Christmas time is nearly upon us and for some, we’ve been counting down since last year – preparing our advent calendars, bracing the overwhelming crowds for gifts, and eagerly awaiting the start of festivities, family and food. On the other hand, for others our enthusiasm may have not reached the same optimal levels, with the meaning of Christmas ‘spirit’ interpreted more about raiding the liquor cabinet (get it?) and hibernating until ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ and Micheal Bublé’s Christmas album on repeat have all just become distant bad memories. No matter your stance on the festive season, it’s fair to say that some wonderful and unique traditions are embraced throughout the world. If celebrating Christmas the same way every year is feeling a little humdrum, it may be time to tangle the tinsel with some of the following customs.
The Gavle Goat, Sweden
Arson doesn’t usually sit at the top of everyone’s Christmas plans but each year, the Swedish city of Gävle celebrates the season by building a giant straw goat. Since 1966, the goat has been built in Slottstorget square, and in more years than not, it has been destroyed by vandals. The very first Gävle Goat was destroyed on New Year’s Eve in 1966, and ever since, burning the goat has taken on a mischievous sense of tradition. Usually the flammable goat is burned down, often by drunken arsonists. This year the goat lasted less than 24 hours, even with the presence of high-tech cameras and security. The perpetrators of the crime managed to evade detection from any of the cameras, getting up close the goat while one of the guards was in the bathroom. Surprisingly, the town doesn’t want the goat to be burned down. In 2001, an American tourist served time in jail and was fined for successfully doing so.
The Krampus, Germany and Austria
If you ever needed a way to get the kids to behave this Christmas, this is it. In Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore, the Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure resembling a “half-goat, half-demon”. During the Christmas season, the Krampus punishes children who have misbehaved, in contrast with the more reasonable Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. Personally the latter seems the favourable option in our books.
Kentucky Fried Chicken, Japan
Christmas with Colonel Sanders may not be the first thing on the menu when it comes to festive dining, but the people of Japan have other ideas. With only one percent of the population practising Christianity, the date is not a national holiday. In the past foreigners visiting Japan had a hard time finding a turkey or chicken for Christmas so often resorted to visiting KFC instead. The fast-food chain acted upon this trend with a highly successful marketing campaign urging nationals to visit the stores on Christmas. So well did it work that people often have to order their meal in advance and wait in long lines to enter the store on the day.
Santa’s own Postal Code
If you’re wondering why you never got the jet-ski or exotic pet you asked Santa for last year, it may have been because you didn’t include his postcode on the wish list you mailed. In 1973, a couple of Canada Post employees noticed several letters addressed to Santa, and since then employees and volunteers respond to around one million letters each year addressed to the postcode H0H 0H0.
Spider webs in Ukraine
In Ukraine a legend is told about a poor widow who found a Christmas tree growing in her yard during the summer months. Her children were thrilled to finally have a tree, but she didn’t have money to decorate it. When the family woke up Christmas morning, a spider had beautifully decorated the tree by spinning a web around it. Because of that legend, people in the Ukraine now hide a spider web in their trees and whoever finds it on Christmas day will have good luck that year.
Christmas in Australia
Santa gives Rudolph and the gang a well-deserved rest and swaps them for boomer kangaroos when heading down under. He also often pulls up on the beaches around the country on his surfboard or in a surf lifesaving boat. Carolers like to gather in mass at outdoor venues in cities to sing by candlelight, and some people decorate their homes with “Christmas Bush,” which is a plant native to Australia, bearing cream-coloured flowers that often turn red in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The Aussies also live up to their reputation and hold barbecues on the sunny beaches – with cold beer, cricket and fresh seafood popular inclusions on the day. An official Guinness world record was set in 2015 at Bondi Beach for the world’s largest surfing lesson, which included 320 locals dressing up as Santa Claus.
Mari Lwyd in Wales
If the Krampus wasn’t enough to scare you off, meet Mari Lwyd. Mari Lwyd is the name of custom in Wales in which a horse’s skull is mounted on a pole, with a sackcloth attached to hide the individual underneath holding it. Carried from door to door by wassail-singing groups, the objective is to knock on the door and windows and be let inside. The participants mock each other’s singing and drunkenness in a debate, and if the group is victorious and granted access, the singing continues inside and they are given cakes, ale and sometimes a money gift as well.
Nisse and Tomte in Scandinavia
A nisse or tomte is a mythological creature from Scandinavian folklore associated with the winter solstice and Christmas season. It is known to be no taller than three feet, donning a long white beard, and wearing a conical cap in red or another bright colour. They often have an appearance similar to that of a garden gnome and look after the welfare of the farm animals. Bowls of porridge are left out for nisse or tomte as it is believed that if not fed, the following year the animals will fall ill and die. Another widely-believed tall-tale is that all the brooms in the house are hidden in Norway. The story goes that Norwegians long ago believed that witches and mischievous spirits come out on Christmas Eve and would steal their brooms for riding. Unfortunately this doesn’t actually happen as much as we’d like to believe.
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