CHRISTMAS AND New Year have their traditional rituals, from Santa Claus to food and drink, and the countdown to a new year. How about some that are also traditional in certain parts of the world, but are actually quite bizarre? How they originated is debatable, but they make for an interesting holiday season. Here are some of the strangest customs.
* In Ukraine, Christmas trees are traditionally adorned with spiders and webs. In this part of the world, they are considered symbols of good luck. Of course, no one actually uses real spiders; you can buy fake ones from shops selling Christmas accessories, and the webs come with glitter in silver or gold. Whether true or made up, there is an interesting story behind the tradition. Legend has it that there once was a poor widow living with her children in a shack. One year, the family managed to cut down a Christmas tree, but had no money to decorate it. On Christmas morning, however, spiders mysteriously appeared and spun webs around the tree. When the children awoke, the tree appeared to be full of silver and gold threads.
* If you are in Prague on Christmas morning, you will be greeted with a strange sight. Young Czech women can be seen standing with their backs to their front door, throwing a shoe over their shoulders. The bizarre ritual is meant to predict whether they will marry the following year. If the shoe lands with the heel towards the door, the woman will stay single for another year. The other way round means wedding bells will ring before the new year ends.
* In Belarus, the same ritual involves a rooster. The tradition involves placing piles of corn in front of groups of single women and then releasing a rooster. Whichever woman the bird eats from first will apparently be the first to marry.
* Definitely more messy is the Catalan tradition of caga tio (‘defecating log’). In this part of Spain, they create a character out of a small log—complete with a grinning face and hat—which is placed on the dining table during the fortnight leading up to Christmas. It must be fed every day with fruit, nuts and sweets, and then—on Christmas eve—the entire family beats the log with sticks, while singing traditional songs, turning the log into a messy pile that resembles excrement.
* In Austria, Christmas traditions are more demonic in nature. St Nicholas, the model for Santa Claus, comes with an evil accomplice called Krampus, a demon-like creature that punishes bad children. Men dressed as Krampus roam the streets during the festive period, scaring little kids, ostensibly to get them to behave well during the year.
* Caracas has a rolling custom, literally. In the Venezuelan capital, everybody goes to early-morning church services during the festival period on rollerskates. Even the roads are cleared of vehicles to provide worshippers a safe passage over Christmas.
* Meanwhile, in Portugal, during ‘consoda’, the country’s traditional Christmas feast, families will set extra places at the dining table for deceased relatives. It is thought that the practice will ensure good fortunes for the household.
* In Chile, they also honour the departed. In the city of Talca, people will visit cemeteries in the hours before New Year and bring it in among the spirits of their family members who have passed away. With the help of other spirits, of course.