For most people, Christmas is about family, great food and lots of presents; however, it can also be the opportune time to escape to a beautiful location. Experiencing Christmas in another country – whether with a group such as Albatross Tours or winging it on your own – can be a chance to see different cultures celebrate and find out how many wacky traditions are actually out there. Below is just a snapshot of some of the weird and wonderful Christmas traditions Europe has to offer.
1. A Bewitching Celebration
If you thought St Nick was the only one bringing presents on Christmas, then think again. In Italy you will find yourself getting a visit from La Befana the ‘good witch’. Because La Befana turned down an invite to the birth of Christ, she now delivers presents to all the well-behaved children in Italy – in addition to Santa and 11 days later. That’s a lot of gifts for good kids!
2. Beastly Surprise
Getting coal in your Santa sack is bad enough, but for those in the Alpine regions – such as Austria – a piece of coal is nothing compared to the demonic figures that accompany St Nick. Known as Krampus, this demon dishes out punishment to naughty children, carrying a basket to kidnap the naughtiest of the naughty and take them back to hell.
3. Competitive Spirit
Ever wondered who could pull off the best Santa? Well so does Switzerland! In order to come to a conclusion, every year, the town of Samnaun holds the highly anticipated Santa Claus World Championships. From a wooden rocking horse obstacle course to a gingerbread decorating contest, this Swiss tradition known as ‘ClauWau’ brings in competitors from all over the world.
4. Indecent Exposure
Across countries influenced by Catalan culture, such as Spain and southern parts of France, you will find the Caganer – a figurine with his pants down and a pile of poo at his feet. Although the exact origins of this weird tradition aren’t known, you will still find this unusual figure tucked away in the corners of nativity scenes around Christmas time – well away from Mary and Joseph.
5. It’s All in the Shoes
The Czech Republic has a rather unique Christmas tradition for all single women that involves shoes and fortune-telling. At Christmas time, the unmarried woman will toss a shoe over her shoulder towards a door. How the shoe lands will determine whether or not marriage is on the cards in the next year; if the toe faces the door then you can start picking out your wedding dress!
6. Fire Up
There is no true celebration without plenty of noise, and Bavaria has embraced this idea in all its glory. At Christmas time, people in this snowy region of Germany get themselves decked-out in traditional lederhosen outfits before firing into the sky with a number of handheld mortars.
The way you celebrate Christmas might seem to be the ‘normal’ way, but that’s only because you haven’t seen or experienced anything else. With different cultures come different traditions, and to really get a feel for what Christmas is about, it’s worth taking a page out of someone else’s book.