Christmas is nearly upon us again. Father Christmas, sleigh bells and Christmas carols have always been a part of our Christmas celebrations. However, in some far corners of the globe Christmas is celebrated differently:
Due to the Vatican being uncomfortable with the existence of Father Christmas, parents tell children that an elderly, friendly witch (La Befana) brings presents to them. No waiting for Santa to arrive, it’s the witch who brings Christmas gifts.
In the Ukraine spider’s webs are included on Christmas trees. The web is supposed to bring good luck on Christmas morning. There’s a Ukrainian folk tale in which a very poor women, who couldn’t afford decorations on her Christmas tree, woke on Christmas day to find that spiders had adorned her Christmas tree with webs. In the morning sunlight the webs turned to silver and gold.
In Japan, Christmas cards are usually white to represent snow. It isn’t customary in Japan to send red Christmas cards because funeral notices are usually printed in red.
Venezuela’s capital Caracas is closed to traffic every Christmas Eve to allow roller skating churchgoers to pass through the city to church for Christmas mass on time.
A part of the nativity scene is to put up a ‘belan’ depicting the day when baby Jesus was born and the three wise men came to Bethlehem.
There are also Christmas characters called ‘El Caganer’ (the great defecator) and ‘Caga Tio’. The latter is a poo log, who poos out presents on Christmas day. The log is covered in a blanket and beaten with a stick by the children every day in the run up to Christmas, until it drops presents from its rear end. Of course, really the children reach into the blanket and take their presents in turn.
Portugal (the Algarve)
Every year there is a ‘Christmas Grand Prix’ in Albufeira, in the Algarve region of Portugal. Rather than involving racing, this is a foot race where entrants have a choice between a 9km run or a 3km ‘Father Christmas walk’, which is a firm family favourite in the area.
All the brooms in the home are hidden away on Christmas Eve in the old belief that spirits and witches come out after dark and would take their brooms to ride up into the skies.
One of the better known Latvian Christmas traditions is called ‘mumming’. Mummers dress in assorted masks and roam the streets on Christmas Eve. Some masks are of gypsies, bears, goats and horses.
Jim Stanton has travelled across Europe and the world, including several lengthy stints living in Asia and South America, but has found himself drawn time and time again to Portugal, becoming an expert on the culture and history of the country, especially the Algarve region. He now splits his time between the UK and Portugal. You can find him on Google+. Jim Stanton