I am always on the look out for wacky traditions and quaint customs when I travel. Here are some Christmas quirks that I have come across while not home for the holidays.
Spain: El cagon or caganer
Aww, look at the miniature nativity scene. Baby Jesus asleep in his little manger with a petite Virgin Mary watching over him. The wise men are standing by, and a menagerie of animals lay around the stable, snug in little piles of straw. Its an idyllic scene, until you spot a little bent over figure behind a tree. Yep, he is doing what you think he is doing. He is known as ‘el cagon’ -the pooping man. Apart from adding a bit of humour and acting as a Christmas version of ‘Where’s (pooping) Waldo’, he is said to represent abundance, prosperity (fertilizer ) and equality (hey, we all poop). It’s believed that this crappy tradition was started back in the 17th century.
A typical Christmas dessert in Denmark, risalamonde is a type of rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, chopped almonds, cinnamon, and vanilla. A thick warm cherry sauce is then poured on top. Apart from the sheer deliciousness of it, one lucky person will get a whole almond in their serving, making them the lucky recipient of a risalamonde gift. A prize for eating dessert?! Yes, Denmark, yes. Want more? Have a look HERE for more on Danish Christmas Traditions.
Czech Republic: Who knew that you could tell your fortune with apples and hot lead? The Czechs did, that’s who. While not as widely practiced as back in the day, predicting which way a family’s luck would go in the upcoming year was once a popular Christmas custom. Once cut in half, an apple showing a star-shaped core is said to be lucky, while a four-pointed cross is a bad omen. Hot lead, melted over a fire and then poured into cold water will also determine a person’s fortune according to the shape it forms. I suppose a dollar sign or a heart would be good ?
Mexico: Noche de Rabanos.
Every year just before Christmas in Oaxaca, the entire main square is taken over by radishes. Yes. Radishes. Tiny (and not so tiny) vegetable sculptures depict scenes of Mexican life and the holiday season. Who knew a vegetable could be so festive? Read more about this zaney festival.
Hungary: Mikulás and Krampusz
December 5th might be the only day that Hungarian children actually like polishing their shoes. (Do kids still polish their shoes on regular days anyways)? In preparation for the arrival of Mikulás (St. Nicholas) on the 6th, shoes or boots are all spiffied up and set out to be filled with goodies.
The naughty kids get a ‘virgács’-a switch made out of twigs left by Mikulás’ evil side-kick known as ‘Krampusz’. Krampusz is a devilish goat-like looking creature with a long red tongue and a nature just mischievous enough to mildly terrify small children.
Your turn. Share a quirky Christmas tradition from your country or one that you have come across in your travels.