It’s December, the most wonderful time of the year! A time of twinkling lights and festive cheer, when people bring trees into their living rooms and eat far too much food. For, above all else, what is Christmas about if not traditions?
In Britain, these traditions include daily weather updates on the chances of a White Christmas, and sending Christmas cards to people you’ve not seen in ten years. We’re not so familiar with the one about hiding pickles, and yet this, too, is a long-standing custom for this time of year. So, take a seat on Santa’s sleigh and let me take you on a whistle-stop tour through some of the world’s weird and wonderful Christmas traditions!
First stop, Austria
We all know that if you’ve been naughty this year, you’ll end up on Father Christmas’ naughty list, but not in Austria, oh no! Forget lists and lumps of coal in your stocking, the naughty children of Austria get it much worse, with a visit from the big bad villain of Christmas, Krampus. A horned half-goat, half demon (think Mr Tumnus’ evil twin), Krampus appears on Krampusnacht, December 5 th , the night before the Feast of St Nicholas, to seek out the naughtiest of children and beat them with a stick! Thankfully, these days, Krampus has toned down his punishments, instead choosing to dispense the more politically-correct coal, and he can even be dissuaded from imparting punishment completely with an offering of some schnapps – how considerate of him!
Onwards to Iceland
If you’re one of these people with ‘write a book’ on your bucket list, might I suggest a move to Iceland, for this is a country where 1 in 10 people will publish a book in their lifetime. Unsurprisingly, the country has the highest ratio of published books per capita in the world, and this is, for the most part, down to their Christmas tradition of Jólabókaflóðið, or ‘Yule book flood’. For many years after the Second World War, Iceland had major currency restrictions on imports of gifts, with the exemption of one category: paper. As a result, books quickly became the most popular presents at Christmas, and although import restrictions have decreased, the custom has become tradition, and now, every Christmas Eve, Icelanders give the gift of a book to each other, which they then spend the rest of the day reading. I don’t know about you, but this bookworm definitely thinks we need to bring this tradition over to Britain!
A quick toilet break in Catalonia
Remember that scene in Love Actually where Emma Thompson’s daughter announces her character in the Christmas nativity play is going to be ‘First Lobster’? Well, this tradition would fit right alongside that, and is known as El Caganer, or ‘The Shitter’. No, I’m not kidding. This is a figure placed alongside the shepherds, three wise men, and all other characters you’d usually expect to find at a traditional nativity scene, doing exactly what it sounds like: shitting. Why? No-one knows. It’s a tradition that has been around since the 17 th Century, and is possibly a representation of a pre-combat ritual or meant to symbolise fertilising the Earth. Nobody’s really sure, but, rather unsurprisingly, it is usually placed nowhere near the baby Jesus. I think it’s fair to say this particular tradition won’t be catching on in school nativity plays any time soon!
Final destination: Germany USA
We end our very brief world tour of Christmas traditions in the grand old US of A, although the Americans would have you believe otherwise. This final tradition is that of the Christmas pickle. No, this isn’t the age-old conundrum of what present to get your Grandpa this year (socks or Whiskey?). We are literally talking about a pickle. This is a tradition where you hide a pickle in your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and the first child to find it on Christmas morning gets a special present. Seems perfectly normal, right? Perhaps it’s because of this peculiarity that the Americans are not keen on claiming this as their own.
Instead, they choose to cite it as an ancient German tradition, because of course it would be—that’s just the kind of whimsical thing those Germans would do! In actual fact, nobody in Germany seems to know anything about this, and they have no clue what the Americans are on about. What a pickle!
Written by Transcriber Lydia