Strange holiday traditions


Cultures are strange things, and they bring with them strange traditions. These may be some of the strangest of them all, however.

During Christmas in Japan, people line up outside of KFCs and reserve buckets of chicken for their family. This, according to GaijinPot, has been a tradition since the 1970s when an expat decided it would be a good replacement for turkey, which wasn’t available. Word quickly spread up the grapevine and corporate embraced their newfound role in the country’s christmas traditions.

Or, as GaijinPot says, “it might just be because Colonel Sanders looks like Santa Claus.”

KFC at Christmas

Another strange Christmas tradition, this time from the Catalan people in northern Spain, is known simply as the Caganer, or “the shitter.” The Caganer is a staple of nativity scenes in this region, and is depicted as a figure crouching and pooping.

Over the years the Caganer has expanded from a peasant wearing a red beret to nearly everything conceivable. You can find Santa Caganers, Yoda ones, politicians, Oscar award statue Caganers, superheroes and villains, or even the pope.


Over in the UK, there’s the good ol’ Cheese Rolling Festival, during which contestants chase a wheel of cheese down a 1/2 gradient hill. That’s steep. And dangerous. People often dress up for the occasion, running, and quickly tumbling, down the slope in banana costume or dressed as Waldo from “Where’s Waldo.” Injuries seem to be a very common occurrence at this event. What’s the goal, you ask? Well, it’s to be the first one to grab the wheel of cheese, of course!

Cheese Rolling Festival

Back to Christmas, a strange tradition some European countries have is “Krampus,” which is essentially the antithesis of Santa. Depicted with horns and a mangy beard, this legend has its origins in the 1600s with Krampus joining St. Nicholas for his Christmas feast trek each December 5. Krampus would go around and punish bad children with not just coal, but by sometimes stuffing children into his sack to deliver them to hell. Today the legend lives on, with people dressing up as Krampus to chase children through the streets.


Finally on our list of strange holiday traditions: Groundhog Day. In America, we have an annual celebration in which we allow a groundhog, most notably Punxsutawney Phil, predict whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter, or if we will be blessed with an early spring. This tradition began in the 1800s and it’s still well and alive today, even inspiring a Hollywood movie by the same name as the holiday.

Groundhog Day

Cultures develop some strange traditions, but it’s important to keep in mind that just because a celebration seems strange to you doesn’t mean it’s strange to those who celebrate it. Or heck, maybe it it also strange to those who celebrate it, but they enjoy the tradition anyway. I know Groundhog Day makes absolutely no sense to me, but I think it’s still sort of a neat holliday. We all have our quirks in this world, so we might as well enjoy them.

Frightened in France

An earlier Eurokulture post discusses some of the most popular sites to visit in France, and Paris in particular, according to the folks who live there. I thought it was worth revisiting the idea with a particular theme in mind: Halloween.

Pere La Chaise Cemetery

Pere La Chaise Cemetery

Halloween is a popular holiday in America, with sales of scary costumes, haunted houses and other frightening parapahenalia.

Even if they don’t relish all the elements of Halloween like Americans do, the French do have some “skeletons in the closet and a sordid past,” this blogger says in a post about the weirdest and scariest locations in Paris.

No. 1 on the list is the Catacombs, which visitors can tour daily. Joan of Arc‘s ghost supposedly haunts the basilica at Le Bois-Chenu Domremy, and one of the sites houses the ghost of Marie Antoinette.

Most of the places on the list are castles or locations where ghosts have allegedly been sighted, but the list surprisingly includes EuroDisney. What could be scary about Mickey Mouse?

What are the American counterparts that might be included? Salem, Massachusetts, home of the witch trials, comes to mind. Where else would you suggest?

Alowine attitudes

Halloween is a particularly popular holiday in America. Some say it’s the second most important retail holiday in the U.S., behind Christmas. Americans buy costumes for themselves, their children, and even their pets. Many people have costume parties, and some cities or retail businesses host events for children on Halloween as an alternative to door-to-door trick or treating.

But maybe the Americanization of Halloween hasn’t been true to the holiday’s roots, which offers a remembrance and respect for the dead.

Lit pumpkins near the Eiffel Tower

In France, the holiday and its celebrations are fairly new and controversial. It showed up in the 1980s, and was first celebrated at a bar where staff had to explain the holiday to patrons. Here’s how one writer describes it:

Halloween in France is rather controversial, due to the perception of corporate and cultural influence, as well as the fact that it is not a typical French holiday and some people still don’t understand what is being celebrated. Because Halloween is seen as an American celebration, some French people refuse to enjoy it, having decided to include it in their anti-American boycott.

An article in the New York Times on Oct. 25, explains a little more about the observance of Alowine in France, and the ever-changing attitude about the holiday.

One American who moved to France for a year with his family, said that Halloween exists in France but not in any way recognized by most Americans — no pumpkins and no candy or trick-or-treating. He threw an American party for his children’s friends so they could experience the holiday as he thought it should be.

Today, Halloween in France is celebrated more readily in an Americanized fashion. On Oct. 31, French teenagers go to McDonald’s and visit Disneyland Paris because of their iconic American images.

A 2000 story from CNN explains that France had embraced the European roots of Halloween, but a 2006 story in Forbes declares Halloween dead. No word on whether it’s a holiday that will be well-celebrated in France this year. Some retailers in the U.S. don’t expect such a profitable Halloween season this year because of the economic downturn.

How are you celebrating Halloween this year?