Christmas is accompanied with countless traditions and customs around the world that are kept and being practicing for several decades, while their roots most of the times send us back centuries ago. Some are strange and some scary. Most customs have as a purpose to bring good luck to people and drive away evil spirits and misfortune. Let’s get to know some of these customs, making a trip to our beautiful world.
Witches and Evil Spirits – Norway
A Norwegian legend says that on Christmas Eve, witches and evil spirits come out, looking for brooms to ride on and terrorize people. To prevent this from happening, Norwegians hide all their brooms, while men go outside and fire a shotgun in the air, in order to scare away the evil spirits. Are …vacuum cleaners at risk too?
Red Underwear – Spain
In the small Spanish town La Font de la Figuera, on New Year’s Eve, people put on red underwear that should be received as a gift and start running around the city center (indeed, to endure the cold only in your underwear, you should be running), which they believe will bring them good luck. For even more luck, they have to take along some grapes and eat one grape for every beat of the midnight clock. Hmmm, excess weirdness or is it our imagination?
Krampus – Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia
Krampus is the evil twin brother of Santa Claus. Oh yes, there’s twin brother and his job is to punish or even eat (!), the naughty children of the passing year. So, on December 5th, men dress up in some of the scariest devil-like costumes and run around the streets, hitting children and adults with sticks. Thank God, here in Greece we are being visited only by his good brother!
The Spider – Ukraine
In Ukraine, except from the typical decoration stuff, Christmas trees are also decorated with an unusual “ornament”. A fake spider and its web are well hidden in the tree and whoever finds them first is considered to be the lucky man of the coming year. Tradition says that a poor widowed mother could not afford decorations for her family’s Christmas tree. One morning she awoke to find that a spider had beautifully decorated the tree with its web, giving joy to the family. Is there a custom with cockroaches too?
Toss your Shoe – Czech Republic, Slovakia
On Christmas Eve, single women have their own unique way to find out what the future is about to bring in their personal life. They stand with their back to the front door of their house and toss one of their shoes behind their back. If the shoe lands with the toe pointing at the door, it means that they will get married within the coming year. Slippers count?
Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) – Wales
Christmas in some villages of Wales have a very special protagonist. A man gets covered with a white sheet, holding in his hand a long wooden pole with a decorated horse skull on its edge and along with 5-6 “normal” people they stroll down the streets, singing merrily! However, beware of the horse’s jaws, because they bite and its victims must then pay a “fine”. Moreover, the fellowship pays house visits, hoping to get something to eat or drink, since its visit is considered to bring good luck to the landlords. This is a custom we really don’t like at all!
La Befana – Italy
In some regions of Italy, gifts are delivered by Befana, a good but ugly witch. She brings gifts, sweets and fruits for the well-behaved children, but coal and garlic are her gifts for the naughty ones. The landlords leave her a glass of wine, and if Befana is satisfied, she will even sweep the floor, before she flies away on her broomstick. Fantastic! This witch is really welcomed home!
Gävle Goat – Sweden
Since 1966, every year in the Swedish city of Gävle, a huge goat of about 13 metres height, made of straw, is erected in the city center and becomes a tourist attraction. One theory says that this custom is related to our favorite mythological god Thor, who had a flying chariot with two goats. Unfortunately, the straw goat every year becomes a target of arsonists and few times has it managed to stand on its feet throughout the Christmas holidays. If you find yourself there, you can even bet as for how long poor goat will be able to survive!
If these joyful days you find yourself in the province, you could ask about the local customs (weird or not) of the region. And if you have any knowledge of how old people used to spend their Christmas holidays, we would like you to share it with us.
Learn about strange customs and have fun because …it’s good for you!