Someone from another country might find it strange that a U.S. holiday tradition includes a flying reindeer with a glowing red nose.
We’ve just always done it that way, OK? We don’t know why. Chalk it up to the magic of the season. It turns out there’s some pretty weird things going on around the world in December. Here are four very odd traditions to prove it.
1. Caga Tió: Teaching kids that if they give, they better receive.
Kids in northeastern Spain’s Catalonia don’t find treats in a sock hung by the chimney, they beat them out of a pooping log, literally. The caga tió, or “poop log,” is a small log decorated with a smiling face, stick legs, hat and blanket. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, children must care for the log by keeping it warm and giving it food and water. The better care they take of the log, the more they can expect to “receive.” On Christmas, parents secretly stuff treats under the log’s blanket but kids don’t get to lift the blanket. Tradition dictates they take turns beating the log with a stick while singing a song demanding that the log poop well. Then caga tió gets thrown in the fire. Not sure what the moral of the story is here.
2. The Caganer: Because, everyone poops.
There’s no shortage of potty humor in Catalonia at Christmas, which is why it makes perfect sense that there’s an additional figurine in nativity sets here called a caganer — who is literally squatting in the background taking a dump while everyone else is looking at baby Jesus. The caganer used to be an ordinary peasant but these days there are all kinds of caganers — cartoon characters, celebrities, sports stars and political figures like Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. No matter who it is, they’re hovering over a turd. The caganer is never in the front of the nativity scene because that would, obviously, be disrespectful. Instead, it’s hidden, and it’s a game to find it. It’s considered bad luck to not have a caganer. Possibly, this tradition does not extend to live nativities.
3. Krampus: He hopes you’ve been naughty.
While the legend of St. Nicholas has grown over time, the legend of Krampus has proven not as popular. Both figures appear in early December in several alpine European countries. While St. Nick carries a bag full of gifts for good little children, Krampus, best described as a hideous black-pelted man-goat, carries a bundle of birch whips and an empty basket to haul away the baddies. Where he takes them isn’t clear, but his obscenely long tongue, fangs and claws suggest you don’t want to find yourself in his lap. Krampus appears in holiday parades and at an event called Krampuslauf, a kind of fun run where people dress up like the beast and chase and scare spectators into being better people in the coming year, which could be more motivating than the threat of a lump of coal.
4. Mari Lwyd: Celebrating the season with a dead horse.
Think of Mari Lwyd as caroling with a horse skull.
In this old Welsh tradition, revelers decorate a horse skull, stick it on a pole with a white sheet and then go knocking and singing door to door. People inside answer with challenges, songs and insults. This back-and-forth goes on for awhile, but in the end Mari and company, get to come in. Food and drink are shared while Mari chases people around snapping its jaws, and everyone has a good time. Nothing says holidays like a well-dressed horse skull.