While this time of year is enjoyed by many for the indulgence and spirit of togetherness, it can also be incredibly difficult for some. Perhaps you harbor a few negative associations with the holiday season? These burdens are often carried with us from childhood, a previous relationship, or a bitter family feud. Maybe you’ve been struggling financially, and you feel lacking in self-worth. Or maybe because of work commitments you’ll be unable to head home and be with loved ones this Christmas.
Worry not, because this is a light-hearted look at some of the bizarre ways Christmas is celebrated around the world. Traditions old and new show us that the only expectations we should live by are our own. How you celebrate needn’t be by the books and in fact, it’s healthy to design your celebrations in a way that suits you and supports your wellbeing. If you’ve been enduring a holiday routine that simply isn’t for you, consider changing it. For all the rest, enjoy this look at fascinating traditions across the globe.
Catalonia’s Caga Tío “Defecating Log”
My old Spanish teacher introduced me to this one, and we enjoyed a good laugh together. Especially once I realized that she wasn’t kidding. Families in this part of the country create a character out of a small log, adorned with a festive hat and smiling face. It’s placed on the dining table for the couple weeks proceeding Christmas and ‘fed’ fruits and nuts. On Christmas morning, the family sings a song (which essentially goes something like, ‘sh*t well or I’ll beat you with a stick’) while beating the log with said sticks and the result is that it excretes treats (the gifts)! I know. Oh, and they also famously place caganers (defecating characters) right in the midst of what would otherwise be a normal nativity display. Go figure.
Caracas’s Roller skaters
Caracas, Venezuela comes to a standstill on Christmas day as roads are closed, and the masses roller skate their way to morning mass. And while this is the day with the biggest turnout, these skate-masses actually commence on December 16th right through to Christmas morning, and so city-dwellers enjoy the sight of the skaters for a good few days. Mass is completed with tostadas and coffee. Where do I sign up?
From Coal to Krampus
Various parts of Europe including Austria, Hungary, Croatia and the Czech Republic don’t just tell the naughty kids they’ll be getting coal under the tree this year. No, rather they terrify them with the ‘anti-Claus’, Krampus. This half-goat half-demon is there to punish all the children who have misbehaved this season. It’s common to find parades of people dressed as Krampus marching through the streets during the holiday season. Truly the stuff of nightmares.
The Christmas Spider, Ukraine
Legend has it that there was a poor, hardworking widow who lived in a small shack with her children. One summer’s day a pinecone fell on the floor of her home and took root. Her children excitedly cared for the tree, hoping it would grow big and strong in time for Christmas. On Christmas eve the widow sadly realized that she could not afford to decorate it, so went to bed disappointed. When the children awoke the next morning, they saw that the tree was covered in spider webs. Not only that but in the gentle glistening light of the brisk morning, they saw that these webs were made of fine threads of gold and silver. In that moment they knew they’d never be poor again. It’s a nice story and one that Ukrainians pay respects to by adorning their tree or elsewhere in their home with a small ornament of a cobweb to bring good fortune.
The Peter Pan Cup, London
In many parts of England, our fond Christmas traditions include a roast dinner, listening to the Queen’s Speech, and having a gentle stroll in the park, but for a select few it involves competing for the Peter Pan Cup. Members of the Serpentine Swimming Club in Hyde Park, London, plunge into the ice-cold lake water on Christmas day and race 100 yards with the aim of scoring said cup. They’re braver than me, I must say.
Night of the Radishes, Oaxaca
Radishes, native to China, were introduced to Mexico by the Spanish back in the day. During the Colonial times, they began being carved with religious scenes and enthusiastically used as table centerpieces for Christmas. Nowadays, it’s a huge deal in Oaxaca, and there’s an annual competition for who can carve the most elaborate radish. How vegan-friendly!
The Christmas Pickle, USA
Perhaps you already follow this weird and wonderful tradition. A friend in Michigan first told me about this bizarre gem, whereby an ornamental pickle is hidden on the Christmas tree, with the first person to find it on Christmas morning is thought to gain good fortune for the year ahead. The tradition is thought to have come from a German-born militant during the Civil War who was captured and almost starved to death had it not been for the kindness of a guard who gave him a pickle. He later attributed his life to said pickle, hence its good luck charm.
So you see, there are many ways to celebrate this holiday, should you wish you diverge from the norm. I’m a firm believer that traditions are only worth sticking to if there’s some enjoyment in doing so. Use this holiday season to shed what no longer serves you and consider making new traditions. After all, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
Do you celebrate Christmas with any weird and wonderful traditions in your family?
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