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How do you celebrate Christmas where you are? Presents under the tree, chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Barbie on the beach and a quick dip in the ocean? How about tying up your parents and ransoming them for your gifts? This time of the year is steeped in traditions that vary wildly all over the world. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite Christmas traditions from history (and one from the present) that make stockings seem a little…well, dull.
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Serbians have so many elaborate Christmas traditions that it’s difficult just to choose one for this list. There’s the badnjak, an oak log that has to be chopped down, brought inside and burned with great ceremony. In some parts Serbia, the head of the household would stand in their garden on the night of Christmas Eve and invite their enemies to dinner. Serbia takes Christmas seriously.
The tradition that stands out as really quite unusual, however, is the traditional gift giving process carried out by some Serbians. In Serbia, gifts are not given on Christmas Day itself, the process is stretched out over the three weekends prior to the big day. That’s not the odd bit of this tradition, however. On the first of these three weekends, the adults in this scene tie their children up with belts, scarfs or ropes. They also tie them to their neighbours’ children. The children are only freed when they pay a ransom in the form of Christmas presents for the adults.
The following week it’s Mum’s turn. The children pounce and tie up their mother, only freeing her on provision of gifts. Week three and they get Dad, with the escape route from captivity the same as in the other examples. As far as Christmas traditions go, this seems more open for exploitation than most.
9 ladies dancing, 8 fillet pieces, 7 swans a-swimming
As a predominantly non-Christian country, Japan is one of the last places where you’d expect to find a quirky Christmas tradition. Not to be outdone, however, the Japanese have created perhaps the most unusual on this list. On Christmas Eve each year, branches of KFC all over Japan are swamped by diners desperate for some fried Christmas chicken.
It all started in 1974, when KFC spotted an opportunity. As turkey is hard to come by in Japan, KFC’s marketing department suggested chicken as the next best thing to enjoy at Christmas. Specifically fried chicken. The slogan was ‘Christmas=Kentucky’ and, bafflingly, it worked. Now, the KFC Christmas Meal comes with champagne and cake, and will set you back around £30.
When we mentioned above that the Japanese love of KFC at Christmas was ‘perhaps’ the most unusual on this list, it’s because the Catalan tradition of the Caganer is keeping it off the top spot.
With their origins in the 18th century, caganers are figurines that accompany nativity scenes in Catalonia. “Nothing odd about that,” we hear you say, and you’re right, of course. Figurines in a nativity scene are completely normal.
Except these ones are…going to the toilet.
There are a number of explanations for how caganers came about. Some say they’re symbolic of equality, others that they’re fertilising soil. One thing is for sure, however, and that’s that we’re glad our school nativity plays weren’t in Catalonia.
The nightmare before, during and after Christmas
In the UK, children who are badly behaved through the year are punished by receiving a piece of coal from Santa Claus. In Alpine countries, children who are badly behaved are punished by being stuffed in a sack and dragged away by a monster who looks like this.
This is Krampus, and he really wants to meet you.
Traditionally, Krampus has been the counterpart to Saint Nicholas. Whereas Saint Nick gives you gifts, Krampus takes your soul. We’d say Krampus is a good incentive for children to behave. At all times. Just in case.