10 Unusual Christmas Traditions From Around The World
And you thought your family was weird.
So your mum does her own horrifying Marilyn Monroe dance routine to ‘Santa Baby’ every year and your uncle customarily lights his shirt on fire with his own cigar. Every family, city and country has their own Christmas traditions and some have more significance than others. But if you happen to find yourself abroad this December you may just get to witness – or even partake – in one of these wacky Christmas time customs from around the world. Get your roller skates, lightbulbs and fermented sea birds ready.
Way back in 1966 some townsfolk erected a 13-metre tall goat figure made of straw in the main square. Lovely. But at the stroke of midnight, Christmas Eve, vandals lit the effigy and the goat went up in flames. Not one for learning a lesson, the town has never stopped building the goat year after year and vandals have never stopped trying to burn it down. So far the goat has been burned down 27 times. In fact this happens so often that in 1988 bookmakers started taking bets for the survival of the goat. I know who I’m betting on.
It’s like some kind of awkward dad joke but in real life. Caga Tio, Spanish for pooping log, is a hollowed out smiley-faced piece of wood with a red hat that brings laughter and joy to Catalonian children in a long held tradition. The log is cherished because it, uh, “poops out” presents. The idea is that Caga Tio is “looked after” by the kids from the December 8 until Christmas Eve. They keep his backside warm with a blanket and feed him orange peel every night. The more they feed him, the more presents he will “poop out” for Christmas. I kid you not.
What’s the South African version of a Toblerone? On Christmas Day, they chow down on the deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor Moth. Also, South African children are told the story of Danny, a young boy who angered his grandmother by eating the cookies that had been left for Santa – surely no surprise given the caterpillars. We won’t tell you what happened to Danny. Needless to say, it’s HEAVY.
Since the beginning of a crafty KFC marketing campaign four decades ago, the fried chicken has been associated with Christmas in the minds of the Japanese. It’s a tradition passed on from parent to child despite its roots in commercialism. More than 240,000 barrels of chicken are sold during Christmas – that’s 10 times the normal monthly sales. Well at least no one’s burning the turkey.
Listen up all you spinsters. If you’re hankering for a man to make an honest woman out of you, head to the Czech Republic this Christmas with your least treasured shoe. Rumour has it, if you stand in the doorway of your home, throw a shoe over your shoulder and it lands with the toe pointing towards the door you’ll be married within the next year. Thank god for that – you are getting on.
Each year two neighbourhoods from this Cuban city, San Salvador and El Carmen, work in secret for months to build gigantic architectural light bulb creations. The inventions roll through the city on floats like portable power surges waiting to happen while the residents debate over whose is better. And because thousands of light bulbs aren’t enough they also gather tens of thousands of fireworks for a spectacular competition that lights up the sky.
On Christmas morning in this South American city they close the streets and hundreds of people roller skate to mass – cue a line up at the city doctors’ doors to treat sprained ankles and grazed elbows. Sometimes kids tie a piece of rope to one of their toes the night before and let it dangle out the window while they sleep. On their way to church the next morning, skaters will tug at any rope they see hanging down from a window and the children will wake up to watch the spectacle.
For the past 30 years, Canada Post volunteers in the thousands have been playing Santa and replying to a million letters from around the world in different languages, including Braille. If you send a letter addressed “Canada Post Santa Claus, North Pole, Postcode H0H 0H0” (with zeros for o’s) you’ll likely get a response. Aww, now that’s a Christmas miracle.
In India, Christmas is celebrated with a tropical twist. With the absence of fir trees or pine trees to decorate, you’ll find brightly-lit, well-decorated banana, mango or palm trees on the streets and in homes. They even use the leaves of those trees to decorate their houses. Less than three percent of the population is Christian and celebrate Christmas but given this is India, that’s still about 25 million people.
Kiviak may sound like some deliciously warming and exotic cheese-covered winter treat from the far north but it’s not. It’s really not. It’s a Christmas delicacy in Greenland made from little tiny fermented sea birds. About 500 of them are stuffed inside the cleaned skin of a seal and left under a pile of rocks to ferment for up to 18 months. Then they put it in their mouths and chew. Really. Merry Christmas.
(Lead image: Fartre/Flickr)