Snow has fallen in the past two days, turning Amsterdam into a winter wonderland. The bright canals have never looked so fairy before, now covered by a soft, white blanket that reshapes entirely the features of this magical city. The storm has now passed, making room for a few sunrays lightening our morning routine. Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé seem to have started singing again, after the traditional 12-months break, and while people are listening to their All I Want For Christmas Is You, and rush into the closest malls to buy presents for their loved ones, we wonder what this eve will bring us.
Christmas is the most awaited time of the year, no doubts about it. If you’re 3 or 80 years old, it matters little in the end: when it comes to decorating the house with dozens Christmas balls and candles, we all go back to that moment of our life where we thought that was nothing but enchanting. Rows of lights outline the contour of the buildings, sweets and hot chocolate have returned to their usual place on our dining tables, and this cosy atmosphere is spreading more than ever.
The Christmas spirit appears to unify the whole globe from each of its corners, regardless of latitudes and hemispheres. But, contrarily to what you might be thinking, it’s not all about presents under the tree: what are the weirdest traditions that make this period unique in the different countries of the world?
“Caga Tió” (Catalonia)
In Catalonia, people create a “defecating log” that adorns the dining table during the night before Christmas. This bizarre character, also complete with a smiling face and a red hat, is daily fed with fruit, nuts, and sweets. How comes? Someone might argue… Well, apparently, on Christmas Eve, the whole family strikes the log with sticks, whilst intonating traditional songs, so as to force it to “excrete its treats”. Quite unexpected, huh?
In Portugal, many families tend to set extra seats at the dining table for relatives who passed away. This happens during the Christmas Eve dinner, called, in Portuguese, “Consoda”. It is considered a ritual that allows all components of the family to spend the festivity together.
“La Befana” (Italy)
Just like Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands, Italians have a “good witch” making sure that children get the right amount of candies each year. She leaves them inside the socks, specially hung on the walls of the living rooms. This happens during the night between January 5th and January 6th, when la Befana flies from house to home thanks to her irreplaceable broom, scattering sweets and bringing joy to the youngest. But watch out! Those who misbehaved will receive coal instead of treats…
“Booted” (Czech Republic)
If you are looking for a ritual that tells you how your love life will be in the next months, this could be the case. During the Christmas festivities, unmarried women in Czech Republic stand in front of the main door, and throw a shoe above their shoulder. If after the launch the shoe points with the toe towards the door, people believe they will get married within 12 months.
Caracas: an unusual way to reach church services… (Venezuela)
In Caracas, not even the great Christmas meals stop revellers from roller skating to the early-morning church services organized throughout the whole period. Roads are appositely blocked to cars, enabling citizens to reach the locations safely.
Spiders and web as Christmas decorations (Ukraine)
Lights, balls and shiny snowflakes? You might have decorated your Christmas tree in the wrong way for too many years, if seeking for good luck. This Ukrainian tradition goes back to a tale about a woman without any money to buy decorations for her tree. According to the story, waken up on Christmas morning, she saw that a spider had remedied the lack of ornaments with its fine and bright web. Since that day, fake spiders and web are considered part of the Christmas tradition: families use them believing those will be propitious.
Cover: Freestocks.org / Final editing: Ramona Nouse