With the season fast approaching, we compiled some of the more unorthodox Christmas traditions from across Europe.
ICELAND: The Yule Cat is a giant, mean cat that goes on the prowl during the Christmas season and eats people who don’t have new clothes to wear on Christmas eve.
The Yule Cat is said to be the pet of Grýla, the giantess who eats naughty children, and her sons the Yule Lads, distribute gifts to the good children during the Christmas season. You can find portraits of the Yule Lads all around Reykjavik during Christmas time. We highly recommend indulging in a visit to one of their infamous hot springs while there too.
AUSTRIA: Krampus is a hairy, horned beast who deals with ‘bad’ children during the Christmas season. Stories say this can involve taking bad children to hell, or even eating them. During Krampusnacht, which falls on December 5, Krampus hands out lumps of coal or a bundle of twigs. Another tradition involving Krampus is Krampuslauf, which includes a parade of adults dressing up as the Christmas beast and accepting schnapps from strangers. Travellers curious about Krampus should visit Salzburg Christmas market, where the festive fiend himself makes an appearance. While in Salzburg, be sure to thoroughly explore the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town, it’s a must see.
BULGARIA: After Christmas Eve dinner, the food is left out until the next day so that ancestor’s ghosts can eat the rest overnight. This tradition of leaving out leftovers overnight for dead ancestors also occurs in other Eastern European countries, such as Lithuania and Estonia.
LATVIA: The tradition of ‘mumming’ involves a group of people dressed up in different kinds of costumes parading and playing music. The mummers go from door to door to help drive away bad spirits during the Christmas season. The Mummers are traditionally invited in to the households they show up at and are offered food, drinks and to sing and dance with the family. Be sure to travel to Latvia to experience this Christmas tradition, perhaps to Riga, where you can also enjoy their Christmas market in the Old Town.
SPAIN: A hollow log with a face painted on it is brought out on December 8 and each night until Christmas, the log is fed. On Christmas Eve, the log is beaten by the children and they sing a song to it so that it will poop out presents for them. The song the children sing while beating the log with sticks includes the lyrics “If you don’t poo well, I’ll hit you with a stick! Poo log!” You can find your very own Tió de Nadal at Barcelona Christmas markets, while also taking in the famous Gaudi buildings.
ITALY: La Befana is an old witch who shows up on January 6. She travels around Italy on the eve of Epiphany and leaves gifts for the good children, while the bad children receive a lump of coal in their stockings. La Befana is widely celebrated across Italy. This holiday season, make sure to check out Piazza Navona market in Rome, where La Befana is prominently on display, while the national Befana festival is held in Urbania.
NORWAY: In Norway, it is customary to hide brooms on Christmas Eve as it is believed that witches and other evil spirits will try to steal them and fly away with them. Other Norwegian Christmas traditions include the Pepperkakebyen, which is the biggest gingerbread town in the world. Be sure to check it out and get in the Christmas spirit in Bergen!
CZECH REPUBLIC: On Christmas Eve, single Czech women stand facing away from the door and throw a shoe over their shoulder. They will get married in the next year if the shoe lands with the toe pointing to the door. Single women can also test out their marriage potential in the coming year by putting a cherry tree branch in water on December 4. If this branch blooms by Christmas, the woman will get married in the next year.
DENMARK: An important Christmas character in Denmark is called Nisse. Nisse is a mischeivous elf who is easily offended. Traditionally, families leave out a bowl of porridge for the Nisse on Christmas Eve so it doesn’t play tricks on the household. Nisse’s jokes can include breaking things or putting them upside down, one more sinister story even involves Nisse killing a cow.
GERMANY: On December 5, German children leave a clean shoe at their bedroom door overnight and if they have been good, wake up on St Nicholas Day to find it filled with gifts. Beginning with St Nicholas Day, December is a month long Christmas celebration in Germany. You can take in the holiday season with the Christmas parades in Hamburg, which feature Father Christmas and his elves.
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