World's Strangest Holiday Traditions
Evil spirits, bonfires, and KFC are essential parts of
holiday traditions around the world.
Forget Santa. Overseas, you might be celebrating the
holidays with St. Nick’s evil counterpart—Krampus.
This devil-like figure is just one way that yuletide unfolds
in other countries—far different from a neatly wrapped package of decorated
trees, twinkling lights, and happy songs. In fact, strange, sinister, and often
baffling customs are the norm in some countries, where pre-Christian and
postmodern traditions create a whole different kind of Christmas experience.
More than a dozen European countries offer an evil
counterpart to St. Nick, a supernatural figure charged with punishing bad
children in all sorts of ways, from leaving lumps of coal in their Christmas
stockings to whacking them with a birch switch. Krampus is the most prevalent,
especially in Alpine and Middle European nations, where many parents don
hideous Krampus masks to scare their kids into being good.
But Krampus is far from the only evil spirit. You’ll find
wicked yuletide witches in Italy and an equally sinister figure in Holland and Belgium. It’s enough
to make you think the Europeans have somehow confused Christmas and Halloween.
Weird Christmas author Joey Green says these evil
alter egos are holdovers from ancient times, blended with customs introduced
during the Middle Ages. Green explains that when the Normans invaded England in
1066, they introduced a red-robed mock king—the Lord of Misrule—to ensure that
Christmas celebrations were conducted in the ribald pagan style. “Perhaps that
explains the proliferation of other rebellious Christmas spirits,” says Green.
Rebellion isn’t always at the heart of Christmas
celebrations. Japan has its own traditions—shaped in part by none other than
Kentucky Fried Chicken. In the early 1970s, KFC kicked off an advertising
campaign touting fried fowl as America’s favorite holiday meal. Special
yuletide packaging and Santa hats on the statues of Colonel Sanders outside
restaurants reinforced the message. Today, a bucket of Kentucky fried has
become the Christmas dinner of choice for millions of Japanese.
Weirdness, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Green
says that some of the world’s strangest holiday traditions are right here in
the U.S., like the fact that most of the popular Christmas songs were written
by Jews, including the most popular Christmas song ever— “(I’m Dreaming of a)
White Christmas,” by Irving Berlin.
Green’s all-time strangest Christmas custom takes place not
overseas, but at the Rumpke Sanitary Landfill near Cincinnati, OH. Every year,
workers here string 30,000 Christmas lights across the garbage mound, which
stretches over 234 acres and rises 279 feet high. The display includes
25-foot-tall candy canes.
It goes to show that Christmas, like its indispensable
gifts, comes in all shapes and sizes.