Europe’s 10 Strangest Christmas Traditions

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Spending the festive season far from home? Embrace the differences and throw yourself into some of these weird and wacky traditions. These in Europe will show you strange it can get:

1. Beat the sh*t out of a log in Catalonia

Caga tió (AKA ‘Defecating log’) is a Catalonian tradition that involves dressing up a log, ‘feeding’ it for the fortnight up until Christmas – and then beating the crap out of it. Literally, you hit it with a stick until all the food has been ejected. Enjoy.

2. Run for your life in Austria

Yeah sure, St Nicholas is lovely – but haven’t you met that evil friend of his, Krampus? Oh you haven’t? Well, he looks like this. Expect to see him prowling the streets for naughty children, who he’ll chain up and carry straight to Hell. Although I’m sure he won’t say no to a girl travelling through either…

3. Outsmart the witches in Norway

Norwegians are a smart bunch. Not only are they onto the fact that witches are out to get you on Christmas Eve; they’re also always one step ahead of these forces of evil. That’s right: they hide their brooms well in advance. JUST TRY AND FLY AT ME NOW, WITCHES! COME ON! DO YOUR WORST, YOU FLIGHTLESS HAGS!

4. Recycle your Halloween decorations in Ukraine

There’s a Ukrainian fairy story that tells of an unfortunate woman who was too poor even to decorate her tree. Luckily (according to the story – I’m sure for many people this would be like walking into a living nightmare) a helpful spider stepped in and covered her tree with its beautiful silver web. This is why Christmas trees in Ukraine are traditionally decorated with artificial spiders and webs rather than tinsel and baubles. Arachnophobes beware.

5. Steam off in an Estonian sauna

Christmas Eve is a time best spent with your family – and where better to do this than in a sauna right? This seems to be the Estonian mentality for pretty much every holiday to be honest, as they spend New Year’s Eve and Midsummer’s Eve there too.

6. Eat the grossest Christmas dinner ever in Greenland

What, you wanted turkey and stuffing? HA! If you’re in Greenland, you’re more likely to find yourself tucking into mattak (raw whale skin and blubber) and kiviak (an arctic bird wrapped in seal skin that has been decaying underground since the summer). Bon appétit!

7. Dine with the dead in Portugal

If you don’t fancy Christmas dinner in Greenland, the food in Portugal may be more to your taste – it’s just the company that may be an issue. Portuguese families traditionally set places for their dead relatives, in order to protect the household from bad fortune.

8. Czech out your marriage prospects for 2015

Christmas can be lonely for the single girl – but if you’re in the Czech Republic, it presents an opportune time to find out whether the year ahead will bring you luck in love. Simply stand with your back to the front door, throw a shoe (nothing with spiky heels – you might injure a passerby) over your shoulder, then check out its landing position. If the toe points back inside the door, you’ll be married within the year. 100% guaranteed. Honest.

9. Feel a little bit racist in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands there’s a traditional character known as Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) who helps out Father Christmas, and can often be seen at Christmas parades frolicking and throwing sweets. So far, so good… expect that these Black Peters are generally white people in blackface sporting afro wigs. It’s important to recognise that blackface doesn’t have the same history or connotations in most of Europe as it does than in, say, the US – which is why around 92% of Dutch people find nothing problematic with the tradition. But, if this sight makes you uncomfortable, at least you won’t be alone – every year, protests within the Netherlands decrying the tradition as racist grow.

10. Don’t pet the cat in Iceland

You better put new clothes on your Christmas list if you’re spending the holiday season in Iceland, else the Yule Cat will eat you. And while you’re at it, keep an eye out for the Yule Lads – little boys descended from a child-eating troll hag who help Father Christmas deliver his gifts and go by names like Sausage Swiper, Spoon Licker, Door Sniffer and Meat Hook. Be particularly wary of Window Peeper, who is said to perve through your curtains on December 21st.

 

Have we missed off any more unusual traditions? Let us know below.

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About Author

Leah Eades is a compulsive traveller and freelance writer, whose adventures so far include working in an Italian nightclub, contracting a mystery illness in the Amazon, studying at a Chinese university, and cycling 700km along the Danube River. She blames cheap Ryanair flights for her addiction. Having recently graduated with an English degree, she is currently based in Florence, Italy.

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