Christmas is such a wonderful time. Whether you celebrate it to mark the birth of Jesus, as a time of reflection, giving gifts, donating to charity, or simply eating and drinking too much, you probably know most of your country’s traditions. But what about the rest of the world? Other countries and cultures have some surprising and in some cases – unusual – Christmas traditions.
Germany and Austria: Krampus Punishes the Bad Kids
In most cultures that celebrate the festive period, Father Christmas or Santa Claus rewards children for good behaviour. This has been a core tenet of most Christmas traditions. Bad kids simply go without… unless you live in some of the Germanic areas of Europe. Some areas still have Krampus; any visitors to Christmas markets, particularly in Austria, may see ghastly demon-like figures patrolling the towns and villages. This is Krampus, an anti-Father Christmas figure who (in the legend at least) takes away poorly-behaved children during the month of December.
Catalonia and Aragon: Tió de Nadal (The Christmas Log)
Also known as “The Defecating Log”, families fashion a creature from a simple hollow log before the night of the Feast of the Consumption (8th December). Then, on that night, it is placed on the dining table and “fed” small items of food in the interior (usually dried fruit, nuts, sweets and other snacks that perish slowly) each night. Come Christmas Eve, the family will use sticks to beat the log so that it “defecates” the goodies inside. They will sing special songs while doing this. It used to be that the log was burnt but with most houses having central heating, this is impractical.
Christmas The Venezuelan Way: Skating and Eating Late
The capital city Caracas plays host to a most unusual tradition in the run-up to Christmas lasting until the small hours of Christmas morning. Streets are closed to traffic so worshippers may roller skate to church for the first mass of each day beginning on the 16th. But that is not the end of the festivities. Following the 8am mass (and the roads open for business again), work does not necessarily begin. People get together with their friends and family to drink coffee and eat tostadas. Finally, Christmas day begins with a big feast, rather than ending with it – straight after midnight mass.
The Japanese Father Christmas
Japan is an assimilator of other world’s traditions and despite Christianity being a minor religion there (polls suggest less than 1%), Japan does Christmas. They have even adopted a version of Father Christmas / Santa Claus. In the Japanese tongue, he is known as Santa Kurohsu and strongly associated with a Buddhist monk called Hotei-Oshi who was, in life, incredibly generous. It is hardly surprising that Japan would adopt Christmas in some way. This version of Father Christmas has eyes in the back of his head and watches people for mean-spirited actions. However, it is not a time for family or getting together. The most important aspect of Christmas in Japan is random acts of kindness and charity.
Our Antipodean Cousins Traditions
While most Australians and New Zealanders do precisely what we do in the UK with a few exceptions (barbecues because their Christmas falls in mid-summer), there are a few notable changes. New Zealand has its own Christmas Tree, but forget it if you think it’s Norwegian Spruce or any other type of northern hemisphere evergreen. It’s known as the pohutukawa, a brightly coloured native tree. Just like firs, it is decorated and lit up over the festive period. Because it falls in mid-Summer, some Australians and New Zealanders hold a second Christmas, or skip the summer event to hold it in June or July to have a genuine winter feel.