Unusual festive traditions around the world

Thursday, 13 December 2018  |  Kate

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Or, if you're not religious, a lot like that time of year when you celebrate having survived half the winter and look forward to surviving the rest of it!

A modern Christmas is an eccentric affair combining baubles and baby Jesus, trees and berries, bells, angels and robins, spirituality, greed and over-indulgence, mince pies, Brussels sprouts, love for your family and for every other living creature you can think of. Oh, and Santa, Father Christmas, Saint Nick, the big beardy guy who, despite the rumours about Coca Cola changing his outfit from green to red in an advert, has always been dressed in red and white, the official Christian colours of Saint Nicholas. We have plenty of weird festive traditions of our own here in Britain. But what about abroad?

In Norway you have to hide your broom at Christmas

In Norway you don't want to be seen with a broom at this time of year. Tradition says witches and evil spirits come out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on, and people still hide their brushes and brooms through Christmas just in case some no-good rotter of a witch or evil spirit nicks it.

Austria's terrifying Krampus

In Austria Saint Nicholas - Father Xmas – has a very nasty assistant, a monster that comes direct from ancient Alpine folklore. It's called the Krampus, a hideous, hairy, demon-like monster with big horns, mucky teeth and hooves, the good guy's evil accomplice. The Krampus wanders the streets of Austria all December searching for naughty children, in fact young male adults dressing up as the monster to scare the kids.

Magical giant light displays in the Philippines

The Giant Lantern Festival kicks off on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the city of San Fernando. The festival involves eleven barangays or villages, each trying to create the biggest, most beautiful giant lantern. Traditionally about half a metre in diameter and made from Japanese origami paper, these days they're about six metres diameter and made from all sorts of modern materials, including dazzling LED bulbs.

Roller skate your way to church in Venezuela

In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, on Christmas Eve, people go to church in the morning. But they don't go by foot or by car. They roller skate. It's a unique tradition, and nobody seems to know how it began. The roads close to let the skaters pass by safely, and afterwards the people head home for a traditional Xmas lunch of tamales, a steamed cornmeal dough wrap filled with meat.

Portugal's Day of the Dead-like tradition

If you've lost a loved one and you live in Portugal, you'll remember them at Christmas by setting a place for them at the dining table, something they call 'consoda', which sounds very like 'consolation'.  

Kentucky Fried Chicken for Xmas lunch in Japan

The Japanese don't really do Christmas, so it's interesting to see a new-ish festive trend getting bigger and bigger over there. The Japanese are mad about Kentucky Fried Chicken, and for some mysterious reason the fast food outlet has become the go-to destination for Japanese Christmas lunch. The KFC Japan website even advertises festive meals, which include a Christmas-themed standard bucket at the cheap end or a premium roast bird feast at the luxury end.

Spain's defecating log

Honestly. It's true. In Catalonia, Spain, people make a small, grinning animal from a hollow piece of wood and put it on the dining table, an animal they call the 'defecating log'. The family feeds the log with sweets and treats for the two weeks before Christmas, then they beat the heck out of it with sticks on Christmas Eve until the sweets and goodies fall out.

Greenland's gross 'Mattak'

Hate sprouts? How about trying some traditional Greenland Mattak, a stinking culinary delight made from raw whale skin and blubber. They also like to eat Kiviak at Christmas, a little bird called an auk wrapped inside seal skin then buried for several months to decompose. Mmm. Tasty.

Whatever you're doing this Christmas...

Are you about to spend Xmas eating food that most people would avoid like the plague, or dressing up like a demon? Maybe your family has an unusual or weird festive tradition of their own? We'd love to hear about it!  


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