While you may not be able to fathom a candy-less Christmas, they sure do exist. In fact, Christmas isn’t all about heavily decorated trees and big-bellied chocolate Santas – there are many ways to celebrate the 25th of December, and we set out on a mission to discover them all. Read on to learn just how weird and wonderful Christmas can be. And who knows, maybe your new tradition will be to try one of the following.
While England doesn’t have many bizarre traditions, there is one worth mentioning, and it involves the Christmas pudding: each member of the family must stir the Christmas pudding mix in a clockwise direction before it’s cooked, making a wish as they do so.
In remote parts of the Czech Republic, bowls of garlic are placed under the Christmas dinner table to protect the family from the evil spirits that were thought to arise in conspiracy against the birth of Jesus, the holy spirit. Other Czech traditions include having to wait for the ringing of a bell (the sign the Jesus has just passed by) at the end of Christmas dinner before opening presents, cutting apples crosswise to see if the core forms a perfect star (if so, the coming year will be successful, and if not, the year will a bad one filled with illness) or a cross, which signifies death. And if those aren’t enough, girls throw shoes over their shoulders to determine when they will marry; if the toe points in the direction of the door, their future is bright and they shall marry soon.
Australia and New Zealand
If you’re on the market for a memorable guided trip around Australia
or New Zealand
, Christmastime is the time to go. Why? It’s summer! While you may associate Christmas with chilly nights, snow, and toasty fires, the Aussies and Kiwis think otherwise; for them, Christmas is about barbecues on the beach! That said, the high temperatures don’t stop Australians and New Zealanders decorating their homes with a winter theme; you won’t be hard-pressed to find snowmen dotting vibrant green lawns and icicle-like lights hanging from the trees. One nice thing that the Aussies do on Christmas is to set up a celebration on Bondi Beach for international tourists who are unable to be with their families for the holiday. This special celebration often entails barbecuing turkey and watching Santa surf.
Austrian children are raised to fear a Christmas devil named Krampus who beats the young with branches if they are naughty. On a more pleasant note, the Austrians are passionate about their Christmas trees, and they even set up trees adorned with bread crumbs for the birds. Interestingly, Christmas trees in family homes are only lit on Christmas Eve, and instead of Santa being the one responsible for gift-giving, it’s the Christ Child who fulfills children’s wishes.
It’s hard to believe, but the Catalonians include a figure of a defecating man (“El Caganer,” or “the crapper”) in their nativity scenes. But before you jump to the conclusion that a Catalonian Christmas is, well, bonkers, hear out their reasoning: The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth, bringing good luck and joy. Other possible reasons for placing a defecating figure in a holy scene include reminding everyone of human equality.
Norway has some of the best sightseeing guided trips
out there, especially when it comes to admiring the Northern Lights, but the Norwegians also abide by a very unusual Christmas tradition, one that entails broomsticks. Yes, broomsticks! Each Christmas Eve, under the belief that evil spirits and witches come out that very night to do all sorts of terrible things, the ladies of the house lock away the brooms. And what do the men do to help ward away the supposed evil? Why, they go outside and fire shotguns in the air to scare away the baddies. Other Norwegian Christmas traditions include eating rice porridge (but not your average rice porridge: this version has an almond hidden inside, and whoever finds the almond wins a small gift) and watching classic Christmas movies.
The most interesting part of a Finnish Christmas involves the sauna. Just before the festivities begin, people in Finland take a Christmas sauna, and while saunas are a pretty regular part of Finnish life, these ones are different because they occur earlier in the day. The reason why saunas are taken before sunset on Christmas Eve is that, according to a pre-20th century belief, the spirits of the dead return to sauna at the usual sauna hours, and you wouldn’t necessarily want to be caught with them.
Sightseeing guides in India
will have no trouble proving their country is full of spectacular beauty, but, come Christmas, the already very colorful land becomes that much more vibrant. Having been a British colony until 1947, India maintains many Western traditions, and celebrating Christmas is just one of them. Most houses in India lay out nativity scenes, and it is common to distribute sweets and cakes to your neighbors.
Celebrating Christmas in Iraq would be quite an experience, especially when you hear what those who celebrate the holiday there eat: reesh-aqle, a boiled soup made of sheep or cow intestines, tongue, stomach, legs, and spices!
Food tour guides in Germany
will treat you to some of the country’s most unique dishes, like Sauerbraten, a beef pot roast that marinates for days in vinegar and gingerbread, but what’s also uniquely German is that Saint Nicholas puts little presents and chocolates in children’s shoes (or a tree branch, if you’re naughty), Christmas trees are not put up and decorated until the morning of December 24th, and a pickle is hidden in the tree and the first child to find it in the morning receives a small gift.
Experienced sightseeing guides in Poland
will not only give you the lowdown on their country’s dynamic past, a past that involves the likes of harsh ghettos, they’ll also divulge what a Polish Christmas entails, and one thing’s for sure: it’s not typical. First of all, not until a child spots the first star in the sky (in ode to the Star of Bethlehem) that food can be consumed. Second, bits of hay are spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Jesus was born in a manger (but if you’re not inclined to do this, some people simply place money until the tablecloth to bring each guest prosperity for the coming year). Third, the dinner consists of a whopping twelve dishes (one for each apostle), but if that is not possible, an odd number of dishes is provided instead; odd numbers bring good luck. And finally, a space is laid at the table and left unoccupied should a hungry wanderer appear, or an angel.
Nordic mythology holds that Santa Claus is, in fact, a small invisible Christmas house gnome that watches over the house and its inhabitants, and if you didn’t feed him, he will bring bad luck to everyone in the home the next year. In turn, Swedes never fail to lay out a small bowl of porridge for “Jultomte.” Jultomte also does not come down the chimney to deliver the presents; instead, he knocks on the door and asks, “are there any nice children here?” Another fun Christmas tradition in Sweden is that each present has a rhyme written on the wrapping paper that subtly hints at the contents.