From the heart-warming to the strange, right down to petrifying, this is how some countries celebrate the holiday season
The season of Christmas is associated with lots of merrymaking; an abundance of presents under twinkling Christmas trees and scrumptious holiday dishes and treats, and one festive party after another. But not all parts of the world celebrate the season this way: for some, it’s a time when evil beings come out to play (the monstrous Yule Cat and the hair-raising Krampus), some feast on decomposed meat, while others hide their brooms from witches on the eve of Christmas. Find out how 10 bizarre traditions add diversity to the holiday season.
Germany and Austria: The Krampus
The fate of children who’ve misbehaved is sealed by the Krampus, the evil spirit of Santa Claus. The fearsome ghoul with an appearance of half-demon, half goat, prowls the streets in search of naughty children to whip with his bundle of reeds, or ruten.
Caracas, Venezuela: Roller skate to church
On the morning of Christmas day, Venezuelans in the capital rouse early and put on their roller skates and skate their way to Christmas mass. Roads are blocked off until 8am to allow this customary tradition to take place.
Japan: KFC feast
Although only about one per cent of the population celebrates Christmas, the Japanese get in the full swing of the occasion, marking it with buckets of KFC – it’s common for people to wait in line for hours for festive fried chicken. The colour red, which Japanese associate with death, is a big no-no.
Italy: La Befana, the kind witch
It’s probably the only time the presence of a witch is highly anticipated. In place of Santa, the kindly La Befana, a legendary old woman who at first declined and missed the chance of seeing baby Jesus with the Magi, went on her own way in search of him bearing presents of her son’s old belongings. La Befana received the infant’s blessings in return, and she continued traveling the world rewarding good children with presents.
United Kingdom: Icy Christmas Day swims
Call it sadistic, but in UK, Christmas revellers trade in relaxing walks in the woods for a dip in sub-zero waters. The annual swim sees daring swimmers, some in fancy Christmas costumes, taking the plunge in various ‘hotspots’ like Serpentine on Hyde Park, Brighton Beach and the Irish Sea.
Finland: Christmas Eve sauna
Unlike the British, the Finnish prefer to mark Christmas with a warming and relaxing session in the sauna before sunset on the eve. This ancient custom is also a sacred one as rural folk regard the sauna as a place where important life events occur, from giving birth to the healing of sickness, and finally, death.
Ukraine: Spider webs
Ukrainians trade in beautiful baubles and sparking tinsel on the Christmas tree in place of artificial spider webs and spiders believed to ‘capture’ good luck. The custom stems from an old wives’ tale about a poor family who couldn’t afford to decorate their tree and woke up on Christmas morning to a tree glistening with spider webs that turned into silver and gold.
Iceland: Jolakotturinn (Yule Cat)
Icelandics are a hardworking lot and naturally, their traditions frown upon laziness. Enter the scary Yule Cat, who stalks the land eating children who’ve not worked hard enough. Those who failed to finish their work and missed out shopping for new clothes are top of the beastly cat’s list.
Norway: Hide brooms
According to Norwegian folklore, witches surface on Christmas Eve and comb through homes, stealing brooms to ride. Hence before bedtime, the women of the house hide their brooms away.
Greenland: Fermented meat delicacies
You’ve every reason to be thankful for the delicious Christmas feast because chances are, the food can’t be as revolting as the fermented or decomposing meat on Greenland’s Christmas menu. Items like mattak (raw whale skin with blubber) and kiviak (seal skin stuffed with 500 dead auk birds and fermented for seven months) are apparently tastier than they sound.