Decorating the Christmas tree, waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve, exchanging presents and eating with the family… Those are all classical activities that everybody knows. But besides the usual Christmas traditions, there are a bunch of other unpopular ones around the world. Here we have picked the quirkiest four.
1. The “caganer” and the “caga tió”, Catalonia, Spain
Funny enough, Catalans observe two Christmas traditions that have somehow to deal with poo. The first one is called “caganer”, which literally can be translated as “the pooper”. It is simply a male figurine of a peasant depicted in the act of defecation with his pants rolled down, and placed in Catalonia’s nativity scenes. The caganer is considered so important that past attempts by the government to remove it from public nativity scenes have caused widespread controversy. Although the original caganer is just a random male figurine, in recent years it has become common to see caganer versions of celebrities sold at Spanish Christmas markets. The second poop-based tradition is called “caga tió,” (literally the “pooping log”). It is a small wooden stick with a smile on its face that is placed on the dinner table in December. Caga tió is always covered with a blanket and fed daily with fruit, nuts, and sweets. On Christmas Eve, children beat the caga tió with sticks to make it poop out presents and sweets (in reality, the gifts and treats have been previously hidden under the blanket by the kids’ parents), and they sing a traditional song that urges the log to poop out the presents.
2. The yule lads, Iceland
In Iceland, the role of Santa Claus is played by 13 Yule lads, merry yet mischievous little trolls who bring presents to kids. Each one of the yule lads takes turns visiting the children on the 13 days leading up to Christmas. Each evening, Icelandic children place a shoe in their bedroom window, and if they’ve been well behaved, the Yule lad will leave gifts or treats, or rotting potatoes for naughty children. Each one of the ‘jólasveinar’ (yule lads) has a different personality. However, their names remained a point of much interpretation and debate until recently. According to the National Museum of Iceland, the official names and personalities of the 13 Yule lads are: (1) Sheep-Cote Clod, who tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds; (2) Gully Gawk, who steals foam from milk buckets; (3) Stubby, who steals food from frying pans; (4) Spoon Licker, who licks spoons; (5) Pot Scraper or Pot Licker, who licks unwashed pots; (6) Bowl Licker, who steals bowls of food from under the bed; (7) Door Slammer, who slams doors and keeps everyone awake; (8) Skyr Gobbler, who eats the Icelandic yogurt (skyr); (9) Sausage Swiper, who loves stolen sausages; (10) Window Peeper who likes to creep outside windows; (11) Door Sniffer, who has a huge nose and loves to steal baked goods; (12) Meat Hook, who always steals meat leftovers, and particularly smoked lamb; and (13) Candle Beggar, who steals candles.
3. Kentucky Fried Christmas, Japan
Although Christmas celebrations aren’t huge in Japan, Japanese families have a unique Christmas Eve dinner tradition: Fried chicken. This tradition became popular during the 1970s, when the American fast food restaurant KFC launched a Christmas ad campaign that went viral and established the tradition of families eating fried chicken for Christmas. According to the story, KFC got its marketing idea from an expat customer who bought KFC fried chicken for a holiday party, as he could not find any turkey. Based on this story, the American company started marketing its chicken as a traditional meal for the holiday season. Over the years, what began as an advertisement with the simple slogan “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) has somehow grown beyond its commercial purpose and became an established holiday tradition. The tradition has become so popular that reservations have to be made to eat at a KFC on Christmas Day and get the famous fried chicken served in special holiday packaging. Demand has increased so much that now even an online service is available: Customers can order in advance their Xmas Family Bucket and have it delivered at their home.
4. Spider webs decorations, Ukraine
If you travel to Ukraine during the Christmas season, you will see Christmas trees decorated with little spider ornaments called “pavuchky” and fake spider webs. This tradition goes back to an old folktale. According to the Ukrainian legend, a poor widow and her children couldn’t afford any decorations for their Christmaa tree. On Christmas day, they woke up and surprisingly saw their tree decorated with cobwebs. Once the youngest kid opened the window, sunlight shone on the web and transformed it into gold and silver. Honoring this legend, Ukrainian people now often decorate their trees with plastic spiders and webs. Moreover, seeing a spider web on Christmas morning is considered a sign of good luck.