According to the latest estimates, roughly two billion people celebrate Christmas each year on the 25th of December. While many of these people are practicing Christians, a growing percentage of them are not and simply choose to enjoy the holiday with family and friends. As a result of so many people from diverse backgrounds and cultures choosing to celebrate the holiday, there have been many interesting traditions that have developed. Some of these are old, dating back centuries, while a few are relatively modern ones that are evidence of the evolving nature of this amazing holiday. Here’s our top 10 Christmas traditions from around the world:
The caganer is a tradition that is most prominent in Catalonia but also exists in other parts of Spain, Italy and Portugal. Dating back to at least the 17th century, these little figurines are sure to raise eyebrows even among the most hedonist of travelers. The Caganer is presented as a cartoonish man, bent over, and defecating in the hay, usually included as part of a nativity scene featuring the manger with Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. Unexpected visitors are likely to be taken aback when first encountering The Caganer, but it is an example of the unique humor that many people in these countries enjoy. Today entire stores are devoted to them and it’s possible to purchase figures representing anyone from the President of the United States to Spider-man in this unusual position.
2) La Befana
Another tradition from Italy is that of the La Befana, or Old Witch. Although considered to be part of the Christmas season, this tradition occurs some time in early January, generally after the celebration of the New Year. An old woman, dressed as a witch with a dirty face and crooked nose, goes from home to home bringing gifts for small children. Just as with Santa, the children are encouraged to leave small treats for the Old Witch, including cookies, cakes, and other desserts.
3) The Christmas Pickle
This tradition is an American classic, dating back to the mid 19th century and still practiced by many people today. On a bright, beautiful Christmas tree, a pickle decoration is hidden among the other ornaments. Children are then encouraged to find the pickle. The one who first spots it is rewarded with a prize, usually that being a chance to open one gift early.
4) The Straw Goat
A few towns in Sweden have adopted an odd tradition that dates back roughly fifty years. Each holiday season, a large straw goat is erected. Townspeople have taken to vandalizing the goat, even burning it down, in an effort to destroy it completely before Christmas Day. While this is illegal, it has developed into a traditional affair, as the town of Gavle has seen it’s Straw Goat survive the holiday season less than a dozen times over the past forty years. People have gone as far as trying to steal it with a helicopter! Authorities in Gavle has even stationed round-the-clock security at the site, but people still find ways to destroy the goat.
5) The Christmas Log
In the Catalonia region of Spain, the children beat a log in an effort to encourage it to “poop” out their gifts. This log is designed to have a face, with a wooden nose, painted eyes, and mouth. It is a representation of a figure from Catalan myth called the Tio de Nadal (meaning Christmas log) . Sometimes it is also refereed to as the Caga Tio or simply, shitting log. Every Christmas Eve, the log is placed in the fireplace and is then commanded to defecate gifts. When it doesn’t respond, the children are given sticks in order to beat it. While not as commonplace as it once was, this tradition is still practiced in various provinces in Spain.