Do you think of Christmas as being all about Santa, decorating the tree and eating the traditional dinner? It may be so in some countries, but others have some truly odd customs. Here are some very strange ways of celebrating the holiday …
I live in this region of north-east Spain, which has some very distinct traditions. Few nativity scenes are complete without the figure of a caganer. What is this, you may ask? A shepherd? A house? No – a man defecating. Yes, really. In a nativity scene. The origins of the caganer are not known, and probably defy explanation. You can even buy versions based on famous people.
I’m not one to bother with putting up a Christmas tree (with three cats in the house, it would be asking for trouble). However, I’m not sure that I fancy adopting the Italian tradition of getting a small wooden pyramid and decorating it with fruit. How do you get the fruit to stay on? And why pyramids – is it a reference to the Middle East?
Hmm, what shall we have for Christmas dinner? Turkey? Goose? Nut Roast? Or a rotting auk? Yup, the Greenlanders like their Christmas bird to be buried for several months before they tuck in. Perhaps Greenland’s geographical isolation is to blame here …
What does a country known for its fabulous food consider a gourmet feast on Christmas Day? Kentucky Fried Chicken. This custom has, of course, been adopted relatively recently, but many Japanese pop along to dine with the Colonel. Quite why a non-Christian country celebrates Christmas is beyond me, but the global domination of fast food is far more disturbing.
You’d expect a country that invented the sport of wife-carrying and the instrument of torture known as the sauna to have a strange Christmas custom, and the Finns don’t disappoint. On Christmas Eve, Finnish children get to share the festivities with all the family … including the dead ones, as they all pop along to the cemetary to remember the dead. Somehow I think the kids would rather just look forward to opening pressies.
Estonians also go along with the idea of remembering the dead, although their dear departed are at least obliging enough to pop by, thus saving that trip to the cemetary. As if that wasn’t enough, you also have to take a sauna with your living relatives. Some may prefer the dead ones, who are presumably less visible.
In the Ukraine, they have the traditional tree. It does, however, feature a not-so-traditional Christmas spider. I must have missed that reference in the Bible. ‘And lo, a spider did descend and scare Mary, who screamed at Joseph to squash the little …’
I used to be under the impression that Christmas was a time for children to have fun. Considering some of these traditions, I’m beginning to wonder. Especially when Greek tradition has it that evil spirits called Kallakantzaroi come down your chimney instead of Santa. They’re easily deterred though – just pop along to your local butcher and acquire a pig’s jaw to hang in the chimney. This might actually scare the kids more. It’s a tough call.
Have you come across any other bizarre Christmas customs? Are there any unique to your family?
Top Photo Credit: Brian Lasky