Not all people around the world expect a Santa Claus saying “Ho ho ho” while riding on a flying sleigh run by reindeers. Before Christianity spread throughout parts of the world, midwinter pagan holidays like Solstice and Saturnalia were celebrated. The celebrations were later Christianized and thus, Christmas was created as the birthdate of Jesus (actual date was June 7th, 2BC). And maybe because of Christmas’s pagan origins, each country has still kept their own creatures and other unusual practices during the festive season. There are also some customs that were just created through successful marketing.
Here are 7 of the most unusual Christmas season customs:
It’s known that on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) leaves gifts under the Christmas tree or inside the socks children leave for midnight presents – as long as they’ve been good during the Christmas season. So what about the kids who misbehaved? They won’t be receiving gifts and Santa Claus won’t visit them. Instead, Krampus, the Christmas demon, will give them coal and a bundle of birch twigs. And sometimes, he swats birch branches to these naughty children. On the 5th of December, in Austria, Romania, southern Bavaria, South Tyrol, northern Friuli, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia, some men dress as Krampus and roam the streets frightening the children with chains and bells.
2. Caga Tió
Caga Tió means “pooping log” in English, and it does what the name suggests. This is a Catalan (Spain) tradition wherein a log is hollowed out, with legs and a face is added. You start to “feed” the log covered with a blanket on the 8th of December and on Christmas Eve, kids will beat the log up with sticks while singing the Caga Tió song. After the song, the kids can look and get the presents under the blanket that covers the log.
Now, if there’s a log that poops out candies and other kinds of presents, another Catalonian tradition involves poop again for Christmas. Caganer is a Christmas statue found in nativity scenes in Andorra, parts of Spain, Italy, and Portugal. There are statues gathered together to show the scene of nativity in Bethlehem, with Jesus (as a baby), Joseph, Mary and the Three Kings. Then, there’s the Caganer tucked away from everyone, hiding because he’s defecating. It’s a funny thing to see in the holy scene, but for some it represents equality because everyone, of course, defecates.
4. The Pickle
During the Christmas season in the United States, a Christmas tree won’t be complete without the glass pickle decoration hidden on the tree. Whoever sees the pickle first will receive a reward or good fortune for the upcoming year. This tradition was thought to have originated from Germany because these glass ornaments were first brought from the country, but it wasn’t. The Christmas pickle tradition is now recognized as a true American tradition.
6. Zwarte Piet
In the Netherlands, Santa Claus doesn’t have elves or reindeers with him. Instead, he’s accompanied by Zwarte Piet(Black Peter) who’s known for his black face makeup, black curly hair, and red lips. A bunch of Zwarte Pieten, together with Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), parade and scatter candies around the city on a boat (having traveled from Madrid, Spain) weeks before the feast of Sinterklaas on the 6th of December. Sometimes, children are told that the Zwarte Pieten will take them back to Spain if they don’t behave well.
7. Mari Lwyd
Mari Lwyd, translated as the Grey Mare, or the Grey Mary, is a tradition held every New Year’s Eve celebration in Wales. A “horse” made of a horse skull as its head is attached to a pole held by a person hidden under sheets as the horse’s body. The horse and its party visit a pub and start by singing introductory verses. Pwnco, or a battle of wits, comes next where the people inside the pub and the party outside exchange challenges and insults that rhyme. In the end, the horse comes in to bring luck to all people. More songs are sung and food and drinks are given to the party.