5 Wonderfully Weird Christmas Traditions
Just a little over three weeks and Father Christmas will be sneaking down the chimney. Or the benevolent witch Befana if you happen to be in Italy on the 5th of January. Or the Child Jesus. I know there are theoretical debates whether the newborn son of an omnipotent entity or a cheery old man with magical reindeer is more capable of defying the laws of physics; but Christmas is the season of wonders. Anything can happen and everything seems to happen indeed.
There are some wonderfully weird traditions around the world.
1. The Ogress, the Christmas Cat and the Yule Lads
The ogress Grýla has a colourful bloodline: she is a half-troll, half-animal lady. She is residing in the mountains with her thirteen boys, the Yule Lads, Jólakötturinn, her enormous, fluffy cat and her third husband. She is quite the maneater. In a literal sense of the word; at Christmas she is coming down from the mountains to take misbehaving children away and boil them in her cauldron. Her cat is not so different, not the cutest little kitty you have ever imagined by any stretch of imagination. The black feline`s sole purpose is to devour the soul of children who did not receive any clothes for Christmas. There is no other way to look at it: the cat is preying on poor children. No wonder Icelandic kids are so well-dressed!
And then there are the Yule lads: Sheep-Cote Clod, Spoon-Licker, Stubby, Gully Gawk, Door-Slammer, Post-Scrapper, Bowl-Licker, Sausage-Swiper, Doorway-Sniffer, Window-Peeper, Meat-Hook, Skyr-Gobbler and Candle-Stealer. Starting on 12 December, a Christmas Lad visits Icelandic homes each night, leaving gifts for good kids and rotten potatoes for naughty ones. They also spread some wonderfully wicked mischief: slamming doors at night, harassing sheep, licking spoons or stealing the traditional Icelandic snowflake bread. Most of them are stealing some kind of food. That leads us to believe that they won`t eat children at least. That is a start.
If you have ever read Terry Pratchett, you are possibly familiar with the deity Hogfather. If you have never read Terry Pratchett, stop what you are doing, buy any of his novels and then lock the door so you may not be disturbed by some earthly nonsense. Hogfather is Pratchett`s version of Father Christmasand he rides a sleigh pulled by four wildhogs: Gouger, Tusker, Rooter and Snouter.
On the last weekend of November, if you step outside in Wincanton, you can immediately notice something is going on. You can feel it in the air, you can see it on the face of that strange man with the wizard hat, you can hear it from voices mumbling “the Turtle moves” in the corner of the pub. Readers of the greatest satirist get together from all over and celebrate Hogswatch, their version Christmas. It is a relatively young tradition, but it never fails to amuse and entertain. Try one of Wincanton`s pubs for the traditional Hogswatch meat, you won`t be disappointed.
3. The Krampus
He is wicked, he has horns, he shows an uncanny resemblance to the devil, and he will visit your children on the fifth of December in German-speaking Alpine countries and in Hungary. The Krampus originates from the pre-Christian era; it is theorised that he was known as the Horned God of Witches. That sounds entirely possible considering his charming appearance and enchanting behaviour. The Krampus comes to punish naughty children and occasionally, to take them away – no wonder there are so many little angels in with all their homework done and all their rooms clean around Christmas. Saint Nicholas was sometimes depicted as a man taming a chained devil; with the popularisation of the figure, the Krampus became his usual companion. Because why not frighten your children to death on Christmas?
4. Traditional Christmas Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan
The quintessence of being a turkey consists of three facts. They are ugly. They are dumb. And they are very, very tasty. Roast turkey and mashed potatoes with some cranberry sauce is as perfect as it gets for a Christmas dinner. But there are no turkeys in Japan. The gem of the traditional Japanese Christmas dinner is a white sponge cake covered with cream and decorated with strawberries. And KFC. An expat realised the demand for a Christmas meal in the seventies, and it quickly went up the command chain of company. Following a ridiculously successful marketing campaign in 1974, fried chicken became the main Christmas meal in Japan, to the point where the food chain is taking reservations months in advance. White beard, red outfit, S and C initials, who else but Colonel Sanders!
5. The Caganer
In Catalonia and in the Catalan Countries, if you look closely at your Bethlehem sculpture, you might spot an extra figure tucked away in a corner, doing what, ehm, well, all of us has to do every now and then. The suspiciously squatting figure is not there to mock the festivities. The caganer is a traditional character bringing good luck. How this unexpected visitor fits into the nativity scene, you may ask? Usually hidden in the attic or in one of the corners. It is a Christmas tradition in Catalan countries to have the children find the caganer hiding in the scene. The caganer was originally depicted as a peasant man, but in the 20th Century the popularity of unorthodox figures began to rise. We have world leaders, politicians, pop-culture icons and even the ultimate authority of Christmas: Santa Claus.
Because nothing says Merry Christmas better than a pooping sculpture, right? Ho-Ho-Ho.
We have some fantastic Christmas traditions around the world, so if you happen to travel during the festive season, be sure to keep your eyes open. You never know what wonders you might find.