It’s easy to slip into cynicism with Christmas – come on, a portly guy who likes, for some reason, to lay his finger aside of his nose breaks into your home for free snacks? – but most of us can drop the ’tude and embrace the magic of the season.
Christmas is a wonderland of family, gifts, giving, cookies and all things warm and bright. Unless you live in Austria, where Santa’s evil twin Krampus wants to eat your soul.
Some countries around the world have truly odd Christmas traditions that have less to do with St. Nick and more with scratching your head – or running for you life.
Check out these six strange Christmas traditions:
Speaking of Krampus, we’ll give him top billing – mostly because we’re afraid of what he’ll do otherwise.
“Krampus is the dark companion of St. Nicholas… Krampus punishes the naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them, in baskets, to a fiery place below,” according to Krampus.com.
Whoa, that got dark fast. In the U.S., the naughty kids get coal, not hell fires.
Krampus, who is "usually seen as a classic devil with horns, cloven hooves and monstrous tongue, but can also be spotted as a sinister gentleman dressed in black or a hairy man-beast," is big in Austria. But he’s now so widespread, there are even parties welcoming him in the U.S. Kids, you better watch out, you better not cry – but we don’t see how you’ll manage if you see Krampus.
Nothing says merry Christmas quite like a pooping log. In Catalonia, Spain, families have a hollowed log with a painted face that they treat like a dog all during December. Every night, Caga Tio is fed and covered with a blanket until Christmas, when Caga Tio is expected to poop out presents.
We’re not exaggerating. There’s a whole song that goes along with it:
hazelnuts and mató cheese,
if you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
That hitting with a stick isn’t an empty threat. Kids beat Caga Tio while encouraging it to poop out presents. The naughty kid in the bunch gets a salted herring.
Speaking of pooping traditions on Christmas, figurines dropping a deuce near the baby Jesus are popular in Spain, Italy and Portugal. A Caganer is a figure that poops in the nativity scene.
It’s not just the three wise men either. You can find Caganers popping a squat in the form of nuns, Santa, Queen Elizabeth II, famous athletes and even Barack Obama.
Christmas comes with a heaping serving of racism in the Netherlands, where the Dutch celebrate “Zwarte Piet” alongside Santa. “Black Peter” is apparently a slave freed by Santa, then immediately put into his service, helping St. Nick give out sweets to kids. (It doesn’t help that Zwarte Piet is usually played by someone in black face.)
Some Dutch people are fighting back against Zwarte Piet’s overtly racist caricature, but so far Santa gets to keep his slave in the Netherlands.
Santa has a different buddy in France – and he’ll beat the crap out of you. Père Fouettard means “Father Whipper,” and he’s coming after naughty kids, who get a beating. Père Fouettard goes around with Santa, dressed in dark robs and brandishing a whip or switches.
Just try to cross Santa and Père Fouettard will be all over you.
The children of Europe are running from some truly terrifying Christmas demons come December. But perhaps none is worse than Iceland’s Grýla – she eats children for Christmas dinner. Let that sink in for a moment. Kids are expecting a wonderful Christmas until Grýla shows up. She. Eats. Children.
As the story goes, Grýla is an Icelandic ogress with “three heads and three eyes in each head ... [She has] horns like a goat, her ears dangle down to her shoulders and are attached to the nose in front. She has a beard on her chin that is like knotted yarn on a weave with tangles hanging from it, while her teeth are like burnt rocks in a grate.”
When Grýla senses a bad child, she leaves her cave, kidnaps the naughty kid, boils the youngster and chows down.
Honestly, parents, if you don’t want to get your kids the latest shiny trinket for Christmas, just say so. Don’t threaten them with whips, chains and death by ogre.
Merry Christmas (if you still want to celebrate after this)!