Christmas is a truly global phenomenon with an estimated two billion people celebrating every year on the 25th December.
We all have our Christmas traditions, whether it’s the inevitable onslaught of turkey and Brussel sprouts, decorating trees or the magical belief in Santa!
Although Christmas may seem clearly rooted in Christian religion, the way we celebrate in 2014 is a phenomenal example of the merging of many cultures, religions and beliefs into an incredibly special time of year.
There’s also some very unusual ways in which some countries celebrate Christmas.
Santa – The Good, the Bad and the Weird!
In the UK, we see Santa as an angelic saint of all-things Christmas, delivering presents down a chimney and flown around the world by magical reindeer.
However, it’s not the case in Germany, Austria and some parts of Switzerland where Santa’s little helper isn’t quite as friendly. St Nikolaus (the saint on whom many countries base Santa Claus) is accompanied by a scary devil-like character as a warning to children no to be bad. In France there’s a similar figure called La Pere Fouettard.
Even more strangely, in Holland Santa Claus is called Sinterklaas. The legend is that he doesn’t live in the North Pole, but in sunny Spain and arrives by steamboat with a helper called Black Peter rather than an elf.
We all pile on the pounds over the Christmas break, with an endless supply of roasted meat and an unhealthy helping of “the trimmings.” We’re not sure if this would be the case in some countries though, as their Christmas food rituals sound a little less appetising!
In Greenland, the festive dish is called Kiviak. It is a decomposed bird that has been wrapped in sealskin and buried under a stone for several months. They also feast on mattak, slices of raw whale skin.
In Poland, the main meal is served on Christmas Eve and is a 12 course feast, two of which are carp!
In Mexico, just before Christmas is the Festival of the Radishes. This festival sees agricultural workers carve the vegetables into human figures, including those from nativity scenes.
Saving the best for last…
All traditions when analysed objectively may seem quite strange and sometimes the only explanation is that “that’s what we always do!” But there are certain Christmas practices in some countries that are so peculiar that we just could not leave them off this list!
In Serbia, it seems that hostage taking is the route to getting your presents. It’s not tradition to give presents at Christmas, but on the Sundays before. A fortnight before December 25th, children tie up their mothers and she then has to pay a ransom in the form of gifts to be freed. The following Sunday the same happens with the father of the family. We’re not entirely sure why, or what happens if the children aren’t happy with their gifts!
In Greece, Basil is wrapped around a cross and it is used to sprinkle holy water around the house to ward off mischief making goblins called killantzaroi. Just to add to the bizarreness of this act, it’s also traditional to burn old shoes for good luck in the following year.
We don’t really know how to phrase this, as after all the talk of food it is quite unsavoury. But the winner of the strangest Christmas ritual belongs to Spain, specifically the Catalonia region.
The traditional Nativity scenes get an addition in the form of a character called the ‘caganer’. This translates as “the pooper”… actually, it translates to something a little more crude and the figure is squatting as if going to the toilet. Sometimes they are shepherds, but can even be footballers or politicians!
Wherever you are around the world, and however you choose to celebrate this festive time of year, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2015.