For many, Christmas is a time to gather around with friends and family, exchanging gifts and meals. However, for those in many parts of Europe, the Christmas season is a little less cut and dry. From visits from witches to giant burning goats, Christmas in Europe can have decidedly strange traditions and customs. Here are just four of those quirky Christmas traditions found across the continent.
Austria: In Austria around St. Nicholas Day, you can expect to see scenes of a scary nature. The country promotes the tradition of Krampus, a devil-like figure representing the opposite of Santa. Rather than spreading gifts and good cheer, Krampus carries away bad children in a basket. In many villages and towns, Austrians will dress up in costumes of the terrifying Krampus to scare the children. Some spots in the country even feature Krampus parades and events each December.
Iceland: While most children in the world might delight in having one Father Christmas, Icelandic children have a much better situation. In Iceland, there isn’t just one Santa but rather 13 Yule Lads. Every night for 13 days leading up to Christmas, a different Yule Lad visits children, bringing treats right to their windowsills. Those children who have been bad are gifted a potato. The Yule Lads descend from mountain trolls. Their mother is the terrifying Gryla who reportedly comes out with her sons to capture and boil the bad children. Icelanders don’t just have Gryla and potatoes to worry about. They also must fear the Christmas Cat, an enormous black cat who eats anyone that doesn’t get a new piece of clothing for Christmas.
Sweden: You might gather around the TV on Christmas to watch a classic holiday film like White Christmas, A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life. However, in Sweden, nothing says Christmas Eve like Donald Duck. Like clockwork, at 3 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, many Swedes gather around to watch Disney cartoons. In addition to Disney, the city of Gävle also celebrates Christmas in quirky fashion. In the central square of the town in the center of Sweden, a giant goat proudly stands, that is until someone destroys it. The 13 meter tall goat is usually vandalized or burnt to a crisp before Christmas. In fact, Gävle’s Christmas goat has only survived just over a dozen times since its beginnings in 1966. You can watch the live web cam of Gälve’s goat to see his status throughout December.
Italy: While you would imagine most children want nothing to do with a witch at Christmas time, Italy’s tradition of la befana takes the scary out of witch. On the night of January 5th, la befana, meaning the witch, visits the children of Italy, gifting them treats and gifts. La Befana is featured throughout the Christmas season in store windows. In addition to the tradition of La Befana, Italians also feast on seven fishes on Christmas Eve. Nothing says Christmas like a little eel and octopus for dinner.
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