Christmas is (nearly) here! It’s that time of year where families gather around a dead tree to eat sweets from socks and wait for an obese old man to arrive on reindeer and deliver gifts.
Let’s be honest, Christmas is a little weird. Wonderful of course, but also just a little bit bizarre. So in honour of this peculiar and festive holiday season, we present 9 unusual Christmas figures from around the world.
1. The Christmas Goat in Sweden
Come Christmas time, houses all over Sweden place straw goats in their windows and underneath their Christmas trees. The Christmas Goat is as much a part of the festive holiday season as Santa Claus himself.
In fact in the olden days, the Christmas Goat would even deliver presents to children.
The origin of the Christmas Goat is unclear. Some believe it’s connected to Norse mythology, when goats were part of Thor’s entourage. Others think the Christmas Goat comes from the old Scandinavian tradition of butchering a goat around Christmas time.
Whatever the reason, the Christmas Goat is here to stay! Unless you live in Gävle of course, where the massive Yule Goat erected in the town square gets burned down every year.
2. Krampus in Austria
All good little boys and girls in Austria expect to get treats and presents from Santa Claus. Sounds pretty standard, right? And it is… unless you’re on Austrian Santa’s naughty list.
If you’ve been bad this year, Santa’s evil twin Krampus – a hairy goat-beast, with horns and a pointy tongue – beats you with sticks and chains before abducting you and hurling you into the pits of hell.
Happy Holidays kids!
3. The Shitter in Spain, Italy and France
You’ll find the Shitter figurine (or Caganer as he is known in his native Catalan) in nativity scenes in Catalonia and places influenced by Catalan culture like Andorra, southern France and Naples in southern Italy.
As well as his telltale pants-round-the-ankles stance and plastic poo, you can spot the Caganer by his red Catalan cap and peasant garb. So what’s the story behind his cheeky presence? The exact origins have been lost but, well, the simple answer is – he’s funny. Especially to kids.
Nowadays, as well as the traditional peasant you’ll also find all manner of Caganers – from Santas, nuns and devils to celebrities, Spanish royal family members and even Barack Obama. Expect a Miley figure to hit the shelves any time soon.
4. Yule Lads in Iceland
Now you can’t expect Santa to deliver gifts all around the world in one night on his own. He needs helpers of course!
In Iceland, Santa’s little helpers are magical people who come from the mountains, known as Yule lads or Yulemen.
These 13 Yule lads offer various gifts to children from 12 -24 December. Well, that sounds nice…
Actually, these little guys aren’t so nice after all. They’re descendants of Grýla, a cruel troll hag whose favourite dish is a stew of naughty children!
Mommy Grýla was pretty creative when she named her Yule lads – Spoon Licker, Bowl Licker, Door Slammer, Sausage Swiper, Door Sniffer, Meat Hook and Candle Beggar to name a few…
Be sure to draw your curtains on 21 December, when the Window Peeper Yule lad comes to town!
5. Zwarte Piet in Netherlands
Every December, children in the Netherlands eagerly await the arrival of Sinterklaas, who leaves gifts and treats in their shoes.
Sinterklaas, also known as St. Nicholas, is a former bishop of Turkey, who now resides in Spain and arrives in the Netherlands by steamship
Now devout North Pole believers might find this a little weird already, but what about St. Nicholas’s little helper and servant?
Zwarte Piet (Black Peter)’s function and portrayal is somewhat of a touchy subject, because, well…
Every year thousands of people done black face paint, bright red lipstick, gold jewellery and minstrel clothing to dress up as Zwarte Piet.
Naturally, there’s been a bit of a backlash against Zwarte Piet in recent years, but the character is still pretty popular.
6. La Befana in Italy
In Italy, the story of the birth of baby Jesus is a little different than the traditional version.
According to Italian legend, before the three wise men arrived at the manger they stopped off at an old woman’s shack to ask for directions. They invited the woman, La Befana, to come along to see baby Jesus but she declined (apparently she was too busy with housework).
Later that night, La Befana saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the wise men, but it was too late – she got lost and never found the manger.
Now La Befana flies around on her broomstick each year, bringing gifts to children in hopes that she might find baby Jesus. Italian children hang their stockings on the evening of January 5th and eagerly await a visit from the witch.
7. The Christmas Log in Catalonia
The Christmas log (Tió de Nadal in his native Catalonian) looks cute, right? Like butter wouldn’t melt? Well, he also goes by Caga tió (‘shitting log’), and there’s nothing innocent about the way he’s treated – beaten with sticks on Christmas Day until he ‘poops’ out sweets (or Christmas Eve, depending on when you celebrate).
From December 8th onwards, kids will have placed a few more sweets inside the log per night in order to get a big, sugary pay-out on Jesus’ birthday. While hitting the log, they sing:
Hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
If you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
Little angels, eh?
8. Hunky Santa in Los Angeles
Sometimes it’s a good thing when Christmas traditions die and become ghosts of Christmas past (for example when the English Parliament made Christmas illegal in 1647!)
But other times, it’s a real shame.
At Los Angeles’ Beverly Center, up until a few years ago, a Hunky Santa was hired every holiday season to find out who’d been naughty and who’d been nice. The muscular and tanned Santa would wear a furry vest and perform with acrobatic Candy Cane Girls.
Don’t worry, Hunky Santa would only appear on the weekends and in the evenings, after regular Santa (and the little ones) had gone to bed.
Shame the shopping centre decided that Hunky Santa didn’t fit with their luxury brand anymore… .
9. Colonel Sanders in Japan
Christmas may not be a national holiday in Japan, but eating KFC chicken at Christmas time has become an annual tradition. Due to a ridiculously successful advertising campaign from the 70s, Colonel Sanders is the most popular jolly white bearded man come Christmastime in Japan.
Did we miss any? Tell us about the weird Santas that come and visit you on Christmas…
Thanks to Keith Williamson, Seppo Laine, ColorfulFoxes, Ekasher, Shadowgate, Hans Pama, ho visto nino volare, Toniher, irina slutsky, rumpleteaser for the images off Flickr. Please note that all images were used under the Creative Commons license at the time of posting.