Venezuelans skate to church, Norwegians hide their brooms, and Catalans are obsessed with festive pooping. We reveal the weird and wonderful festive traditions around the world...
Forget the Christmas turkey. For many Japanese, traditional Christmas dinner is Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Due to a combination of tiny Japanese ovens and a clever marketing campaign convincing locals that fried chicken is a traditional American Yuletide feast, reservations have to be made to eat at a KFC on Christmas Day.
During the run-up to Christmas, Colonel Sanders statues outside KFC’s Japanese outlets wear Santa gear. The chicken is served in special holiday packaging. Demand is such that an online service has been created: order your Xmas Family Bucket in advance and have it delivered.
Norwegians believe that Christmas Eve coincides with the arrival of evil spirits and witches. It is only logical then, that Norwegian householders hide all their brooms before they go to sleep. After all, nothing spoils Christmas quicker than finding your broom in broken pieces at the foot of a tree, trashed by some joy-riding witch.
In the week leading up to Christmas, Venezuelans attend a daily church service called Misa de Aguinaldo (Early Morning Mass). In the capital, Caracas, it is customary to travel to the church service on roller skates. Indeed, so widespread is the practice, many roads in the capital are closed until 8am to provide Christmas worshippers with a safe passage.
In Austria, St Nicholas has an evil counterpart called Krampus. He is the bad cop to St Nick’s good cop, a demon-like creature with one task: to punish bad children before Christmas.
Men dressed in devil costumes roam the streets, carrying chains and a basket for abducting especially bad children and hauling them to hell.
It's certainly one way to keep the kids off the streets.
Welcome to the bizarre Catalan tradition of caga tió or 'defecating log'.
Locals in Catalonia create a character out of a log, drawing a face on it and giving it a hat. Then they spend a fortnight 'feeding' it fruit, nuts and sweets.
On Christmas Eve, the entire family beats the log with sticks and sings a traditional song that translates to 'if you don't crap well, i'll beat you with a stick' until the log excretes all its treats. It's hard to comprehend why this tradition hasn't caught on elsewhere.
They also decorate their nativity scenes with small, pooping, ceramic caganers (figurines). Usually well-known characters, often drawn from that year's news, the figurines always have their pants around their ankles.
Next time you find yourself complaining about granny's festive brussel sprouts, spare a thought for the poor tykes in Greenland. Each Christmas, they have to tuck into mattak – raw whale skin with a little blubber – and kiviak, which is made by wrapping an auk (a small arctic bird) in seal skin, burying it for several months and eating its decomposed flesh.
In Guatemala, cleanliness really is next to Godliness. Locals believe that the devil and other evil spirits live in the dark, dirty corners of your home. Therefore, they spend the week before Christmas sweeping up, collecting rubbish and then piling everything in a huge heap outside. Finally, an effigy of the devil is placed on top and the whole thing is set on fire.
It's called La Quema del Diablo, the 'Burning of the Devil'. The idea for Guatemalans is to burn all the bad from the previous year and start a new year from out of the ashes.
In addition to the standard tinsel, fairy lights and baubles, Ukrainians like to throw an artificial spider and web on the tree as well.
The tradition has its origins in an old tale of a poor woman who couldn't afford to decorate her tree and woke on Christmas morning to discover a spider had covered it in a glorious, sparkling web. It’s for good luck. It's not about poor housekeeping.
During consoda, the traditional Christmas feast in Portugal, families sometimes set extra places at the dining table for deceased relatives.
It's thought that the practice will ensure good fortunes for the household. In some areas crumbs are left on the hearth as well. And you thought feeding all your living relatives was hard enough.
Unable to conclusively prove the existence of Santa, the Vatican decided to throw its weight behind something they'd had countless dealings with: an old witch called La Befana who delivers presents to kids in Italy.
The story goes that the three wise men invited the witch to accompany them to see the baby Jesus. She said she was too busy and the legend was born.
On Christmas Eve, unmarried Czech women stand with their back to the door and toss one of their shoes over their shoulder. If it lands with the toe facing the door, it means that they’ll be married within the year. If it lands with the heel facing the door, they’re in for another year of watching Bridget Jones movies. Perhaps it's better than marrying a heel, though.
On the evening of December 5, German children leave a boot or a shoe outside their bedroom door. In the morning, if they've been good, they will wake to find the shoes filled with sweets. If they have haven’t, they will find only a branch.
Obviously, it is best to leave out the newest pair of shoes you own – preferably, fresh out of the box.
Here's one for the New Year. In Spain, it is customary to wear red underwear on New Year's Eve. The small town of La Font de la Figuera has taken the tradition one step further: a New Year’s Eve run with the runners wearing just red underwear.
Coincidentally, the town has the highest incidence of pneumonia in the country.
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