Bizarre Christmas Celebrations

What’s strange for you may be usual for others…and the holidays are certainly no exception.  Some of us may immediately think of our families, and wish we could trade those in for new.  That might not happen any time soon, but you might think of adopting one of these unique Christmas traditions we found around the globe.

1. Tió de Nadal – “The Shitting Log” – Catalonia, Spain

Children beating a Tió de Nadal to make it shit candy. Photo source Catalan Wikipedia. Viquipèdia in català.

Children beating a Tió de Nadal to make it shit candy. Photo source Catalan Wikipedia. Viquipèdia in català.

There is a Christmas Day or Christmas Eve tradition in Spain that may seem quite strange for those unfamiliar with it.  Each family acquires a ‘tio de nadal’ early in the month.  It sits in the house, under a small blanket, getting ‘fed’ daily up until Christmas.  That is when someone puts the tió partly into the fireplace or the middle of the room and orders it to “shit” by singing traditional songs.  To make him “shit” everyone begins to beat the log with sticks (much fun for children of adults with some stress to release I’m sure.)

The tió log releases candies, nuts and sometimes traditional almond confections known as turrons.  When the log has no more candy to give, it ‘shits’ a herring, garlic clove, or something else less favorable.   Everything that comes out of thetió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by the family.  Perhaps this is where the idea of a ‘Yule Long’ comes from.

2. “Lose a Shoe, Gain a Man” – Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic single women perform a very unusual ritual on Christmas Eve Day.  For the superstitious, this tradition allows them to find out if they will marry in the following year. With their backs to the house door, they throw one of their shoes over their shoulder. If the shoe lands with the heel towards the door, she will definitely stay single for another year.  If the toe of the shoe points towards the door, it means she will move out of her parents’ house, and she should start making wedding preparations!  The only other rule is that it must be a high-heeled shoe, a “střevíc.”

3. “J-Day” – Christmas beer – Denmark

“J-day” (from the Danish word for Christmas beer: Juleøl) celebrates the eve on which the first season Christmas brew is released at your local pub.  On this day, usually late in November, you will find that practically every bar, café or pub in every town or city in Denmark will be buzzing with young people enjoying unique Christmas beers of the holiday season.  The best part of J-Day is that you’ll get to take a little sip of the Christmas spirit, and have a good excuse to party.  

4. “Krampus – The Evil Santa” – Austria/Germany

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. People dress as Krampus and roam the streets looking for someone to beat with a stick.  A good night to stay home!

Krampus - Photo by pixel0908

Krampus – Photo by pixel0908

5. Mari Lwyd – “The Biting Horse Skull” – Wales/UK

The Mari Lwyd meaning “Grey Mare” in English, is a Welsh midwinter tradition.  Traditionally it took place over a stretch of time starting before Christmas and going through January, it is now more often done around the New Year.   Friends or family accompany a brave soul who is chosen to dress up as a horse to the neighbors front door.  They often make their way into pubs and bars as well, looking for gifts of food and drink.  The ritual is said to bring good luck to those who reward the mare.

6. La Befana, – “The Christmas Witch” –  Italy

The Christmas Witch, known as la Befana, is very similar to the idea of Santa Claus.  One could say she is a good witch; la Befana brings gifts of candy and sweets to children on the night of January 5th, known as Epiphany Eve.  The Feast of Epiphany is a celebration of the realization that God has taken human form in Jesus Christ.  The town of Urbania holds a festival celebrating la Befana each year in early January.

7. Ukrainian Christmas Spider – Ukraine
Forget the tinsel: in Ukraine you’ll decorate your Christmas tree with spider webs.  In preparation for Christmas, the house is otherwise immaculately cleaned from top to bottom.  Ukrainian Christmas customs are based not only on Christian traditions, but to a great degree on those of the pre-Christian, pagan culture and religion.  The spider web tradition comes from a legend describing how a poor widow and her children had a Christmas tree but no decorations.  In the morning they discovered that a spider had woven a beautiful web around the tree.  When the sunlight came in the windows and hit the silvery web, it turned to silver and gold!

8. Kiviak – The Dead Christmas Bird 

Every culture in the world celebrates holidays by feasting together – and you might opt to stay at home for this one.  In Greenland during the winter time at special celebrations like weddings or on Christmas, a traditional dish known as kiviak is eaten.  Kiviak is prepared months ahead of time: a seal is hunted, then gutted and stuffed with small auk (native birds), up to 500 at a time.  The seal belly is sewn up, and the whole thing is left to ferment.  On the day of the celebration, the seal is opened, and the birds are then eaten.  The heads of the birds are taken off, and the insides devoured.  From what I have read, the guts are a bit toxic, creating an intoxicated effect.  This is a traditional way of preserving food, which must be done in a very specific manner.

Little Auks - Photo by Alastair Rae on Flickr

Little Auks – Photo by Alastair Rae on Flickr

9. “The Christmas Pickle” – Germany/USA

The story goes that when German families decorate the Christmas tree, the last ornament to be hung is the Christmas pickle -usually a blown glass ornament that may have been passed down through generations.  It is tucked away in a hard-to-see spot (it is green, after all).  The first child who finds the pickle on Christmas morning gets a special gift and good luck all the next year.

Pickle - Photo by elvissa.

Pickle – Photo by elvissa.

 10. Roller-skating to Mass – Caracas, Venezuela

If you are looking for an unusual Christmas getaway this year, you should think about traveling to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. On Christmas Eve morning the roads of the city are closed to cars, so people can roller skate to church. They don’t have snow here, so I guess it’s a nice alternative to riding a sled to church.  Instead of singing Christmas carols, people beat drums at midnight shouting “Jesus is born!” and use firecrackers to light-up the sky.

 Happy Holidays!  How do you celebrate?

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