If you think that setting a pudding on fire, leaving socks at the end of the bed or placing a carrot by the fireplace are rather peculiar Christmas traditions then have a read of some of these national customs from around the world…
1. South Africa: The South Africans deep fry caterpillars of The Emperor Moth and eat them as snacks during Christmas day. Apparently they have the same flavor as tea and are also very nourishing. Fancy swapping them for your mince pies come this Christmas? As an aside, in Afrikaans Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Geseënde Kersfees' and in Zulu it's 'UKhisimusi omuhle'.
2. Catalonia: The ‘pooing man’ is a Catalonian addition to the nativity scene, thought to have become tradition around the Baroque period in the late 17th century or early 18th. He is a peasant man with his trousers round his ankles and squatting down. It is sometimes considered part of the festive activity for the children to try and find him amongst the nativity scenes displayed in Catalonian towns. Some say it is a representation of fertilizing the earth, or that the man is a representation of someone important in the village, demonstrating equality and bringing the mighty down.
3. Ireland: In Ireland there is a hunt for the wren on St Stephens day (boxing day) where a fake wren is chased, strung upon a pole and marched through the town, and boys dressed in hay suits and masks run and dance about the little wren. This tradition hails from Celtic mythology and possibly Druid connections too, although has been taken on by Christian history too, hence the date falling on a saints day.
4. Greenland: During the Christmas period there are a few bizarre food items that are considered delicacies in Greenland. 'Mattak' is whale skin with a strip of blubber inside. It is supposed to taste like fresh coconut, but is often too tough to chew! Another Christmas food is 'kiviak'. This is the raw flesh of little auks (a type of arctic bird) which have been buried whole in sealskin for several months until they have reached an advanced stage of decomposition! Bon appétit!
5. Ukraine: As the story goes, there was once a poor widow who did not have enough money to decorate her Christmas tree and the children fell asleep on Christmas Eve devastated that their tree was bare. On Christmas morning they awoke to find that a spider had spun a decorative web to adorn the tree and once the windows were opened to allow in sunlight the web turned to silver and gold. Many believe this is where we get our tradition of tinsel today.
6. Venezuela: The Christmas celebrations begin on the 16th Dec for Venezuelans and they conduct a mass everyday in the early morning. In the capital of Caracas the commute to these early morning masses has become normal to carry out on rollercoasters, where streets are closed to cars before 8am. The children of the city tie a piece of string to their big toe and hang the other end out the window on the 23rd Dec night, as the skaters whizz past they give a friendly tug to the hanging strings to wake the children of the city up ready for Christmas Eve.
7. Norway: On Christmas Eve Norwegians hide their brooms from the witches and evil spirits who would otherwise come and steal them from any unlucky forgetful Norwegians. They are stolen in order for the witches to ride upon them and cause havoc. Although, it is also claimed that the opposite takes place; that brooms are left leaning against doors on Christmas Eve to prevent mischievous witches causing chaos by entering the houses.
8. Czech Republic: All the single ladies take part in this tradition on Christmas Day; they take their shoe and turn their backs towards the front door of the house. Tossing the shoe over their shoulder will act as a prophecy for if she will get married in the coming year… if the shoe points towards the door, she’s going to find her man and if the show points back into the house she’s staying single.
9. Canada: Canada has a recognized postal address for Father Christmas! If you write to the address it will be delivered, read and then replied to. For those of you wanting to write, the address is ‘Santa Claus, North Pole, Canada, HOH OHO’. Although it’s too late for Christmas 2016 as he is already busy delivering but there is an emergency reply if you need to print one off last minute! Seriously.
10. Germany/Austria: In Germany and parts of Austria beware Krampus, the horned half-demon, half goat, who punishes children who are naughty or who have misbehaved. This is to be contrasted to Saint Nicholas who has the joyous task of rewarding good little children. His origin stretches back to Pre-Christian Alpine traditions and modern celebrations bring Krampus out in force, at events in the towns and villages, masked and in full costume (sometimes rather frightening). On the 6th December Saint Nicholas is celebrated and on the preceding night Krampus arrives by night on the streets to terrify and give out coal and Ruten Bundle (bundles of birch twigs) to the bad children.