Bizarre Holiday Traditions

by Gretchen Gaede

When the holidays get a little weird…I am a lover of travel, and one of the things I love most is learning all about the unique traditions and folklore that shape the heritage of people far and wide. The holidays always bring interesting customs to light, and while there are many to choose from, I thought I would share a few of the ones that are particularly strange and disturbing to help spark the holiday spirit.

Because nothing says Christmas like a terrifying Devil

Yes, I know there is a new movie on the subject, but who would ever misbehave if they thought they would be beaten by a horrific devil and taken away to his lair? According to traditional Austrian folklore, Krampus the Christmas Devil arrives early in the holiday season to keep an eye out for those children that deserve to be punished vs. the ones that will be favored by kind-hearted St. Nicholas.

Some customs are a little fishy

I was fortunate to live in Prague for a couple of years, and one of the unexpected things I encountered was heading to the metro station on the days leading up to Christmas to be greeted by a kiddie pool filled with large, frantically swimming fish. For centuries, families throughout Eastern Europe have relied on a simple Christmas Eve dinner: carp.

According to tradition, the holiday carp must swim in the family bathtub for a couple of days before being killed and turned into dinner. I learned of many crying children that had named their new pet only to learn it had become relegated to fish broth a couple of days later. The tradition continues, as fish scales under Christmas dinner plates are thought to bring wealth to the house, and carrying a fish scale in a wallet throughout the year is said to keep money in your pocket.

Never shi* on Christmas traditions … unless you’re Catalan

The Catalan people have not one, but two poop-laden Christmas traditions.  The pooping figure, Caganer, can be found accompanying Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in nativity scenes throughout Catalunya.  Caganer is often hidden within the nativity scene for children to find. And, if that wasn’t enough, the Catalan people have Tio de Nadal, the shitting log.  Tio, a personified piece of wood, is given a little bit to eat every night starting in December. The children in the house are supposed to care for the log to ensure that it will poop out gifts on Christmas. To make the log poo, poor Tio is placed partially in a fireplace, burned and beaten with sticks.  What can I say? You can’t make this shit up.

You don’t want this cat to cross your path

Oh, the Yule Cat. Sounds like a jolly, purring feline friend, right? Wrong. The Yule Cat of Iceland is another frightening monster in the form of an enormous cat that waits around snowy hillsides looking for indolent children to kidnap. How does he know which children are lazy? They happen to be the ones that have no clothes to wear on Christmas Eve. As if poor people didn’t have enough to worry about during the holidays.

May your holidays be merry and bright. Be good, keep your clothes on, eat your pet fish, and be sure to keep those smiling logs on the fire.

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