Christmas is often revered as the greatest time of the year. With festive decorations lining every street, bustling Christmas markets and the heart-warming feeling of washing down a mince pie with a glass of mulled wine, it’s not surprising that we love the general merriment of the season.
The slight threat of not getting Christmas presents due to being ‘bad’ is masked by the heavenly scent of Christmas pudding and Terry’s Chocolate Oranges.
However, in other countries, where Christmas may bring long days of darkness and heaps of snow, the celebration can be a little more sinister. Here we take a look at six of the most disconcerting Christmas traditions from across the globe.
With the creature appearing in novels, TV episodes and a 2015 eponymous film, the Austrian Krampus figure may not be an unfamiliar one to some. But the horned fiend still has the power to shoot fear down your spine.
Krampus is believed to have come from an old pre-Christian myth, where he was said to appear on December 5 to toss naughty children into sacks and take them away.
Groups of young men keep the tradition of Krampus alive to this day by prowling the streets late at night dressed with animal skins, carved wooden masks and bells tied to their clothes, and carry long sticks to frighten children.
If you visit Sweden, Norway or Finland in December, you will see straw goats decorated with red ribbons dotted all over. The tale of the Yule Goat or julbock dates back around a thousand years and is associated with the he-goats that pulled Thor’s chariot and brought him food. Legend says that the god would kill the goats every night only for them to be resurrected shortly after.
After Swedes started dressing in goat skins and carrying sculptures of goat heads, early Christians in the region deemed the goat a demon and 17th Century records show claims that julbock roamed the streets demanding food and frightening Christians.
Iceland also has its own creepy Christmas animal, but this time in the form of the Yule Cat. The feline is owned by Gryla, a witch with 15 tails, hooves and eyes in the back of her head, who collects disobedient children to cook and eat them. But the cat has an ominous tale all of its own.
Designed as an incentive for workers, the Yule Cat threatens anyone who doesn’t earn enough to wear new clothes on Christmas Day.
The giant cat roves the snow-covered countryside and will eat anyone not wearing new clothes or not equipped for the cold. To this day, Icelanders still gift each other with new clothes to save their loved ones from a dark death in the jaws of the Yule Cat.
Gryla isn’t the only Christmas witch in the world. As it is the darkest time of the year, people believe the skies of Norway are filled with witches and ghosts looking for brooms to ride on and mischief to cause on Christmas Eve. Norwegian citizens hide their broomsticks and fire a shotgun into the sky to ward off evil spirits.
They also believe in Nisse, a little elf who demands that a special bowl of porridge be left for him on Christmas Eve. If a bowl is not left, he will steal the family’s presents.
Spain and Portugal
In Portugal and Spain, it is tradition for families to celebrate Christmas morning with a feast. But in the very early hours the Portuguese also have an additional banquet called consoada.
It’s not unusual for people to indulge in rich treats and gluttonous feasts over Christmas, but in the UK Christmas dinner is only for the living.
During the consoada feast, people will set a place at the table for the alminhas a penar, the souls of the dead. Crumbs are also left on the hearth for the deceased, a custom that derives from leaving seeds for the dead in hope of a bountiful harvest.
This final tradition is bound to terrify the arachnophobes of the world. In Ukraine, there is a tale of a widow who lived in a cramped hut with her children. A pine cone fell in the family’s garden and they tended to the seed to help their Christmas tree grow. But, when Christmas came around, they couldn’t afford decorations for the tree.
Spiders living in the corners of the hut decided to spin silky webs all over the Christmas tree to decorate it. When the children woke up they were mesmerised by the glittering webs adorning the branches.
Ukrainians still hide cobweb decorations in their tree to celebrate all they’re grateful for.