Americans seem to think they’ve got this whole Christmas thing all figured out. We put up way too many lights on our house, put a giant tree in our living room and cover it with weird crap our kids made in kindergarten, and then we invite our whole family over for a meal with way too many side dishes (stuffing, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, green bean casserole, AND salad? Really? ), and then we get drunk and argue about politics and bitch about “kids these days…” America!
But we’re not the only ones with awesome Xmas traditions. In fact, the things we do, pale in comparison to some of the strange and unique Christmas traditions that exist around the world. They range from evil Santas to strange meals to a few hard to believe poop-related traditions. Yeah, really.
Kentucky Fried Christmas
One of my favorite traditions is that in Japan, on Christmas Eve, it’s tradition to eat Kentucky fried chicken for dinner. Yup, KFC on Christmas eve. For whatever reason, people started going out for fried chicken on Xmas eve, and the good folks at KFC embraced the tradition, advertised it, marketed it, and now it’s not just a common practice, it’s damn near required. Lines at the local KFC are known to reach around the block during the holidays, and it’s not uncommon that families will call ahead to reserve their extra crispy feast weeks in advance.
Zwarte Piet / Black Pete
In Holland, Santa’s faithful companion isn’t Rudolph, but instead, he’s always accompanied by his slave (yes, slave) named Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete. This sounds too crazy to be true, but even to this day, the Dutch will dress up in afro wigs and black face paint to play the role of Pete. So what does Santa’s slave do? Well, if you’ve been a naughty little Dutchie, he’ll kidnap you, but if you’ve been good, you get candy and cookies! So you better be good, kiddos!
Santa’s Evil Counterpart: Krampus
In many European countries, but most notably in Austria, the naughty kids have a lot to worry about. There’s an evil goon named Krampus who has been known to roll around with Santa and deal with the kids who didn’t make the nice list. Even his name sounds terrible. Like our old friend Black Pete, Krampus kidnaps the bad kids, but his legend goes even further to say that he actually eats the naughty kids for Christmas dinner! Depictions of Krampus are terrifying enough to make any kid work damn hard to make sure he’s on Santa’s Nice List.
A Sneaky Shitter
Europe is home to many strange traditions, and this one is spread across Portugal Spain, and Italy. In many families, they set up nativity scenes like we do here in The States, they’ll have Mary and the baby Jesus and the wise men and all that, but then hidden in the corner there will be a guy called the Caganer, which literally means “The Shitter.” And yes, he’s shitting. Typically it’s a figurine of a man, with his pants down, squatting over a pile of poop. It sounds too weird to be true, but it’s the real deal. The Caganer used to just be a figurine of a random man, but now you can buy Caganers made to look like politicians and celebrities. Is that Barack Obama taking a dump in the corner of your nativity scene? Nice one!
Catalonia’s Pooping Christmas Log
Spain is really the weirdest / most awesome place in the world when it comes to strange holiday traditions. Besides the Caganer, in the region of Catalonia, they also have a Christmas tradition involving a wooden log, often with a smiling face on it, that the children beat with a stick until it poops out presents. They call the thing Caga Tio which of course means Uncle Shit. You can’t make these things up. The back side of the log is covered in a blanket to hide the presents (or poops), the kids beat the log with a stick until all the presents are “pooped” into the blanket. Then the parents will remove the blanket and the kids get to open their presents.
So. Freaking. Weird. But it’s tradition – and learning about these kinds of traditions is one of the best parts of travel! As we travel around the world and make the world a smaller, more connected place we learn about each other’s strange and embarrassing traditions, and we may just realize that despite our cultural and geographical boundaries, we’re all just a bunch of very silly humans.