Germany & Austria
Many might know the Krampus as the star of a dark Christmas film from 2015, but in Germany and Austria, he’s a real thing. Father Christmas’ devilish friend is a big deal over there, who punishes naughty children throughout the festive period. According to Bavarian Alpine folklore, the Krampus is half-goat, half-demon, with hooves and large horns. It’s customary around Christmas to offer guests a Krampus schnapps, which consists of a strong distilled fruit brandy. Sounds terrifying, but people have been exchanging greeting cards featuring the creature since the 1800s.
If you thought Germany’s traditions were strange, Catalonia’s is on a different level. The caga tió – or ‘defecating log’ – is a big deal in north eastern Spain where, in the fortnight leading up to Christmas, a tiny, grinning creature is created out of a small log and placed on the dining table. The log is fed with fruit and nuts and covered with a blanket so it won’t be cold. Children must look after the log so that it, err, defecates presents on Christmas Day. Then, when the big day comes, it’s beaten with sticks in order to get it to excrete its goodies. Ok then…
One of the things we all look forward to on Christmas Day is the thought of stuffing our faces with turkey, roast potatoes, pigs in blankets and all the trimmings. In Japan, it’s all about KFC. Strange (and slightly jealous) yes – but there’s an interesting reason why a bargain bucket has become the symbol of Christmas over there. It all comes down to clever marketing: Japan is a country with very few Christians and thus they have no long-held tradition of celebrating Jesus’ birth. So back in the 70s, the marketing bigwigs for KFC decided to capitalise on this, and convinced people that eating their food is a perfectly normal way to celebrate the festive period. These days, an estimated 3.6 million people eat KFC on Christmas Day.
Besides your mum going around the living room with a bin liner as soon as the present opening is over, Christmas isn’t really a time for cleaning – it’s a time for eating and falling asleep on the sofa. So, we’re not surprised to hear that Norwegians hide their brooms on Christmas Eve. However, it’s not because they’re in for a lazy Christmas, but rather they’re following an old urban legend that dictates brooms left out overnight will attract witches who’ll use them to fly about the country wreaking havoc.
If there’s one place you don’t want to be single over the festive period, it’s the Czech Republic. In order to predict whether their love lives will be fruitful in the new year, unmarried women stand with their backs to their front door and throw their shoes over their shoulder. If the shoes land with the toe pointing towards the door, the woman will supposedly get married in the next 12 months.
Greenland is all about its unusual delicacies over the festive period. Mattak – raw whale skin with blubber – in a popular choice, whilst kiviak, a small bird that is wrapped in seal skin and buried for several months then eaten once decomposed, is another. We’ll never complain about sprouts again…
We also have our own weird customs right here in the UK. Mari Lwyd (which means ‘grey mare’ in English) is an old tradition in South Wales, something that came from pagan traditions before Christmas was introduced. The tradition involves the arrival of a horse – which is a horse’s skull attached to a pole and decorated with ribbons – to the door of a house or pub along with some followers. There is then a ‘battle of wits’, in which the Mari party and the people inside the door will exchange insults in rhyme. At the end of the battle, which lasts as long as the two parties can think of creative slanders, the Maris leave with another song. We don’t know about you, but suddenly our tradition of eating and drinking as much as possible on Christmas Day has become even more appealing.