Christmas isn’t always about genial Santas, mistletoes and mugs of mulled wine. Raul Dias introduces you to a few alternative and decidedly wacky Christmas traditions around the world
In a little under two days’ time, most of the world will celebrate Christmas Day as we know it. Replete with all the Advent accoutrements pat in place. Read: carol singing, steaming mugs of mulled wine, nativity pageants and portly, white-bearded Santas frolicking about the place. But before we get carried away with all the above mentioned — and dare-we-say, cliched — merriment montages, it is pertinent to note that that is not necessarily how the season’s festivities are represented everywhere. Remember we said ‘most’ and not ‘all over’ the world!
Here are a few such interesting, out-of-the-box and downright bizarre ways in which the world celebrates the birthday of Lord Jesus:
This scary Austrian version of Santa, aka. Krampus really knows how to show those kids who’ve been bad, his…well, bad side! The ghoulish, hooved and horned creature that stems from Alpine folklore is believed to be the evil accomplice of St Nicholas and is said to wander the streets in search of badly-behaved children. During the month of December, you can expect to see terrifying masked figures out and about scaring kids and adults alike with ghastly pranks. The Krampus myth is so popular in Austria that there is even an annual Krampus parade in the capital Vienna.
In a finger lickin’ mood, anyone?
Forget the Japanese language version of the “Merry Christmas!” greeting. For nearly five decades the refrain on Christmas Eve in Japan has been “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!). Yes, eating Colonel Sanders’ fried poultry pieces have become a sort of ritual for a true-blue Japanese Christmas Eve. Back in 1974, the American fast-food restaurant giant released a festive marketing campaign in Japan that spawned this rather strange national tradition that still thrives to this day. Families from all over the country head to their local KFC for a special Christmas Eve meal with table reservations being made weeks in advance.
There’s a very unique tradition that takes place in Caracas, Venezuela from the 16th to the 24th of December every year, where the city’s streets are closed off for heavy traffic before 8 am so that people can go skating. And come Christmas Eve, the streets are closed off the whole day. Local residents then roller skate to church to attend the early morning mass called misa de aguinaldo, shooting off fireworks and shouting out “Jesus is born!” as they skate way.
In a mighty pickle!
Forget those shiny buntings and kiss those cute turtle doves goodbye. In Germany, the must-have Christmas tree ornament has got to be a big green dill pickle. Confused? Well, in this Teutonic nation — where many believe the Christmas tree originated — it is customary to hide a pickle shaped ornament somewhere within the branches of the tree and give a gift to whichever child in the household finds it. According to a legend, two young boys were held captive inside a pickle barrel when the jolly St Nicholas rescued them, bringing them back (and a new tradition) to life.
Barbie and thongs
Do pardon the above sub-header, but this unique Christmas tradition maintained by our antipodean friends from down under in Australia has got nothing whatsoever to do with dolls or underwear! With Australia enjoying sunny Christmas days — what with December being peak summer time — the festivities here are kicked off with family-style barbecues that are affectionately called ‘barbies’ where people come dressed ultra-casually in shorts and sporting ‘thongs’ or flip flops on their feet. Very often, after a typically Aussie Christmas barbie, the action shifts to the local beach for a swim in the waters or simply to lounge about on the sand.
We have probably saved the wackiest (and cutest!) of all Christmas traditions for the last, all the way from Sweden. The story goes back to the 1960s when televisions which were relatively new in Sweden aired only two channels. Now, one of these played Disney cartoons at Christmas, and in particular a 1958 Christmas special called “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” or “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas”. Very soon the tradition of watching this particular special took root. So much so that till this day, every Christmas, families around Sweden gather in front of the television set at 3 pm sharp, all to watch the antics of a duck named Donald. Interestingly, everything on Christmas Day is planned around the television special that enjoys a viewership of more than 40 per cent of Sweden’s population.
Raul Dias a Mumbai-based food and travel writer and restaurant reviewer. Follow Raul on Instagram @rauldias123