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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   3 min read

If you think a jolly fat man with a red suit, sleigh and 12 tiny reindeer will be coming down your chimney this year while you’re abroad, think again. One of the joys of travelling abroad during the holidays is discovering new traditions, here are 5 that you might think are just a little strange.

Krampus – Hungary and Austria

Is this Halloween or Christmas we’re celebrating here? Saint Nicholas’ evil counterpart has only one thing to do on Christmas Eve and that’s to punish little children who made the “naughty list”. Picture a devilish looking ghoul with hooves, horns and an ugly long tongue. Krampus carries chains and a basket for taking especially bad kids away to hell.

Catch a glimpse of this holiday tradition at Krampusnacht and Krampus Runs.

Zwarte Piet – Belgium and the Netherlands

If you thought that Black Peter, Santa’s black African slave went out with the wave of political correctness, think again. Black Peter not only helps Santa give out the gifts on Christmas but he is also in charge of capturing the naughty children and taking them to Spain, which the Dutch apparently believed was just as bad as being sent to hell. The image of Zwarte Piet has been watered down slightly in recent years, apparently political correctness won.

La Befana – Italy

Italian children, much to the dismay of Italian dentists, wait for La Befana to come in January 6th, Epiphany, to deliver loads and loads of candies. Of course Babbo Natale comes on Christmas but it’s this ugly old witch going by the name of La Befana that brings so much joy out of small children. As for the origin of this holiday tradition, many believe that La Befana is a re-make of the ancient Roman deity, Strenia, the goddess of endurance and strength and the giver of gifts on New Year’s.

Cobweb Christmas trees – Ukraine

Following the Christmas is beginning to look at lot like Halloween theme, Ukrainians adorn their Christmas trees with spider webs. This tradition dates back to a folk tale in which it was spiders who decorated the trees for poor families who couldn’t afford the glittery ornaments on other yuletide trees. Modern Ukrainian trees don’t need tinsel, since they are covered in cobwebs made from crystal, metal, glittery plastic and even cut out of paper.

Kentucky Fried Chicken – Japan

Whether clever marketing had something to do with this or not, Japan’s holiday meal of choice does happen to be Kentucky Fried Chicken, a fast-food chain immensely popular in Asian countries. This super strange custom dates back 40 years when the fast food giant convinced customers that fried chicken was the traditional American meal at Christmas time. Mister Colonel Sanders dresses in a Santa costume outside stores and buckets of chicken are served up in holiday paper.

Share your own Christmas tradition stories! Have you ever spent the holidays abroad?

Imgs: Flickr cc. / Thumbnail: / Krumpus: gmdb / Zwarte Piet: hanspama / La Befana: Time / Ukraine: victoriabm / KFC: svachalek

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