While many nations the world over celebrate Christmas, traditions for this holiday are far from uniform! Winter is when some of the globe’s most ancient and unique customs are observed, and that’s why we love braving the winter temperatures to witness each country at its most authentic.
Let us take you through some of our favorite (sometimes bizarre) Christmas traditions.
Ukraine: Christmas spider
In Ukraine, putting up a silver or gold spider decoration during the holidays is good luck. It harkens back to a legend of a spider that helped a poor widow’s family decorate their Christmas tree with sparkling webs to bring some happiness and better fortune to the family in the coming year. This is why that Ukrainians consider it bad luck year-round to kill a spider.
Spiders are not the only creepy thing that appear in Europe on Christmastime! The demonic-goat figure, Krampus, actually appears as St. Nicholas’s helper in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland. Originating from pre-Christian Alpine cultures, Krampus was once used as a threat to children who misbehaved during the year. According to legend, this nefarious being would kidnap naughty children from their homes to later either drown or eat them… merry christmas, folks!
Luckily! The modern day has toned down these threats a bit, and Krampus is now (for the most part) a humorous figure. Either getting tricked by angels, or only being evil enough to steal presents of those that were undeserving of what they were given by St. Nicholas.
Hungary: On December 6th, Hungarians celebrate St. Nicholas’s Feast Day (St. Mikulás). In this culture, the Saint serves the gift-giving role of Santa Claus.
The night of December 5th, children will leave their cleaned shoes out for St. Mikulas. If they have behaved during the year, then they will awake to find their shoes filled with fruits, treats, chocolates, little toys and books.
Georgia: Instead of Christmas trees, the people of Georgia will take large branches of hazelnut or walnut, and carefully shave down these sticks until they resemble coniferous trees, this tree is called a chichilaki. Georgians also believe that this decoration represents the beard of St. Basil, and the tree of life- a symbol of hope for this nation. A chichilaki may be bought to honor a recently-deceased family member. The night before the Feast of Epiphany (Jan 19th on the Gregorian calendar), the chichilakis are ceremoniously burned to symbolize the departure of last year’s troubles.
Croatia: On Dec. 13, St. Lucia’s day, families will plant wheat seeds into a dish of dirt. The sprouted wheat would then predict the family’s fortune for the next year. Unmarried girls might decide to get together with their girlfriends to do some innocent fortune-telling with Christmas wheat. Whoever’s wheat grew the tallest would become engaged in the following year. If someone’s wheat never managed to grow, she supposedly would never marry, or at least have a lot of trouble finding a match. Yes, fertilizer and extra help is allowed! Whatever it was previously used for, the sprouted Christmas wheat is put under the Christmas tree as decor, and after the holiday is given to the birds.
written by Cobblestone Staff