As if the American fruitcake, the 50-pound confection full of chewy fruits surrounded by what might be described as “sugar glue,” isn’t weird enough, here are some odd holiday happenings from around the globe.
There’s a special figurine that originates in Catalonia, a region in Spain, that adds something, um, quirky to Christmas. The caganer is a little person depicted mid-squat, with his or her pants pulled down, who is placed as part of the Nativity scene. Caganer literally means “the defecator.” The history of the practice has something to do with good luck, or the lack of it should you omit the little stinker from your crèche.
Another Catalan tradition is the Tió de Nadal, literally, “Christmas log.” This hollow log often has a smiling, painted or glued-on face at one end. Household children care for it in the days leading up to Christmas by leaving it food to eat and covering it with a blanket to keep it warm. If the children are especially good to the wood, they will have the pleasure of beating him with sticks come Christmas so that he’ll “poop” out sweet treats for the whole family.
Early in December, Guatemalans sweep out their homes and deposit their garbage in the streets. It all gets gathered up in a big pile, a devil figure is placed on top, and the whole thing is sent up in flames. This cleansing ritual is said to make way for the purer aspects of the Christmas celebration by smoking out evil spirits and negativity.
A relative of the Zwarte Pieten, no doubt, Krampus—a horned, cloven footed devil—is an Austrian anti-Santa. Krampus may hit bad children with twigs, or he may only leave twig bundles (just like our American Santa leaves coal) in place of gifts for children who’ve been particularly bad. Nothing says “Joyous Noel” quite like the devil himself reminding you to stay on the nice list.
In the Netherlands, Santa, or as he’s known there, Sinterklaas, comes not on Christmas Eve, but on Dec. 5. While receiving gifts before Christmas is not so odd in Europe, what is a bit weird is that Sinterklaas brings his companions, the Zwarte Pieten, translated literally as “Black Peters.” They not only help deliver presents, but also are ready to throw naughty children in a sack and cart them off to Spain where, according to the Dutch, Sinterklaas lives.
Christmas Fried Chicken.
Very few Japanese are Christians, but they do find a good reason to gather ‘round the dinner table on Dec. 25. What food could bring together Japanese families for finger-licking fare? Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 1974, KFC marketed a bucket of fried chicken as a fair substitution for Western holiday meals (namely, roast turkey). These days, many Japanese place orders months in advance for their annual KFC feast.
Halloween or Holly Day?
People in the Ukraine hold to a tradition that smacks of our Halloween. Instead of decorating with tinsel, they deck out the tree with faux spider webs. The traditional story tells of a poor family that nurtured a pinecone into a Christmas tree, but had nothing to decorate it with. The spiders that lived in the house took pity on the family and spun webs around the boughs that magically turned to silver and gold threads when the Christmas morning sun hit the tree, lifting the family out of poverty for the rest of their days. A strange, but heartwarming Christmas miracle, after all.