Last year I put my bra on outside my sweater, pulled my roommate’s orange Joe Boxers over my leggings, slapped a veil over my head, and took to the streets of St. John’s. I was joined by hundreds of other merrymakers all decked out in scary fashion, carrying hobbyhorses and Ugly Sticks (broomsticks adorned with nails and bottle caps used to make “music” when another stick is beat against it). We were marching in the Mummers Parade.
Mummering is a Newfoundland tradition whereby people dress up in disguises and go house to house seeking libations and kitchen parties. It’s now illegal — you can imagine how showing up in a stranger’s home wearing mitts on your hands and a pillowcase over your head might lead to some scary situations. Ah, we miss those simpler days. The parade is the modern solution.
But Mummering is a tame tradition compared to some of these.
Czech Republic’s St. Mikulas Day
St. Mikulas Day is when trios of people dressed as an angel, a devil, and St. Nicholas walk around handing out candy to children who sing a song or recite a poem. Later, when people have house parties, the devil covered in coal will show up in Santa’s place, thus terrifying little children. The children must sing a song for the devil to prove they’ve been good, otherwise they get a potato and the devil threatens to take them back to hell in his potato sack.
I’m not sure what potatoes have to do with sin, but nobody wants a potato for Christmas.
Southern Germany’s Christbaumloben
When you visit someone’s house, whether it’s a neighbor, friend, or relative, you tell them how beautiful their Christmas tree is and you get schnapps for the praise. This is most common in Southern Germany’s rural areas, where locals will walk from house to house, collecting schnapps and presumably getting shittered. I picture the conversation going something like this:
- “Your tree is more magnificent than a kitten suckling a pig.”
“MORE SCHNAPPS FOR ALL!”
Krampus and Perchta the Christmas monsters — Alpine countries (especially Austria)
Krampus is a Christmas monster, and like the Czech devil, he threatens bad children by saying he’ll put them in a sack and drag them to hell. Celebrators dress up as Krampus with long spirally mountain goat horns and roam the streets beating people with sticks. It’s also a night of drinking, so people are likely too drunk to feel such beatings. I hope that’s the case, anyway.
Krampus is a mild demon compared to Perchta, however, who will apparently rip open the abdomen of naughty children, pull out their guts, and stuff them with straw. Seriously. Be grateful the worst threat you received was a stocking full of coal.
Venezuelans roller skating to Mass
In Caracas, early on Christmas morning you’ll find streets closed to traffic as everybody roller skates to Mass. Some children will tie a piece of rope to one of their toes to dangle out the window when they go to sleep the night before, and as people head to Mass the next morning, they’ll tug at any rope they see hanging down to let the children know they should wake up and watch the spectacle.
Yugoslavians tying their mothers to chairs
Two weeks before Christmas, children in the former Yugoslavian republics will sneak up on their mothers and tie their feet to chairs. Then they’ll dance around her singing, “Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, what will you pay to get away?” Then she’ll give them presents. The next week they’ll do the same to their father. I’m pretty sure this teaches children that if they abuse their parents long enough, they’ll get rewarded. But whatever.
Catalonian children feeding a pooping Christmas log
Every year on December 8, children begin feeding a log that the family keeps in their home. They cover it up in the evenings so it doesn’t get cold, and then on Christmas Eve the children beat the log so that it will poop out their presents. The logs typically have little legs to prop them up, and their faces are painted with broad smiles. A smiling, pooping Christmas log. When the log is all pooped out, it’ll leave behind something unfavorable, like garlic.
Poop seems to be a favorite Catalonian theme, because there’s also something known as Caganer, a porcelain figure of a man squatting down and shitting. He’s placed somewhere in the Christmas nativity. It’s meant to offer good luck — apparently the poo fertilizes the land and brings a good harvest.
The Welsh Mari Lwyd
Meaning “gray mare,” this Welsh tradition involves a person covered in a sheet holding a horse’s skull on a pole (and is a part of the Newfoundland mummering experience). The jaw is spring-loaded so the mouth can open and shut, and the holder of the skull will walk around town snapping at people and causing chaos.
Japan’s KFC obsession
Kentucky Fried Chicken has somehow convinced an entire country that their greasy disgusting chicken is a holiday staple. It’s such a popular idea that most people will call to reserve their buckets of chicken months in advance. Nobody really knows how this tradition got started, but I suppose it saves people the hassle of having to deal with a turkey.
Goat burning in Sweden
In Sweden’s town of Gävle, a huge goat is constructed every year from straw, and every year vandals try to burn it down. For whatever reason, nobody seems very good at policing the whole ordeal, because the goat has only survived 10 times over the holidays, and this has been going on for decades. Only four people have been prosecuted, however, and the tradition continues despite it all.
Photo: Giulio GMDB