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10th Dec 2021

The 10 most bizarre festive traditions around the world

Danny Jones

10 most bizarre festive traditions

From Krampus and KFC, to faeces and fried caterpillars – feast your eyes on the 10 most bizarre festive traditions

Hands up who’s feeling fatigued at the thought of another pandemic Christmas. Yep, us too. So here to take your mind off those Omicron anxieties is our virtual tour of the some of the strangest ways the festive season is celebrated around the world.

From loading up on KFC and fried caterpillars to evil Santas and festive poo logs, there’s a lot to learn about how Christmas is done differently. While some traditions might give you FOMO – hello Iceland’s book and hot choc sesh – others might make you thankful for the basic British traditions like watching the Queen’s Speech and eating mince pies in October.

10. Christmas In The Sauna – Finland

We typically associate December with frosty weather and the simultaneous hope of snow whilst still being able to keep warm in the cold temperatures. With that in mind, sod putting the heating on as well as a garish Christmas jumper – the Finns have got it sorted: they spend their festive season in the sauna – Estonians do it too.

‘Joulusauna’, as it is known in Finland, is the centuries-old tradition where people come together in over three million saunas on Christmas Eve to cleanse and purify their bodies, as well as calm their minds before sunset. Why before sunset? Well, because the Finnish also believe that once the sun goes down, gnomes, elves and the spirits of the dead come out to join them. Standard.

9. Jolabokaflod – Iceland

Try saying that after a few sherries. ‘Jolabokaflod‘ is the rather wholesome little Icelandic tradition where every Christmas Eve, people spend the night curled up with a good book and hot cup of cocoa. No, it’s not a Facebook mummy meme – this is a genuine tradition and we quite like the sound of it, to be honest. Not that weird, just nice.

That’s right: before the big day, families swap brand new books they’ve given to each other as presents and drink hot chocolate together around the fire. Roughly translating to ‘Christmas book flood’, the tradition started during World War II when paper was one of the few things not rationed, so while other gifts were rare commodities, books were in good supply. As for the hot choc, why not?

8. The Colonel’s KFC for Crimbo Dinner – Japan

That’s it, we’re moving to Japan. From one great idea to another, apparently, the Japanese often spend Christmas eating everyone’s favourite southern-fried fast food offering, KFC. Now, admittedly, it’s hard to beat a proper Christmas dinner – but the dirty takeaway fiend in us would be tempted to settle for the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices at a push.

Millions of Japanese families eat KFC for Christmas dinner every year after enterprising manager Takeshi Okawara opened the first location in Nagoya back in November 1970. After a big ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ marketing campaign when the chain went national in 1974, chicken-fever had hit and the non-Christian nation was happy to adopt the Colonel as their de facto Santa Claus.

7. ‘Witch, Don’t Steal My Broom’ – Norway

Looping back to Scandinavia once again, their rich culture and investment in Nordic folklore often means they have some of the best festive traditions packed with plenty of backstory. However, in the case of Norweigan broom-hiding on Christmas Eve, there is little detail as to the origins of this peculiar Pagan practice.

Norwegian broom hiding

Speaking of Paganism, that’s about all we know about broom hiding: ancient folklore used to warn that witches and other evil spirits would arrive on the night before Christmas – so what better way to stop their toil and trouble than by stealing their ride? They also do the Scandanavian tradition of ‘Julebukking’, which is a whole different kettle of fish, should you choose to research.

6. Mari Lwyd – Wales

Not too dissimilar to ‘Julebukking’, Mari Lwyd is the old Welsh custom that revolves mainly around getting very merry on the mulled wine and singing yourself hoarse with Christmas carols. Sounds quite normal, right? Well, there are some other aspects that sound less typical for most folk during the holidays.

The standout feature of this ancient Twelfth Night tradition is the giant hobby horse – constructed from a real horse’s skull, some cloth and a big pole – which is carried through the streets as people sing and drink. Its popularity and meaning have changed over time, with many people simply taking their kids to carol outside people’s homes with a small hobby horse in hand – but it’s still a unique one.

5. ‘Black Pete’ – Netherlands

Now, this is where things get more problematic, as some festive traditions are born out of a far less progressive time than 2021. This brings us to ‘Black Pete’ – in short, a Dutch tradition where people dress up in blackface.

On December 5, people celebrate Saint Nicholas Day or ‘Sinterklass’ by dressing up as Black Pete: a slave character from Holland’s colonial past who accompanied Saint Nick to deliver presents to children. This has rightly been identified as a racist caricature more recently and in 2020 the campaign against it was stronger than ever. Sure to be a thing of the past soon.

4. Roller skating to church – Venezuela

Lightening the mood, the Venezuelans have arguably one of the best festive customs on this list. We’ve all paid a visit to the local ice rink when it pops up once a year – but this South American staple sees Venezuelan’s strap on their rollerskates and head to church.

Originating in the capital of Caracas, the nation undergoes a period known as ‘misa de aguinaldo‘ (‘the cockerel’s mass’): essentially a series of early morning masses held nine days from December 16 until Christmas Eve. In fact, most locals actually spend all night skating and as soon as the sun rises around 5-6am, they go to pray. What a way to make an entrance!

3. Fried Christmas caterpillars – South Africa

While we’d be open to adding KFC to the list of festive foodie treats, we’re not as keen to try fried caterpillars. Pretty much anything is preferable including the dry-as-a-bone panettone that’s been sitting at the back of the cupboard for five years.

South African Christmas fried caterpillars

Still, come Christmas time in South Africa, it is traditional for locals to pluck handfuls of the visually revered Pine Tree Emperor Moth from trees while they are still in their larval stage and fry them in a pan. Apparently, they are highly nutritious and taste a bit like tea – but we think we’ll stick with turkey, roasties and pigs in blankets for the foreseeable, thanks anyway!

2. Krampus – Germany

From the gross to the grim: once again, you may have heard of Father Christmas being referred to as Saint Nick before but have you ever heard of his evil counterpart, Krampus? If you hadn’t, you won’t be able to forget now. Krampus is the evil Santa or ‘Christmas Devil’ who, while good kids are getting sweets as presents, punishes those who end up on the naughty list.

The demonic Norse character carries a bag and a stick to threaten children with and is essentially the inspiration for Dwight Schrute’s Belsnickel in The US Office – Hollywood has even made horror movies around it. It’s seen in other parts of Europe too and is one of the creepier offerings among the many Christmas traditions in Germany – but it doesn’t stop them celebrating it every December 5.

1. Caga Tio: The Catalan Poo Log – Spain

Last but not least, I think we have our winner – simply because you can’t make a list of the top 10 most bizarre festive traditions and not include the Catalan custom which revolves around a giant log of poo that sh*ts out nuggets of nougat, sweet and presents every Christmas. You can re-read that as many times as you like, that’s exactly what it’s meant to say. Brace yourselves for weird.

‘Caga Tió’, sometimes referred to as Tió de Nadal, is a smiley children’s character who appears around the beginning of December and must be treated nicely and fed well for weeks in the lead up to Christmas, before being beaten with a stick as families sing a traditional song until he ultimately poops out presents and goodies. However, if you’ve been naughty, all you get is a salty herring.

And that’s it! Those are our top 10 weirdest Christmas traditions from around the world and it seemed only fitting to end it with the precursor to South Park‘s Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo — a bit more PG, mind – but bizarre nonetheless. Merry Christmas!

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