Christmas is coming… And with that comes a myriad of different ways to celebrate it. Around the world, people partake in extraordinary traditions that are not common at all in the US where I am from. It was a great pleasure to discover these and I hope you enjoy them too.
This is an old Welsh tradition that combines Halloween with Christmas Caroling. About 7 or so participants, one holds a staff with a horse’s skull on the end and a sheet attached to the skull, where the individual carrying it is underneath the sheet and acting as the horse. Often the horse head has a movable mouth, glass eyes, and decorative etchings on the skull. The troop leader is usually the sharpest dressed and has a walking staff and holds the reigns of the horse. Others in the group will be dressed as “Merrymen” or as the popular puppet characters Punch and Judy.
They go from house to house singing a song, asking admittance inside the house for food and ale. On the other side, they would sing objections to their entrance into the home. Then the other side would debate, arguing (through song) why they should be admitted. This goes on until one side runs out of ideas and either the Mari Lwyd group gets food and ale or they leave for the next house.
Without really experiencing it, I’m afraid I’m not giving the tradition its due justice. It sounds like an interesting tradition and one that I’d love to experience if I ever get the chance for a holiday in Wales. I have a link to a video here.
Krampus is the antithesis of Santa Claus of the holiday season. He is a big, half-man half-goat creature–basically your typical devil creature. In olden days, it wasn’t Santa who gave naughty children coal on Christmas, instead, it was Krampus who punished bad girls and boys by switching them and stuffing them into his sack, carrying them away to his lair. It was probably more effective than telling children they would get a lump of coal for Christmas.
The Yule Cat and the Yule Goat
The Yule Cat is pretty much Iceland’s Krampus. It is a gigantic cat that roams the countryside and when December comes around, those who have not received any new clothing by December 25, whether it be a jacket or socks, will be eaten by the Yule Cat. Tradition says that in olden times it was an incentive for workers to work hard so their bosses would gift them with new clothes or uniforms.
The Yule Goat is thought to be a transformation of a Krampus beast to a good monster. Much like the grinch, the Yule Goat was a trickster, pulling pranks on the people of Sweden. Later the Yule Goat became a good guy, and Swedish fathers would dress up as goat men and give gifts to friends and family. Now the tradition has mostly died out and the Yule Goat is resigned to be an ornament on the Christmas tree.
There is also a tradition called Julebukking in Scandinavian countries, where people dress up in masks and go door to door to friends and family. The household must figure out who is under the mask while the masqueraders enjoy treats and drinks before going to the next house.
The old story goes, in Ukrainian folklore, that a widow, who had no money for Christmas decorations, wept because she wanted to participate in the festivities with her friends. The spiders living amongst her took pity and spun their threads around her tree, decorating it in their silk. Upon awakening the next morning, the spider silk was covered in morning dew and shimmered beautifully that Christmas morning.
So a popular tradition in Ukraine is decorating with spider web themed decorations.
This is a strange German tradition that is fairly unique. There is a decoration, that is shaped like a pickle, that is hidden on the Christmas tree just before the Christmas morning festivities. The tradition goes that the one who finds the pickle on the tree gets an extra gift Christmas morning. Hopefully, it was useful to anyone who won it.
Befana the Witch of Italy and the Christmas Witches of Norway
Befana is a figure of Italian tradition, who visits the children of Italy on January 5 to give good children treats and bad children onions and garlic. Honestly, I can’t tell if I want to be good or bad in Italy. There is more to her legend that I will link here.
Then in Norway, they have mischievous witches and spirits who enjoy taking the family broom out for a spin. A very odd idea, but none the less all the cleaning supplies with long handles are locked-up tight.
The Majestic Poop Log
And lastly, I would like to talk about the poop log of Catalonia Spain. This is a strange tradition where children will take a hollowed log and take care of it like a pet, feeding it and giving it water and keeping it under a blanket to keep it warm.
And then on Christmas Eve, they take the poop log out and beat it with sticks while singing Christmas songs. After a good beating, the log “poops” out gifts and treats to the good boys and girls who just beat the snot out of it… or the poop? Candy? Nevermind…
I chose these for their peculiarness and for their supernatural flavor. If you have any interesting Christmas traditions or would like to add to what I have listed here, please leave a comment. I would love to know more about these traditions or any I didn’t list.