4 international holiday traditions you probably haven’t heard of
By Cassie Weiss, Contributor
My family were never big holiday people, so when I moved out on my own, I decided to make new traditions. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one out there who enjoyed a good scary movie featuring holiday lights and boogiemen. Better Watch Out, Silent Night, or my all-time favourite, Krampus, all came from directors who wanted to spice things up during the holiday season. The latter stemmed from an old wives’ tale from Austria — where the devilish Krampus would visit bad boys and girls and unleash punishment, bundling the overly naughty into his sack and taking them away for his own personal holiday dinner.
Now, not all countries have such terrifying holiday myths. Some have downright silly ones, like the male figurine called the caganer, popular in Spain. This little guy has his pants down and stands in mid-squat. Translating his name to the defecator, Christmas markets across the country still sell vintage figurines — as well as new — of the caganer to anyone who wants to include him in their nativity scenes. Tradition boasted that farmers without one in their homes would be punished with poor crop harvests and bad fortune.
Not all people celebrate Christmas, and some countries don’t put emphasis on this holiday season at all, but traditions persist around the world. Here are a few unique holiday traditions for you to consider introducing this year.
KFC in Japan
I love greasy fried chicken and I really don’t need an excuse to eat it, but sign me up anyway. In Japan, where Christmas isn’t really celebrated, residents place orders to their nearest KFC approximately two months in advance. This tradition has been a yearly occurrence for about 40 years.
Ye Ol’ Holiday Cemetery
In Finland, beginning around the early 1900s, it became a tradition to visit buried relatives at sunset on Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve). Many of these cemeteries hold small services and moments of silence while family members light candles and move about with lanterns as they remember their lost ones. According to the City of Calgary’s website, “The Queen’s Park Cemetery has two trees on display where family and friends can place a personal ornament or memento in memory of a loved one.” The trees are on display starting Dec. 1 and ornaments can be placed Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Burning the Devil
A lot of holiday traditions around the world casually mention the devil. The country of Guatemala is the home to one of these — La Quema del Diablo. All residents, starting around the beginning of December, gather unwanted trash and join together in the streets to create a massive bonfire. The yearly ritual is said to release evil spirits and negative energy from the upcoming holiday season.
Flowers of the Holy Night
Ever wonder where poinsettias come from? Mexican tradition states that one night two children left a bouquet of branches as a gift to their church. As the other children laughed at them, the branches began to form red star-shaped flowers. The plant was renamed after the USA’s Mexican ambassador brought cuttings back to America.
Whether you are covering trees in spider webs — an ancient Ukraine tradition — or putting on the role of a mummer and visiting your neighbours in disguise like they do in Newfoundland, the holidays are a time of custom and ritual. December only comes around once a year and no matter what traditions you practice, or what new ones you start, may this holiday season be merry and bright.