book lover, professional writer & blogger
I’ve got a theory one of my neighbours thinks I’m a witch. Five brooms have been stolen from the front of my house in as many weeks.
If I was Norwegian, I might take their desperate desire to tackle fallen leaves with a big brush they didn’t pay for as a serious insult, because in Norway, there is apparently a Christmas tradition that says you should hide your brooms over the festive period so witches don’t borrow them to fly around the place doing evil. Many Norwegians dispute the existence of this tradition, saying it’s completely made up to create a buzz, just an Internet rumour. If any Norwegian people can sort it out for us, I’ll be very grateful.
Everywhere blogs, articles, newspapers and books tell us about the ‘weirdest Xmas traditions’, the ‘freaky side of Christmas’ or ‘bizarre Xmas rituals from around the world’. There’s KFC bucket eating in Japan; furry caterpillar eating in South Africa; decorating garbage in Ohio; religious rollerskating in Venezuela; nude saunas in Estonia; thorn bonfires in Iraq; logs which “defecate” presents in Catalonia; small statues of famous people defecating in Catalonia; evil cats who eat children if they don’t work hard in Iceland (a personal favourite of mine, called Jolakotturinn); setting fire to stodgy pudding in Britain and the list goes on.
Okay, Catalonians are apparently obsessed with objects and people pooing. That is funny, true or false. But, is it right to take the St. Michael out of real traditions? Isn’t the whole point of a tradition the fact that it’s unusual and interesting and not a common occurrence? If the people of every country in the world pulled a cracker, stuck a fake angel on a fake tree and ate a whole turkey before complaining how much they needed a lie down it would be a very boring time of year indeed. In my eyes, rollerskating to Church is the way to go if you’re bothering to attend one in the first place.
Since I’m in no way religious, I tend to go for pre-Christian traditions when I throw a party at this time of year. Basically, trees and Krampus. If you don’t know of him, Krampus sort of represents the devil; the word Krampus loosely translates as “claw”. Krampus is a tough-looking hairy beast with Germanic origins who does the opposite of St. Nicholas at Christmas: he checks for naughty children and stops them getting presents or punishes them.
Because the character resembled a sort of manic goat creature, the early church tried to wipe him out of popular festivities but, people have always enjoyed the battle between good and evil (and, they also want well-behaved kids). So, Krampus not only survived; he flourished. This particular long-tongued, horned, mountain-dwelling, chain-carrying behemoth is as popular now as he ever was – if not more. Austrians in particular like dressing up as him and doing the rounds. In North America, by the way, he’s apparently known as Bellsnichol, a sort of amalgamation of Nicholas the good and Krampus the bad. (Verification always welcome.)
I mentioned birch earlier, an item Krampus carries. The birch is interesting because it not only symbolises strength and adaptability but also death, the spirit world and the concept of returning from the dead. Birch trees are excellent at re-colonising areas of forest after large fires. No wonder the Church failed to get him banned from popular culture . . .
Anyway, hope this has been a bit different to the usual Christmas message. The Queen of England would be so proud. Just make sure your dad gets a Krampus suit and don’t forget to do a Portugal on the big day: invite all your dead relatives to the family consoda (a big, slap-up meal!)
Have a weird and wonderful Xmas!
(PS The photo I used for the ‘front’ of this post, on my main blog page, is a beautiful Bruges scene I took a few years ago – an amazing destination for Xmas.)