June 21, 2024
a white box near merry christmas text

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The movie “Krampus” is reminding holiday viewers that the spirit of Christmas isn’t always so jolly.

But spreading holiday cheer can mean something very different, depending on where you are in the world.

Think leaving milk out for Santa is a little strange? Here are 10 unusual, and slightly scary, Christmas traditions from around the world.

Wales: Parading a horse skull.

The Mari Lwyd is a wassailing folk custom found in South Wales. A villager from the town is chosen to parade a horse’s skull decorated with ribbons mounted on a pole through the streets on Christmas Eve. A white sheet drapes from the back of the horse’s head and covers the person holding the skull.

Guatemala: Burning devils

In order to rid houses of bad spirits for the new year, Guatemalans do a full house clean in December. The dirt and dust is gathered from every home and each neighborhood creates a large pile. A devil statue is built and placed on top of the offending dirt, and burned. The bad omens are said to burn up with the devil.

South Africa: Don’t eat Santa’s cookies.

To keep kids from nibbling on Santa’s cookies, parents tell children a story about a boy named Danny who ate all of Santa’s cookies and really angered his grandmother. In her rage, she killed him– and now their ghosts haunt houses during Christmas time. Heavy.

Greenland: Raw whale and stuffed seal

Greenland has a few unusual holiday menu items. Mattak is raw whale skin served with a side of blubber. Another Christmas treat is kiviak: Auk birds stuffed into a seal skin, left to ferment for half a year. While tese foods may be northern delicacies, we’re going to stick with the turkey.

Sweden: Burning Goat

Every year, villagers in the small Swedish town of Gavle build a 40-foot straw goat as part of a yule time tradition. But, pretty much every year since the tradition began in 1966, locals have succeeded in destroying it, either by burning it down, hitting it by cars, or almost stealing it with a helicopter.

Norway: Hide your brooms

Norwegians must put away their brooms on Christmas Eve. Legend has it that evil witches may come and steal them away if they are left out.

Iceland: Fear the Yule Cat

Children who don’t receive new clothes by Christmas Eve will devours by a mythical monster from Icelandic folklore known as the Yule Cat. What is a Yule Cat? It’s a large and angry feline rumored to lurk in the snow. The strange tradition comes from farmers who used the myth as an incentive for their workers to finish processing the autumn wool before Christmas. The ones who took part in the work would be rewarded with new clothes, but those who did not would get nothing and thus would be preyed upon by the monstrous cat.

Ukraine: A spooky tree

If you find yourself in Ukraine around the holidays, you may be wondering: Is it Christmas or Halloween? Trees here are decorated with artificial spider weds and decorative spiders. The unusual tradition is a nod to a tale where a mythical spider wove a web around the plain tree of a poor family. When morning came, the white strands turned to precious metals and the family was rich. The webs today symbolize prosperity for the next year.

Italy: Don’t fear the Christmas witch

Italians aren’t looking for a jolly old man in a red suit on Christmas Eve. Instead, they look out for Befana, a friendly witch that brings toys and candy to all good children.

U.S.: Drunk santas

While holiday cheer and holiday spirits traditionally go hand in hand, some take festive to a new level with the annual tradition of SantaCon. People from all over the world flock to New York City, decked out in head-to-toe Christmas garb dressed as elves, Santa, and snowmen- and participate in a city wide bar crawl. The festivities usually start before 8 a.m. so there are plenty of tipsy Santas roaming the streets by mid afternoon.


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