Day 17 in our ChristmasCalendar2019!
Food: Food for Thought
Even though Christmas may have begun solely as a Christian holiday, with time people from all over the world have embraced the festive season and added their own “peculiar” traditions!
Manger scenes, Santa Claus, and smiley snowmen are still the characters we mostly think about when we think about Christmas, but surprisingly, you will discover some very different celebrations on December’s most famous and special day.
With Christmas fast approaching, today, I have decided to share with you some of the most unusual (to say the least!) Christmas traditions around the world!
Belfana the Witch: Italy
Forget Santa and December 25th when in Italy, as all the action takes places on the evening of January 5th. According to folklore, an old woman named Belfana visits all the children of Italy to fill their stockings with candy and leave them presents if they’ve been good. Just like Santa Claus, Belfana enters through the chimney and leaves treats to the children – typically local delicacies.
Fried Caterpillars: South Africa
When we think of Christmas food, minced pie and turkey are often placed high on the list. In South Africa, however, the creepy crawlies are what the local children look forward to. Fried caterpillars on Christmas may seem like one of the weirdest Christmas traditions ever around the world, but these caterpillars aren’t just the run-of-the-mill variety you find in the garden. A particular type, the Pine Tree Emperor Moth, or Christmas caterpillar, is covered in very festive hues – bringing to all who swallow it a charming extra luck for the coming year.
Bad Santa: Austria
In general, children are well acquainted with Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Saint Nick, but they can consider themselves lucky that they don’t live in Austria, where a ghoulish creature called ‘Krampus’, the evil accomplice of St Nicholas, is known to wander in the streets in search of badly-behaved children. During the month of December everyone can expect to see terrifying masked figures out that will be scaring kids and adults with ghastly pranks. We can see these evil creatures during the annual Krampus parade in Vienna.
Roller Skate Mass: Caracas
In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, swathes of city-dwellers make their way to mass on roller skates every year on Christmas morning. The tradition is now so well-established that many of the city’s streets are closed to traffic from 8am on the same day, so that the skating congregation can get to church safely. It’s even said that children will sleep with one lace from their skates tied around their toe, the other skate dangling from the window so that their friends can wake them up with a friendly tug on the lace.
The Yule Cat: Iceland
One of the weirdest festive traditions I have heard of comes from Iceland, where a giant cat is said to roam the snowy countryside at Christmas time. Traditionally farmers would use the Yule Cat as an incentive for their workers – those who worked hard would receive a new set of clothes, but those who didn’t would be devoured by this gigantic cat-like beast.
A Cobweb Christmas: Ukraine
Ukraine’s strangest festive tradition is not one for arachnophobes! Where we would have baubles, tinsel and stars, Ukrainians use decorations that mimic the natural formation of spiders’ webs shimmering with dew.
The tradition goes back to a folktale about a poor widow who could not afford to decorate a tree for her children. Legend has it that spiders in the house took pity on the family’s plight, and spun beautiful webs all over the tree, which the children awoke to find on Christmas morning. Spiders’ webs are also considered to be lucky in Ukrainian culture.
Colonel Santa: Japan
Back in 1974, the American fast-food restaurant KFC released a festive marketing campaign in Japan. The seemingly simple slogan “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) spawned a national tradition that still thrives to this day. Although Christmas is not even a national holiday in Japan, families from all over the country head to their local KFC for a special Christmas Eve meal.
Festive Sauna: Finland
Many homes in Finland come equipped with their own sauna, and at Christmas time this cosy spot becomes a sacred space associated with long dead ancestors. On Christmas Eve, it’s customary to strip naked and take a long and respectful stint in the sauna, which is also believed to be home to the legendary sauna ‘elf’. After the sauna session, locals head out to the evening celebrations – while spirits of those ancestors take their place.
I don’t know about you, but this tradition sounds awkward for those big Christmas family gatherings…
Shoes by the Fire – The Netherlands
Every year in in the days leading up to December 5th, Dutch children eagerly place their shoes by the fire in hopes that “Sinterklaas” will fill them with small gifts and treats in the night. Traditionally, carrots are left in the shoes for the companion of Sinterklaas, a white horse named Amerigo.
In the olden days, naughty children would receive a potato instead of gifts, but potato punishment is no longer considered an appropriate scare tactic.
The Yule Goat: Sweden
Last but not least, one more Christmas tradition from here – Sweden – which may just be the oldest tradition still celebrated on the list. The Yule Goat dates back to at least the 11th century where there are stories of a man-sized goat figure, led by Saint Nicholas, who had the power to control the devil.
The Yule Goat, as you can imagine, has changed quite a bit throughout history. In the 17th century, it was popular for young men to dress as the goat creature and run around pulling pranks and demanding gifts. By the 19th century, the goat became the good guy – a giver of gifts. Instead of Father Christmas or Santa Claus, men in the family would dress up as the goat and give gifts to the entire family.
Today, the man-goat no longer exists and the Yule Goat has taken its place in modern history as a traditional Christmas ornament on trees throughout Sweden. In the larger cities, giant versions of these goat ornaments are created out of straws and red ribbons.
Happy Holidays everyone, whether your celebrations fit in the usual or unusual Christmas tradition!