Have you have started to notice that wherever you go there seems to be a repetitive ringing in your ears? Don’t worry, you’re not developing tinnitus; it is simply the same Christmas carol playlist drifting out of shopfronts on every side.
December is here and the world is carefully wrapping itself in tinsel and the cha-ching of cash registers is mixing with the loud teeth-grinding of retail staff who have been subjected to Cliff Richard’s Christmas album one too many times.
Christmas is on its way and the people of the earth are all gearing up to celebrate in many different and surprising ways.
Here are the top 10 weird and wonderful Christmas traditions:
10. Piece on Earth, Welcome to the Gun Show.
Peace on Earth,
Good will to one another.
An A-K47 in one hand,
Grenade launcher in the other.
Ahh, the delicate strains of everyone’s favourite Arizonan Xmas Carol. At the Scottsdale Gun Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, get your chance to have your picture taken with Santa himself, complete with the biggest guns from the big man’s personal Christmas arsenal.
I guess this is the grown up version of sitting on Santa’s knee, except for the pervasive atmosphere of implied violence.
In the Ukraine, families will be decorating their Christmas trees with fake spiders and spider webs. This is not a strange conflation of Halloween and Xmas but rather a nod to Ukrainian folklore.
According to the local tale, a poor woman could not afford tinsel with which to decorate her tree. In the morning, when she woke she discovered the tree covered in spider webs. The first light of Christmas day glistened off the silken threads transforming them to gold and silver, enough for her to never go wanting again.
It is considered excellent luck to see a spider or its web on Christmas morning. To arachno-wary people like myself the idea of being separated from my presents by a thin veil of sinister spider excretions sounds horrifying.
8. Game on Santa
Every year the alpine resort of Samnaun in Switzerland draws the attention of the world’s proudest Santas, with the Santa Claus World Championships. Part festive madness, part alpine sports medley, the competition consists of numerous Christmas related events, including sledding, chimney climbing, singing, snowball fighting and gingerbread house making.
All to be named the world’s Santa extraordinaire.
7. Toetags and roller skates
It is perhaps traditional – if slightly incomprehensible – to tie a string around your finger to remind you of something. But it is another thing altogether to tie a string around your toe so that any person roller-skating past your window can remind you about church…I promise that will make sense in a second.
For the children of the Venezuelan capital Caracas, there is a tradition on Christmas Eve of tying a long string to your big toe and dangling the end of the string out of your window before going to bed.
On Christmas morning, the roads of Caracas are closed to traffic so that the predominantly Catholic citizens can roller-skate to early morning mass! Any strings still dangling out of windows are fair game for yanking, to make sure no one sleeps through Christmas morning.
6. Play with your food
Throw your food around at most dinner tables and chances are you won’t be invited back. Except maybe in Slovakia over Christmas where the father of the house might fill his spoon with a traditional pudding called loksa and then flick it at the roof.
The larger the globule that sticks the better the harvest will be the next year. As objective a test as any, I’d say.
5. The Greenland Tu-duc-ken
We all look forward to Christmas for different reason, many of them to do with our fond memories of seasonal food, like our grandma’s Christmas pudding. In Greenland some people have that same sense of excitement for 6-month old dead bird.
And yes, that is a bird that has been dead for 6 months, not a birdie that has kicked the proverbial bucket half way to its first birthday.
Kiviak is made by catching hundreds of tiny birds called auks, stuffing up to 500 of them into a seal skin, sewing your delicious death package up, burying it for up to 6 months and then easting the raw, decomposing birds for Christmas.
Apparently they taste like Stilton cheese. Enough said.
4. Troll the Christmas bells
Snow White and the 7 dwarves with a gothic Scandinavian twist.
Ancient folklore tells of the Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, 13 Icelandic Trolls whose representations have ranged from pranksters to homicidal monsters that eat misbehaving children.
Yet as cultural bleed began to introduce Santa Claus into Icelandic imaginations, the traditions of the Yule Lads and the jolly red man melded together such that the 13 Yule Lads have become Santa’s Icelandic equivalent.
Each of the Yule Lads has a distinct personality so that for 13 consecutive nights over Christmas, Icelandic children leave out a shoe, to be filled with presents by a different troll every night. But only if they have been good.
Another fine example of the use of emotional blackmail on developing minds; one of those distinct features of human society that crosses all boundaries of time and culture.
3. A little bit of Christmas Arson
The town of Gävle in Sweden is home to a tradition that is most likely kept alive solely because of the authorities’ attempts to quash it. It is a tradition that might not happen every year, but when it does it would be a sight to behold.
In 1966 a 13-metre straw Swedish Yule Goat was erected in Castle Square in the town of Gävle. On the stroke of midnight, Christmas Eve, the goat went up in flames, sparking an ongoing battle between the town’s insistence on erecting the goat every year, and Gävle casual Christmas arsonist, who every year try to burn it down.
Perhaps not so ironically, the original goat was designed and built by Gävle’s fire department.
2012 the arsonists succeeded, the 26th burning of the goat since 1966. From 1988 British bookies made it possible to bet on the goat’s vs. arsonist outcome.
Apparently in 2005, some unsportsmanlike person jumped the gun, setting fire to the Goat on December 3rd. Ridiculously this apparently escalated into a spate of copy-cat goat burning all across Sweden, with 6 Yule Goats going to the flames.
But this year, the town council is confident the towering beast will survive the Christmas period; they have doused the Goat in anti-flammable liquid and redesigned the hircine erection to discourage vandals. Have a read here.
2. Be good or burn in Hell
If your parents were dark, Dickensian figures they probably told you that if you were bad then Santa would leave you a lump of coal instead of presents. Pretty distressing news if you’re a child with a guilt complex.
But spare a thought for the children of the alpine countries of Western and Central Europe – if they are naughty they get dragged to hell by Santa’s demonic sidekicks, the Krampus.
Where Santa would give presents to the good children, he would be accompanied by various demons who would punish the wicked children.
If you were unlucky enough child to be visited by the demonic spirit Perchta and you hadn’t worked hard enough that year, she would slit open your belly, pull you intestines out and stuff you with straw and pebbles. No wonder Germanic people are known for their work ethic.
Today there are many Krampus parades through the Austria and Southern Germany region, with the purpose of scaring kids (and adults) witless for Christmas.
1. The Shitting Gift Giver
To be fair, an omnipotent, big, fat man popping down your chimney once a year to give you presents is a odd concept. But I would say that beating a happy faced piece of wood on legs, until it ‘shits’ out your presents, is a long way past strange.
Over Christmas in many Catalonian homes, you will find a corner of the living area set aside for the Tió de Nadal, or ‘Christmas log’. It is otherwise know as Caga tió, or the ‘shitting log’.
The hollow log on legs is ‘fed’ every night from December 8 until Christmas Eve, and covered with a blanket to be kept warm. Then come Christmas Eve, the canny parents encourage their kids to go to a different room to pray for the Caga tio to deliver them lots of presents. They, of course, use the time to hide various treats such as lollies and wafers around the Caga Tio and under the blanket.
Then the children get to beat the log with sticks while commanding it to poop them good presents. They sing songs such as:
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
shit nougats (turrón),
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
For anyone who has also ready my post on the the World’s Strangest Food Traditions you might have noticed the recurring poop theme that pervades Catalonian Christmas. The Catalonians are also very proud of their tradition of the Caganer, a little statue of a popping man is included in their nativity scenes.
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