Christmas, to us, means a brightly decked Christmas tree, brightly wrapped gifts, loads and loads of twinkling lights, and Santa Claus climbing up and down chimneys. The plum pudding, Yule log, and Christmas roast are staples, and the air is rich with the tunes of soulfully rendered Christmas carols.
That’s Christmas as we know it, but throughout the world, this festival takes its own shape and form. For instance, in Japan, the Christmas tradition is to feast on a bucket of KFC. That’s right, KFC.
Even though this day is not a national holiday in Japan, more than 3.5 million families have made crunchy, crispy, and the very delicious Kentucky Fried Chicken integral to their holiday spirit. In fact, people have to reserve their boxes months in advance so that they don’t have to stand in line for hours on Christmas. Whoa!
If you think that’s strange, consider this. In Catalonia, Spain, the custom is to buy a Caga Tio, loosely translated as ‘a pooping log’. Yep, you read that right. It is called a pooping log – a log that poops!
A week before Christmas, the good people of Catalonia go out and buy a hollowed out log that has a face and legs carved into it. Then they ‘feed’ it with small candies, nuts, and fruits. On this day, the poor fella gets thwacked with sticks, until he starts ‘pooping’ out all the goodies he’d gobbled up. There’s also a song that the family sings to encourage the Caga Tio to clean his bowels thoroughly:
Hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
If you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick
The Catalonians fascination with poop doesn’t end there. They’ve also had the ‘Caganer’ – a tiny little defecating figure that finds its way into nativity scenes across the state. Each house buys one, and the popular belief is that if you don’t, the farmers would have a bad harvest.
Still, what about Christmas made them think of bare buttocks spewing poop? Shees!
Moving on to pleasanter things – gifts! They really embody the Christmas spirit, don’t they? The world over, gifts are received by one and all; only the courier boy changes. While Santa Claus is hugely popular in the US, in Russia, he’s known as Ded Moroz, or Father Frost, and helped out by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden.
In Italy, we’ve got La Befana, the friendly witch who goes around distributing sweets and gifts to children. Colombians, however, do not believe in taking gifts from the messenger, so the task is entrusted to none other than little baby Jesus. A bit of a tall order for a newborn babe, don’t you think, not to mention child labor!
Amidst all the cheer and festivities, there’s yet another popular aspect of Christmas – scaring the living daylights out of kids! That’s right, Austrian kids live in fear of Krampus – the Christmas Devil who is known to punish naughty children. In Iceland, terror is doled out in the generous amount by a Yule Cat. This fashion-conscious feline goes about devouring anybody who hasn’t bought new clothes!
In Greece, the kallikantzaroi – a race of evil goblins – surface during the 12 days of Christmas and wreak total havoc on the population. And in South Africa, the ghost of poor little Danny haunts homes, all because he was killed by his grandmother for eating the cookie left out for Santa Claus.
How festive! The spirit of Christmas is incomplete unless you’ve got people shivering in their boots, right?
It’s evident that Christmas takes shape in unique ways across the world. From Ukrainians who use spiderweb as a popular decoration to Venezuelans who roller skate their way to Christmas (yeah seriously, that’s a thing!) to Estonians who head to the sauna for a traditional soak on Christmas Eve, we’ve developed wonderful ways to enliven up the festive season. Sure, you have to be careful as you walk down the streets in the Czech Republic because you’ve got unmarried women throwing shoes out of the door. But that’s a small price to pay to enjoy the happiness and gratitude the festival brings with it!
Image Courtesy: livinghours.com