Christmas is just a marketing ploy used by corporations to keep our consumerist society plugging along, according to cynics.
But once upon a time, Christmas was a delightful and odd celebration, honoring Saint Nicholas — a Turkish bishop who dropped gold down a chimney — or Jesus, a baby who was born in a food trough. This year, it’s time to get back to Christmas’ roots — by celebrating the day’s inherent strangeness.
Here, in the spirit of the holiday, are 11 countries keeping Christmas festive:
In 1966, a 43 foot tall goat was erected in the middle of Gavle, Sweden. On midnight of New Year’s Eve that year, somebody set it on fire and out of the flames, a tradition was born. There have only been 8 years in the goat’s history that he was left in peace.
In 1996, the town installed webcams to guard the goat, which stopped all tomfoolery that year. But every year since, someone has attempted arson — and most succeed. Every year, bets are taken for when the goat will be burned down.
In Caracas, roller-skating to Christmas early morning mass has become a tradition. In many parts of the capital, vehicular access is cut off and the streets are taken over by skaters.
The night before mass, children tie long pieces of string to their big toes and let the string dangle out of their bedroom windows. Those skating below give the strings a tug as they pass by to wake the children up.
Somehow this has not yet ended in a child being pulled out of a window.
Caga Tió — roughly translated to “pooping guy” — is one of the most delightful traditions to ever come out of Spain’s Catalonia region.
A smiling face, red nose and legs are stuck on a log filled with candy. During advent, children pretend to feed the log, cover it with a blanket when they think it’s cold and take care of it like a pet.
Then, on Christmas Eve, they beat it to a pulp and eat the candy that it excretes out. Sweet.
The monster has horns, dark hair and fangs, and carries a chain and a belt that he uses to beat naughty children into being nice.
A Christmas tradition so beloved that it’s the inspiration for this season’s infamous horror film, Krampus has been terrifying children in Austria since the 1600s.
The very, very bad kids get dragged down into the underworld with him.
On Christmas Eve, a giant monster cat creeps along Iceland, eating people who didn’t receive clothes as presents. Jólakötturinn, as he is known in Icelandic, teaches children that hard work will bring you new clothes and save you from being devoured by a demon cat — apparently.
Because nothing says yuletide joy quite like new clothes and a giant, man-eating cat.
In 1974, thanks to a very successful marketing campaign — Kentucky Fried Christmas — KFC became the quintessential Japanese Christmas food, in a country where less than 1% of the population is Christian.
Today, people queue up for hours to buy the festive fast food meal that now includes cake and champagne.
It’s not long until the Japanese are caroling with Little Drumstick Boy, right?
Ghosts come to Christmas dinner in Portugal — and not the Charles Dickens kind.
On Christmas Eve, the Portuguese lay out extra plate settings for deceased friends and family and scatter some dinner crumbs across the hearth to honor them. Leftovers stay on the table for any ghouls that arrive late to the party — or humans looking for a midnight snack.
A Christmas tradition that will also give you nightmares, Mari Lwyd in Wales entails a man from each village parading around with a horse skull peering out from underneath a white sheet.
A small troupe follows the Mari Lwyd around and if they knock on your door, you are expected to invite them in for booze and conviviality.
Bringing new meaning to that terrible song Christmas Shoes, single ladies in the Czech Republic stand in front of a door on Christmas Eve and throw a shoe over their shoulder.
If the shoe lands facing the door, they will be married within the year. If the shoe is facing any other direction, they’ll have to endure another holiday of relatives asking when they’re finally going to settle down.
Long ago, Norwegians believed that witches and other mischievous creatures came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride. Before going to bed on the 24th, Norwegians hide away their brooms and gird their cleaning cupboards.
The tradition still carries on for superstitious Norwegians.
Guatemalans probably have the cleanest Christmas on the planet.
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