Isn’t it funny that the traditions we partake in every year around Christmas, the things that we perceive as being very normal, may actually be considered VERY strange to the rest of the world? This thought occurred to me the other night as I was sitting at a Christmas party and my friend of Polish descent was describing their Christmas tradition of carving a lamb out of butter. Yes, you read that correctly. A lamb. Out of butter! After spending the next half an hour looking up pictures of these mystical Polish Butter Lambs (I suggest you do the same), I started to get curious about other festive rituals around the world! Hence, I thought it would be fun to circle around the globe to the countries I’ve visited in 2015 and discover their weirdest and wackiest Christmas Traditions!
1. USA: Running of the Santa’s
The Running of the Santa’s has become a rite of passage in many states in the USA. Basically, hundreds of people dress up in red suits and go on a bar crawl through the town. These events have become increasingly popular and now see hundreds, if not thousands of look-a-like Santa’s parading the streets, full of booze and Christmas cheer. Cue ALOT of madness.
2. Sweden: Burning a Straw Goat
Who needs Santa Claus when you have the Christmas Goat?! This four-legged creature is the centerpiece of the festive season in Sweden, with houses all over the country placing straw yule goats in their windows and underneath their Christmas trees. Then there is the giant Gävle Goat, which apparently gets burnt down every year by arsonists. Didn’t they learn anything from the Three Little Pigs?
3. Italy: The Good Witch of Christmas
In Italy, the story of Baby Jesus being born is, uh, a little untraditional. Italian legend has it that La Befana (the good witch of Christmas) was meant to join the three wise men to see baby Jesus, but declined because she had too much housework. Seems legit. This tale has developed into children hanging stockings on January the 5th, waiting for La Befana to visit on her broomstick as she bring children gifts.
4. Finland: Paying Your Respects on Christmas Eve
On Christmas Eve in Finland, things get a little more sombre, as families puts on their thickest coats and heads to the cemetery to pay respects to the dead. Families will sing and light candles for their loved ones, lighting up Finnish graveyards in this touching tribute.
5. Hungary: An Early Gift Exchange
In Hungary and many of its Eastern European neighbours St Nicholas Day on the 6th of December is when gifts are exchanged. However, the Christmas tree doesn’t go up until Christmas Eve! These days, some children are lucky and manage to score gifts on both days- a double Christmas!
6. England: The Eating of Pudding
Eating Christmas Pudding has been a yearly Christmas tradition in my household as long as I can remember, so I never thought about how strange it might be to those without British roots! Christmas Pudding is made up of dried fruit and nuts that have soaked in brandy for months on end. Often, it is common practice to pop a sixpence (small silver coin) in the mixture, and whoever was the lucky person to chomp in to the metal got to keep the coin and is apparently brought good health for the coming year. Good health and a trip to the dentist…
7. Netherlands: Naughty Kids Sent to Spain
There is no shortage of rather strange folklore that circulates in many European countries, particularly around Christmas time. In the Netherland, Sinterklass (which is where the name Santa Clause comes from) arrives in the country with his servants called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ or Black Peters. The children are told that Zwarte Pieten keeps a record of the things they have done in a big book. Apparently, good children get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children are put in a sack and are taken to Spain by Zwarte Pieten for a year to learn how to behave. How utterly terrifying. And, uh, what happened to a thing called political correctness?
8. Wales: The Battle of the (Horses) Wit
Mari Lwyd (translating to “gray mare” in English) is a hilarious tradition involving a person dressing up as a horse, or rather, concealing themselves by sheets and operating a horse head attached to a pole. The horse and its party then rock up on someone’s doorstep, sing some verses, then engage in a battle of wits and rhyme with the person who answered the door. Hands down the best tradition I’ve ever heard of.
9. Australia/ New Zealand: ???
And in my corner of the world? In my household, it’s the annual family photo involving fake snow and a lot of Christmas cheer (note how embarrassed my dog looks at her crazy family)!
I don’t know about you, but I simply can’t wait for Christmas… Overindulging in delicious food, spending time with my family, and most importantly, celebrating the reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ! From the bottom of my heart, wherever you are in the world.. Have THE MOST magical Christmas!