Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Unusual Christmas traditions from around the world



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Locally, when we celebrate Christmas, our menus consist of ham, turkey, black cake, pastelles, sorrel, ginger beer, ponche de crème, eggnog and yes, copious amounts of alcohol.

As for our traditions, it's the 'paranging' by friends' and neighbours' houses; having our children go from door to door singing Christmas carols and collecting candy or money; painting the house; changing the curtains in every room, maybe; visiting relatives and friends on Christmas Day for breakfast, brunch or dinner. The list goes on and as far as we're concerned, these traditions are normal. To foreigners, our 'normal' can be exciting and full of wonder.

That's just how we'd feel if we were to experience traditions across the globe. Other countries have their way of celebrating Christmas, either during the Season or on the day itself. What do they do?


In Austria, there is something called Krampus Night. Krampus is apparently Santa's evil twin whose job is to beat and punish all the children who have misbehaved. I know, I know. What on earth…! On the sixth of December, men dress in some of the scariest devil-like costumes and attack people with sticks and switches! The Krampus legend originates in the Germanic alpine regions and is widespread throughout Hungary, Bavaria, Slovenia and is especially popular in this Austria. Sorry but I'll pass.

Czech Republic

On Christmas Eve, unmarried Czech women practise fortune-telling to predict their relationship status for the coming year. They stand with their back to the door and toss one of their shoes over their shoulder. If it lands with the toe facing the door, it means that they will get married within the year. If it lands with the heel facing the door, they'll be unmarried for another year. Hmmmm….


Norwegian legend says that on Christmas Eve, witches and evil spirits roam looking for brooms to ride on and this is a bad omen. To thwart the witches, all brooms in people's houses are hidden and men go outside and fire a shotgun to scare the bad spirits away. No way, Norway; really?


For many Japanese citizens, the traditional Christmas dinner is some good ol' Colonel's chicken! I kid you not! That's not the eyebrow-raiser; this tradition is so popular and aggressively marketed, that reservations sometimes have to be made just to eat at any of the Colonel's branches on Christmas Day. If any of you Trinidadians are hoping to do that this year, remember that you'd be out of luck since that's the one day the Colonel's house is closed in this country!

Spain, Portugal and Italy

I warn you that this one is absolutely gross – downright nasty! In some areas of Spain, Portugal and Italy, citizens set up a model village of Bethlehem. Along with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, a Caganer (loosely defined as a 'crapper'), is placed in the scene. The Caganer is a figurine, usually of a man, with his pants around his knees in the act of defaecating! There is usually a pile at his heels and he is usually placed in a corner of the scene. The Caganer has been around for a few hundred years but has evolved from a generic man to figurines of celebrities, nuns, politicians and Santa Claus. I am just speechless…


Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain which comprises four provinces, including Barcelona. Its capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain after Madrid, and is home to over 7.5 million people.

Caga Tió, the pooping log, is a bizarre widespread Christmas tradition in Catalonia. A hollowed-out log is propped up on four little leg-like sticks and then painted to have a face. Every night, beginning the eighth of December, Caga Tió is 'fed' and covered with a blanket (so that he doesn't catch a cold). On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, Caga Tió is put in the fireplace, beaten with a stick and ordered to "poop". He is encouraged, along with the beating, by singing songs with catchy lyrics such as "caga tió (poop log) caga torró (poop turrón) avellanes i mató (hazelnuts and cottage cheese) si no cagues bé (if you don't poop well) et daré un cop de bastó. (I'll hit you with a stick.) caga tió!" (poop log!)".

When he is done 'pooping' candies, nuts and such, Caga Tió will then 'give' one last push to reveal an onion, a head of garlic or a salt herring. Ummmmm….someone help me here. I fail to understand… What is with bodily function references at Christmas time?!


In Senor Chavez's homeland of Caracas, Venezuela, church-goers attend an early morning mass between December 16 and 24. What makes this a peculiar practice is that everyone gets to church on roller skates! The streets are blocked off to vehicular traffic until 8 a.m. Children tie one end of a piece of string to their big toes and hang the other end out the window. As roller skaters go by the next morning, they give a tug to all the strings hanging out the windows. Wonders never cease.

While I can appreciate differences in cultures, I'll stick to cleaning while soca parang blares, pretending to sleep when drunk neighbours come paranging and eating as much ham as I can for Christmas!