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Monday
Dec152014

The world’s weirdest Christmas traditions

It’s December, another month in another year, but some things remains the same: Christmas. This old tradition has been around in Britain since the Victorian age and is celebrated by over 2 billion people worldwide. But even so, traditions vary immensely from country to country. Did you know that some children receive their presents from a witch riding a broom? Or that some people prefer to roller-skate to church?

Austria: Ready to meet the devil?

Image courtesy of Rowena

Did you know that Santa Claus is supposed to have a devilish twin somewhere called Krampus whose mission is to punish children who have misbehaved? In Austria they do. Here it’s a custom to celebrate Krampus night on the 5th of December, an evening full of horrors and screams, where men dress up in costumes looking like devils and demons and spend their night hitting people with sticks.  Not the kind of Christmas traditions we are used to, is it?

Serbian Christmas: Fancy tying people up?

Image courtesy of John Morgan

The main church in Serbia is the Orthodox Church. Here they use the old Julian calendar, which means that Christmas Eve is not until the 6th of January and the celebrations continue for three days in a row involving a lot of religious rituals and traditions, in fact they have so many that it can be overwhelming to an outsider. But that is not the only unusual thing about Serbian Christmas. Did you know that children in Serbia tie up their parents in ransom for gifts? Some Serbs use this traditional gift giving process which, believe it or not, goes both ways. While the children get to tie up their mum and dad, the parents get to enjoy the same privilege.  

Ukraine: Spider webs on the Christmas tree

Image courtesy of Class V

Unlike any other place, Ukraine is a country that welcomes spiders and their webs. During Christmas many households decorate their Christmas tree with dusty spider webs inspired by an old folk legend. According to the ancient tale, a poor widow once lived with her children in a small house. One day a tree magically took root in the house and the children, excited by the prospect of having their very first Christmas tree, talked about how to decorate it. However, the widow knew they couldn’t afford it, and at the end of the day they went to bed leaving the branches bare and uninviting. During the night the spiders took pity on them and spun their web around the tree. The next morning, as the widow and her children looked at the decorated tree, the rays of the sun touched the web and turned it into gold and silver – a miracle that has not been forgotten in Ukraine where people still honour the legend every Christmas.

Italy: Presents delivered on a broomstick

Image courtesy of Dave

Although Christmas Eve is important in Italy, the 6th of January remains special. According to the legend a witch called Befana flies around the country and leave presents outside children’s homes during the night of the 5th of January: Nice ones for those who have behaved, coal for the naughty ones.  But in Italy most children get to enjoy receiving gifts from both Santa Claus and Befana – how lucky is that?

Spanish Christmas: The three wise men

Image courtesy of Waiting for the Word

While many other countries get their presents from Santa Claus on the 24th of the 25th, the Spanish children have to wait until the 6th of January. Spanish tradition has it that the Three Kings delivers presents for all the children on the morning of the 6th of January, same ritual they performed after baby Jesus was born.

Denmark’s cheeky ‘Nisser’

Image courtesy of Peter Leth

In every Danish household a cheeky house gnome is supposed to live in the attic or in people’s barns. These cheeky fellows are called ‘nisser’ and are fictional characters with their roots in the 1800s farming communities. In the past every farm believed they had a Nisse living in their barn and if you were nice to it, the nisse would ensure your farm’s success - otherwise it would cause trouble. Therefore children would leave a bowl of rice pudding with cinnamon for their house nisse. However, now-a-days children mainly think of them as Santa Claus’ helpers, but the tradition is still honoured and many children make sure that their house guest gets fed in order to get good presents for Christmas.

Norway: “Hide the brooms!”

Image courtesy of Jun Aoyama

In Norway, evil spirits are believed to come out of hiding on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. This old superstition has led to people locking away their brooms on the 24th of December, or even firing warning shots into the open to keep witches and demons away. However, today most people probably have hoovers, so who knows if such precautions are necessary?

Finland pays respect to their dead

Image courtesy of Jeffrey DelViscio

While other people are having fun listening to their pop idols singing Christmas songs on the radio and drinking a glass of mulled wine in their local pub, the northerners in Finland find time to pay respect to their dead relatives. Here they light candles in memory of the deceased and maybe, just maybe, you will find them in their sauna afterwards, escaping the cold.

Venezuela: Rollers skating to church

Image courtesy of James Lee

Caracas has developed a somewhat unique Christmas tradition. The Venezuelan capital closes off the street on Christmas morning so everyone can roller skate to the early morning Christmas mass in the church. How fun is that?

Iceland’s 13 Santas

Image courtesy of Lisa Stevens

In Iceland Christmas start on the 24th of December and lasts until the 6th of January. On the night before the 12th of December children put their shoes in the window where they stay until the 24th of December in the hope that the Yule Lads, their version of Santa Claus, will leave them something in their shoes. These fellows are nothing like the sweet looking Father Christmas but rather like trolls, gnomes or scary dwarfs. One of them is even believed to come down from the mountain and boil naughty children alive – so Icelandic children have an extra good reason to be well behaved during Christmas time.

There are more wacky ways of celebrating Christmas in the world – mentioning all of them would take days. And it’s not just Christmas traditions that vary from country to country, the world is full of exciting cultures and unexplored soil, so maybe this Christmas will be the time where you step into the open and travel far, far away?

By Caroline Edwards

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