We all have our expectation of Christmas. We expect the holiday season to be about peace and understanding, family and friendship but as always the world rarely conforms to our expectations. It should come as no surprise that there are so many weird Christmas traditions around the world. Here’s a list of our top 10.
10. The Caganer
The caganer, translatable (politely) only as the ‘defecator’ is a Spanish addition to the Christmas manger Pantheon. The traditional birth of Christ scene with the manger and the magi and so forth is completed by the presence of a man (usually placed in the corner for obvious reasons) caught in the act of defecating with pants around knees. Why the manger scene needed this nobody knows. It’s tradition.
9. Comrade Christmas
Ded Moroz or “Father Frost” is the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus. While he has been present in Russian fairy tales since the 17th century the Communists reinvented Ded Moroz as a symbol of the regime along with the ‘Snow Maiden” and “new Year Boy”. While initially considered an enemy of the people and an ally of ‘priests and boyars’ Ded Moroz was quickly adopted as a symbol of the New Year, the communist replacement Christmas and there were even quite a few nativity scenes featuring the secular (or rather profane) trio. Ded Moroz is still popular today though he is now seen as a Christian symbol once more.
8. La Befana
La Befana is another Santa proxy a kindly old witch that delivers presents in early January to nice children. The tradition derives from the Vatican’s unwillingness to accept Santa as a gift giver as that would have made Saint Nicholas too important in the saint ranks. Instead the legend says that the Magi stumbled across the old witch in their search for Jesus and invited her to join them. She refused but later had a change of heart, but she didn’t manage to find Jesus. She is still searching for him every year, leaving presents for good kids and onions or coal for the bad.
7. Caracas Roller Christmas
We all love to skate for the holidays but what do you do if there’s no snow or ice for Christmas and it’s even too hot to have an artificial skating rink? In Caracas, the capital of Venezuala people go to Christmas mass on roller skates. Roads are closed and the police are tasked with protecting the stakers all the way to church and back.
Norway has a strong pre-Christian tradition and to this day people engage in Julebukking or ‘Christmas goat-ing”. While the goat is anathema to a lot of Christian cultures, the Norwegians dress in goat masks and visit friends who have to guess who is behind the mask. The practice dates back to the Norse times when Thor was said to travel in a goat-drawn chariot.
The Austrian Krampus is a demon and, oddly enough Santa’s partner in Crime. While Santa brings presents to good kids, the Krampus punishes or even abducts bad children. Men dressed as the Krampus roam the streets in winter frightening the children into staying good for the next year (or at least day).
4. Christmas Spider
An Ukrainian tradition has people decorate their trees with not only decorations and tinsel but an artificial spider and web as well. The tradition comes from a Christmas story about an old poor woman who couldn’t afford to decorate her tree for Christmas. She awoke in the morning to find that a spider had decorated it for her!
3. Sauna Claus
Estonian Christmas is weird. Despite the trappings of Christmas common to other Christian countries, Estonians claim that their Christmas traditions have little to do with Christianity. And indeed they do. For instance it is traditional for Estonian families to have a sauna together on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Estonians also buy or otherwise procure real hay for Christmas and encourage children to play with it.
2. Delicious Christmas Treats
Greenland Christmas isn’t very spectacular but what is spectacular is the Christmas dinner! Pork Rinds? Why not try raw whale skin instead. Christmas turkey dinner? How about the Inuit delicacy of Auk (a sea bird) wrapped in seal skin and put in the ground for six months to ‘mature’ instead? Delicious!
1. Zwarte Piet
Ready to delve into a little bit of Racism for the grand finale? In the Netherlands and northern Belgium Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas comes in late november on a white horse from Spain on a steamboat. He travels the country taking names and on the 5th of December he delivers presents or beats and alternatively abducts bad little boys and girls. The racism? Why he does this with his five to eight slaves (or more recently ‘good friends’) who are of course white Dutch kids in blackface. These black ‘friends’ called the Zwarte Piet are the ones usually delivering the presents or administering the beatings. Alas, the Piet have mercifully lost their child-beating privileges but why they are still played by whites in blackface is a mystery.