Wearing paper hats too small for our heads, eating copious amounts of Quality Street, half-watching Doctor Who through a dizziness brought on by a mixture of gravy and Baileys; Western Christmas traditions are quite simple, especially when you compare them to the rest of the world, which seem bat shit crazy in comparison to our tame British ways.
Here’s what you’re missing out on...
Catalans love poo
If you’re off to Barcelona this Christmas for some winter sun, don’t be surprised to see a nativity scene featuring a defecating model. No, it’s not satanists at work, it’s just their tradition dating back to the 18th century, as it’s said that poo is a sign of good luck as it fertilizes the earth and ensures a fruitful harvest for the coming year.
The figurine is called a Caganer, which literally means “the crapper” or “the shitter”, and is usually depicted as a peasant (although celeb versions are available now) with his pants around his ankles curling one out on the ground. As well as these being hidden among the baby Jesus and his crew in nativity scenes across Spain, Portugal and Italy, there’s also one lurking around inside the cathedral of Ciudad Rodrigo, Province of Salamanca.
But wait, there’s more! Catalans also have a decoration in the form of a log with a grinning face, called Tió de Nadal, which children feed and look after in the hope that it’ll get fat and crap out loads of treats come Christmas, where they’ll then beat it with sticks and sing the following song (which has been translated):
"Caga Tió hazelnuts and turron
If you don't want to poo
We will hit you with a stick"
Straight to the point, we guess.
Kentucky fried Christmas in Japan
KFC at Christmas. The Japanese are living the dream. On Christmas Eve around the country, approximately 3.6 million households tuck into a feast of Christmassy KFC goods. How do you make fried chicken Christmassy? Who knows, but since 1974 an advertising campaign in the Far East promoted it as so, so it must be true!
Here’s someone lining up for their bucket last year:
Bulgaria has bread with coins in it
No, granny hasn’t lost it again and started baking random objects in her dinner. In Bulgaria they bake bread with a coin hidden inside, and the person who finds it in their slice is said to have good health and prosperity the year after.
Be unlucky if you choked on it though, wouldn’t it?
Beach barbecues and swimming in Australia
A Christmas on the beach almost seems offensive to the British. “What? No grey fog or black ice to slip and break your neck on? How unfestive.” But in Australia it is the height of summer, with an average temperature of around 26°C, so you can’t really blame them for sunbathing and having a BBQ (which is mostly seafood, not turkey, shock horror) on Bondi Beach come 25 December, as well as having a famous yacht race from Sydney to Hobart in Tasmania on Boxing Day.
Ukraine’s spider web decorations
In some people’s eyes it would appear that someone couldn’t be arsed to take down the Halloween decorations. To other well-traveled types they’d know that it’s a classic Ukrainian tree decoration, based on an old tale about a woman who couldn’t afford to properly decorate her tree, only to awake the morning after to find that a spider had weaved its beautiful web across it for her. When did Spider-Man last decorate an OAP’s tree, huh? That’s why Hollywood keeps failing with these reboots. They want to see Peter Parker assisting pensioners, not fighting lizards.
Austria’s scary AF Krampus demon
In Britain you’d get a lump of coal for being naughty as a child. In Austria, if you were bad, you were kidnapped by the Krampus (a metal album cover-worthy monster) and taken to his lair, where he’d slap you about a bit. The half-goat/half-demon is a direct contrast to Santa and was used to make children behave, and still to this day people dress up and roam the streets as Krampus to scare the little ones.
Jumping over firey thorns in Iraq
Christians make up a small portion of Iraq’s religious population, and they celebrate the holiday in a uniquely dangerous fashion. On Christmas Day, after reading the Nativity story from an Arabic Bible, families will burn piles of dried thorns. If these thorns burn properly and ashed are produced, it’s a sign of a good omen, which the family will then jump over three times and make wishes.
You feel like a bit of a dick for being scared to pull a cracker now, don’t you?
Americans bloody love pickles
Most people peel back their McDonald’s burgers and chuck the pickle slices away in an act of disgusted defiance, but in America they are regarded as a healthy snack and a cracking Christmas decoration.
Why? No, it’s not an obsession with fast food (surprisingly), it actually comes from a legend dating back to the American Civil War, where Private John C. Lower was captured and taken prisoner. Behind bars and starving on Christmas Eve, he begged the guard for a pickle, which the guard gave to him in act of kindness. Lower was then released and praised the pickle for saving his life.
So there you go. Long live the pickle.