One of the fascinating things about Christmas is how it’s celebrated in unusual and unique ways around the world
To kick start this holiday season, Esteban Touma, teacher and content producer at Babbel Live, shares his insights into some of the most fascinating and quirky Christmas traditions celebrated across the globe.
From the Yule Lads in Iceland with their distinct personalities, to the roller-skating kids of Venezuela, and the craze for festive fried chicken in Japan, here are 10 of the world’s most unique and quirky Christmas traditions.
1. Caga Tió or ‘pooping uncle’ in Catalonia
In Catalonia, children receive their gifts from a Christmas log known as ‘Caga Tió’ or, “pooping uncle”, a tradition born from the ancient custom of bringing in a large log for Christmas time. This quirk of culture has been practised throughout Europe and is closely linked to the Yule Log. These logs are kept in the home from the 8th of December, when Catalans celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Tió is “fed” every night with candy. On Christmas Day, Tió is so full of sweet treats he must relieve himself — and that is when the children beat him with a stick until he “releases” them.
2. Julebukk in Scandinavia
While we in the UK may be used to Father Christmas delivering presents, he is not the only gift giver around. In Scandinavian countries, Julebukk, which translates directly to “Yule goat” plays an integral part in Christmas folklore. Julebukk may be represented as a huge, goat-shaped figure made of straw with horns, or a tiny goat-shaped Christmas decoration, and delivers the Christmas gnomes, rather than elves, to the doors of children to drop off their presents.
3. La Befana in Italy
‘La Befana’ - often depicted as an old, kind witch, as opposed to a jolly fellow in red - delivers presents to children in Italy on the day of Epiphany. If a child is on her naughty list, she will fill their stocking with coal or a stick and those on the nice list are given toys. The origins of this tradition date back to when the three kings journeyed from far-off lands to bring gifts to the Holy Child, where everyone except Befana - the house proud woman - rushed from their homes to partake in the present swap. After the three kings left La Befana was unable to find them and so began flying around on the night of January 5th. She is traditionally rewarded by parents with sausages, broccoli and a glass of red wine, in place of milk and cookies.
4. Yule Lads in Iceland
In Iceland, children leave their shoes by their windows to be rewarded with small gifts or confectionery by 13 imps, also known as the ‘Yule Lads.’ It is believed that the Yule Lads take turns visiting children over the 13 nights running up to Christmas. Each Yule Lad has his own distinct personality - for example, Door Slammer, Bowl Licker, Door Sniffer and Yogurt Gobbler. The names of the Lads are very literal, but they are generally presented as a friendly, if mischievous, presence.