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.

Caganers

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.

Krampus

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.

Krampus On Campus

Throughout America, there are small sects of fans of almost any concept, person, place, or thing you can think of.  Among German students, particularly at the college level, you can’t escape the scattered fandom of Krampus.  In sight of the holiday season, Krampus name-dropping becomes more and more evident and the legend goes a little something like this:

Krampus is a mythical being, recognized in the Alpine area, including south Germany.  Supposedly, when Saint Nicholas comes around to fill stockings of good little boys and girls, Krampus accompanies him to take care of the bad ones.  Now, in Germany, if you’ve been good, you will receive gifts of toys, chocolates, sugar, spice and everything nice.  However, if you’ve been bad, a much more horrible fate awaits you in the form of a visit from Krampus.  As a naughty one, you’ll see Krampus drudging towards you, black rags flying in the wind around his demon-like face.  He throws chains in your way and swings his stick or switch, giving you forewarning of what’s to come once you get home. When it comes time for him to visit your sleeping self on the night of December 6th with Saint Nicholas, if you have been bad, instead of receiving gifts, Krampus will take all of what you could have had and bag you up with it, taking you away to be beaten somewhere.

Now, Krampus appears different ways in different Alpine countries.  In Germany and Austria, he usually appears as a goat-like demon creature who roams the street looking for bad children to hit with his switch.  In Croatia, he appears as a devil wearing nothing but a cloth sack and chains around his arms, neck and waist.  In Hungary, Krampus takes on a more mischievious over evil demeanor.

Krampus is a sort of pre-christian concept that stems from the southern part of west europe, and in some parts northern Germany, is not even heard of or known.  I was shocked to find out upon traveling to Giessen, a smaller city near Frankfurt, that my friends in Germany hard never heard of Krampus.  Even the ones who knew most other traditional German folk lore!  I had learned about Krampus in German class after German class throughout middle school and high school.  By the time I reached college, Krampus was something of a legend, and other people I knew who liked German and its traditions as much as I did held “Krampus on East Campus” christmas-themed parties.  Little to say, I was shocked upon finding out this culture difference in an area I thought would be more than knowledgeable about the subject.

The lore for me has always been so beautifully, traditionally, stereotypically German, which is what attracted me to it so strongly in the first place.  The idea of rewards for good children, and not only punishments, but also straight evil, cruelty, and brutality for bad ones is so typical of a German fairy-tale-like story.  The concept of Krampus is TERRIFYING, and so deeply, German-ly cool.  Germans seem to think Krampus is more of “an Austria thing,” but as an American who always learned about him in the context of German culture, is their claim correct?

So, Alpine-minded readers, have you heard of Krampus?  I’d be curious to know.