Every country celebrates Christmas in its own way. But here are some of the weirdest traditions from around the world:
The Poop Log (Spain)
It turns out Mr. Hanky “the Christmas Poo” from the cartoon South Park, may be loosely based on a true Christmas tradition in Spain. The “Tio de Nadal” is traditionally a log placed in the fireplace on Christmas morning and ordered to poop out treats and presents. Nowadays, since not everyone owns a fireplace, children would beat the log with sticks until it “poops” out gifts. There’s even a song to sing that goes something like this:
Poop Log, poop turron
Hazelnuts and cottage cheese.
If you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
It’s no surprise that in the Alpine and Bavaria regions, there’s a Christmas legend meant to frighten the hell out of children into being well behaved. Krampus is a mythical demon who, according to legend, travels with Saint Nicholas during Christmas to punish bad children. If a child is on the “naughty list,” Krampus will come and stuff the child in a sack and carry him away to its lair to eat him for dinner. Isn’t that how every German fairy tale ends?
The Great Defecator (Spain)
Christmas in Spain has not one, but TWO strange traditions involving feces. The “Caganer” represents that guy — the one guy in Bethlehem who had the misfortune to be moving his bowels during the birth of Jesus, and is now immortalized that way for all time. In Catalonia, where the tradition is most popular, the Caganer is often hidden somewhere within a large nativity scene (kind of like a gross version of Where’s Waldo).
Roller Skating to church (Venezuela)
In Caracas, Venezuela, the streets are closed Christmas morning to allow hundreds of people to roller skate to mass.
Giant Straw Goat (Sweden)
Instead of Time Square’s tradition of a huge, lighted Christmas tree, in the town of Gavle, Sweden, a giant goat made of straw is erected in the town’s square. The goat is one of the oldest Scandinavian Christmas symbols, originally denoting the goat that was slaughtered during the festival of “Yule.”
Befana Witch (Italy)
In the Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who rides a broomstick, visiting all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 5th) to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal, onions or garlic if they are bad. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food.
Christian folklore says that at the time of the birth of Jesus, Befana spent her days cleaning and sweeping. One day the three wise men came to her door in search of baby Jesus. Befana turned them away because she was too busy cleaning. Then, she notices a bright light in the sky and thinks this is the way to baby Jesus. She gathered some baked goods and gifts for baby Jesus and took her broom to help the new mother. She searched and searched for baby Jesus, but never found him. She still searches to this day and on the eve of the Epiphany, Befana comes to homes to leave gifts for good young children because the Christ Child can be found in all children.
Spider Web Tinsel (Ukraine)
Legend has it that a poor mother in the Ukraine couldn’t afford to decorate her family’s tree for Christmas. But in the morning, she found that spiders had decorated the tree with beautiful, elaborate webs. Today, Ukrainians add artificial spider webs to their trees for good fortune in the coming year.
Fried Chicken (Japan)
When it comes to Christmas in Japan, Colonel Sanders is the guy dressed up in the red suit, not Santa. The tradition can be traced 40 years ago to a genius marketing campaign. Since turkey isn’t found in Japan and few people own big ovens to cook a large bird, foreigners would order KFC for their Christmas feast. When KFC caught on, they created a holiday meal package and advertised it everywhere. Now, people have to pre-order their Christmas buckets far in advance.
Psychological Warfare (South Korea)
In 2011, South Korea almost gave its atheist neighbor to the north a sort of “middle finger” in the form of a Christmas Tree. With its plan to light three giant trees near the border of North Korea, South Korea risked an all out war as it would have been regarded as an act of defiance to weaken the northern regime’s ideological control over its people (who often don’t have the luxury of electricity).
In addition, since North Korea cancelled Christmas to mourn the death of Kim Jong Il, it saw the south’s plan to celebrate as disrespectful propaganda. In the end, South Korea caved to pressure and cancelled the lighting ceremony as a gesture of good will.