Unusual Christmas Traditions From Around the World

By smei

Posted 22/12/17

We’ve all got our own Christmas traditions, some unique to our family and others that are more widely spread, which may seem weird to others. For example, doesn't waking up on Christmas morning to find that a satsuma has been hidden in a pair of your mum’s tights by a man who travels by flying reindeer sound weird to anyone?

SMEi decided to take a look at some of the more unusual traditions from around the world.

A Spider is for Life, not Just for Christmas

In some places around the world like the UK, spiders are often associated with Halloween. Yet, in the Ukraine spiders and their webs have pride of place on the Christmas tree. This stems from a Ukrainian folktale in which a poor family who were unable to afford to buy a tree from a shop instead grew one from an acorn.

The Christmas tree was left bare as they could not afford to decorate it, but spiders spun webs around it overnight. The next day, these webs glistened in the early morning light – with hints of silver and gold – making the tree appear more festive [1]. 

Horsing Around in Wales

Closer to home is the Welsh tradition of “Mari Lwyd”, in which a horse’s skull is paraded through town by a resident wearing a white sheet who will attempt to gain entry into pubs and houses with a kind of poetry battle. Those within the buildings will attempt to outwit the Mari Lwyd with their own verses before allowing it to step over the threshold. This is said to transfer good luck into the house for the year ahead and scare away anything negative from the past [2].

Kentucky Fried Christmas

In Japan it’s popular for people to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) for Christmas dinner due to a successful 1970s marketing campaign. It’s is estimated that 3.6million Japanese families will treat themselves to the takeaway around Christmas every year, with some placing their restaurant order as far as two months in advance due to its popularity over the festive period [3].

Beware the Giant, Fashion Conscious Cat

For many of us there’s nothing worse than unwrapping a present and realising it’s a novelty Christmas jumper, or worse, socks. However, if you live in Iceland you’d probably be relieved. That’s because a traditional Icelandic Christmas story says that the Jolakotturinn, or “Yule Cat”, will eat anyone who wakes up on Christmas Day without having received a gift of new clothes. Supposedly, well behaved children  earn themselves new clothes for Christmas morning and those that don't receive them have been naughty. So, the Jolakotturinn is simply a more terrifying version of receiving coal from Santa [4].

Santa’s Menacing Friend

A traditional Christmas character you may not have heard of before is Krampus. If you think being on Santa’s naughty list is punishment enough for a badly behaved child, spare a thought for those in Austria.

According to Austrian folklore Krampus is a demonic figure who reigns on the 5 December. Legends differ on the punishment he will dish out – some say he will leave bundles of sticks in the place of presents for naughty children, others say he will beat them with sticks, or even drag them to hell!

Krampus is believed to stem from a pagan tradition, but more recently was drafted into the story of Santa Claus as St Nick’s menacing companion [5]. Men dressed as Krampus often walk the streets during the festive period, reminding children to be good in the run up to Christmas! 

[1] https://www.vancouverchristmasmarket.com/spider-and-the-christmas-tree-ukrainian-story/  

[2] http://www.folkwales.org.uk/mari.html

[3] http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20161216-why-japan-celebrates-christmas-with-kfc%20

[4] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/each-christmas-icelands-yule-cat-takes-fashion-policing-extreme-180961420/

[5] http://mentalfloss.com/article/71999/9-facts-about-krampus-st-nicks-demonic-companion


Posted 22/12/17

Author: smei

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