One of the best things about Europe is that, for a pretty small continent, it’s incredibly diverse. You can fly from the seaside to the snow in just an hour; or from eating croissants and baguettes to feta and olives in another. The same can be said about its culture – and that couldn’t be more obvious when it comes to Christmas traditions. In the couple of thousand years that Western societies have been celebrating the holiday on December 25, all sorts of weird (and some downright creepy) traditions have emerged. Whether it’s in the food, the various creatures that visit children to bring presents or…well, poo…Europe certainly doesn’t do Christmas traditions by halves.
Catalonia is literally OBSESSED. The locals of this region – which includes Barcelona – have not one, but two Christmas traditions that revolve around number twos – ‘ and ‘caganas’. Caga Tió, which of course translates directly to ‘the shitting log’, is a Christmas favourite. Families hollow out and draw a funny face on a log in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and every day they must ‘feed’ the log with sweets, nougat and other delicious treats. Then on Christmas Eve, the children WHACK THE LOG WITH STICKS and order him to poo himself, at which point the log drops out all the sweets. There’s even a ‘shitting log’ song, which is exactly as hilarious as it sounds. Just don’t think about how utterly messed up it is as they tell this log that if it poops out sardines or anything except sweets they’ll further abuse it with sticks…
In other poo-related traditions, Catalans – and their neighbours – have a little spin on their traditional nativity scenes that you may not have noticed. In the corner of the baby birth scene you might find a shady little character, a Caganer, with his back to the wall. Why does he look so shifty? Turn the little figurine around and you’ll find his trousers pulled down and (how can we phrase this nicely?) his bum out, because he’s taking a poo in Jesus’s birthplace. In recent times, Caganers have been made to look like celebrities. A pooping Queen Elizabeth? Obama? Lady Gaga? Incredible. Nobody actually knows how this one started – we assume there’s no concrete evidence that anyone actually pooped in the manger – but it’s been around for over 300 years, so it must be legit, right?
In other horrifying Christmas tradition news, the Father Christmas who lives in German-speaking Alpine areas has a few sidekicks for the kids who aren’t so nice. Rather than jolly little elves or red-nosed reindeer, Santa has some sort of nightmare-inducing horned devil-goat friend called Krampus, who would not only terrify me into becoming one of those little pooping Nativity figures, but would certainly keep me well-behaved for the entirety of Christmas.
This is just as terrifying as any sort of Christmas devil or pooping log, to be honest. The only people who should be swimming at Christmas are the backwards folk down in Australia, who have Christmas in the middle of summer, the poor souls – certainly not the British, with their icy cold waters and pebbled beaches. But lo and behold, Old Blighty manages to surprise us again. Basically on Christmas Day, a whole bunch of idiots brave people plunge into beaches around the country on Christmas day wearing anything from a full Santa outfit to ever-classy mankinis. It’s not a new tradition for milennials, either: the first recorded Christmas Day swim was at Brighton Swimming Club in 1860! Pass me a Christmas jumper and some hot chocolate any day, thanks – let’s save the beach for the Aussies.
Now those Estonians have some common sense, and have made their Christmas (Joulud, they call it) tradition a visit to the sauna – a blessing, really, considering the average December temperature for the capital city of Tallinn is about -5C. Families would get their house ready and looking all festive, and then before trekking through that Northern European snow to the midnight church service, they’d go and relax for a while in the saunas and steam baths. What could be more festive than sitting with your family all naked and sweaty of a winter’s evening, really?
Shoes apparently play a big part in the lead-up to Christmas in many European countries – and I’m not convinced that these traditions weren’t made up by cunning kids in order to get presents in the three weeks leading up to Christmas – the geniuses. On December 6, children in Germany, Hungary, Austria, Romania, Slovenia,the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland put their shoes out before they go to sleep, and when they wake up – assuming they’ve been good – their little shoes are filled with presents from Mikulás/Nikolaus/any variation of ‘Saint Nicholas’. Christmas Day is usually reserved for presents from the Christ Child, so this is Santa coming early.
In the Czech Republic, shoes are a tradition for unmarried girls, as well. As un-feminist as it may be, the girls throw a shoe over their shoulder towards their front door at Christmas. If the toe of the shoe faces the door, then the girl will definitely get married within the next year. It’s #science, okay?!
- Mathilda Edwards