian Father Christmas is known as Babbo Natale, however, for a long time in Italian folklore, it was the good with La Befana who brought the presents down your chimney on 6th January for Epiphany (when the three wise men arrived at the stable). A folkloric character who has changed through the ages, La Befana was originally seen as evil and people rang bells to keep her away. Nowadays she is seen as a gentle witch who gives gifts to good Italian children and families will leave out a glass of wine and regional sweets for her arrival.