Cookies, carolers and jingle bells are among the many “normal” traditions Americans embrace during the holiday season. But overseas, anything goes for the countries who celebrate “Weird Christmas.” From roller skating to church to embracing the devil-like counterpart, Krampus, get ready to explore a new world of holiday traditions.
Krampus | Austria & Hungary
Jingle bells and sleigh rides are not the preferred choice in Austria and Hungary. Rather they choose to punish bad children with St Nick’s devilish counterpart, Krampus. The red devil with hooves, horns and long tongue walks the streets with chains and a basket for abducting naughty children. Yes, kids do go to hell in Krampus’s world, and locals dress in naughty costumes to stomp the streets in fury.
Mari Lwyd | Wales
Horse + Christmas = Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare.” This involves a life-size horse, or a person dressed as a horse, and taken door-to-door with a group of colorful singers and dancers. The tradition is a holdover for pagan celebration before Christmas was introduced to Wales. The ritual involves Welch-language music and a petition to enter one’s home for a jolly frolic of music and spirit.
Zwarte Piet | Belgium and Netherlands
Zwarte Piet or “Black Pete” was Santa’s Moorish or African slave. He helped distribute gifts to the children and dubious task of abducting naughty children and sending them to Spain. The modern, politically correct version is watered down where the local still makes his presence, just not in an offensive manner.
KFC | Japan
Instead of gorging on turkey or ham, many locals choose a bucket of good ol’ American KFC chicken. The 40-year old marketing “false advertising” campaign convinced locals that fried chicken is the American bird of choice on Christmas.
Spider Webs | Ukraine
An old fairy stuck with locals to believe that spiders decorated the Christmas tree of a family too poor for afford a proper yuletide ornaments. The sunrise glistens on the webs the same as it would with traditional tinsel and lights. Today, modern trees are covered with webs made out of crystal, paper, metal or plastic.
Mummers | Latvia
Mummers, dressed as bears, gypsies, clowns or zombies, dance in the street and parade door-to-door with music and cheer. Mummers are known to drive out evil spirits from homes and ensure an abundant life with livestock, crops or spousal situations. Mummers were brought to the Philli region in the 17th Century and formed the modern mummer’s movement.
La Befana | Italy
Lucky Italian children receive their presents from an old witch named, La Befana. St. Nick may not be present, but Befana cleans cluttered homes with her broomstick. Scholars believed the witch was a reincarnation of ancient Roman deity, Strenia, goddess of strength and endurance.
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Elizabeth is a fitness professional, workshop presenter and freelance writer. She is an active traveler who treks the globe looking for interesting stories to write and places to photograph. Her most significant travel achievements include living and volunteering in Australia twice and studied yoga in India.