Discover a dozen unusual yuletide celebrations and traditions, from rollerskating to, er, a pooping log…
On 5 December (the night before the Feast of St Nicholas) Krampus – a chained, hairy, demonic creature with goat’s horns, fangs and hoofed feet – chases naughty children with his ruten (birch branches). To keep him friendly, try offering him a tot of schnapps (fruit brandy)!
To make the most of a Caribbean Christmas, get up early – VERY early: the steel-pan concerts, carolling sessions, fireworks and other noisy celebrations begin at 4am for over a week from 15 to 24 December – hence the name: the Nine Mornings Festival.
Forget turkey – the fowl gracing the table in a Japanese family home on Christmas Eve is likely to be Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken. Since the launch in 1974 of a marketing campaign ‘Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ (Kentucky for Christmas!), huge numbers of Japanese people flock to KFC for a Christmas meal each year.
Yes, radishes – in Oaxaca, those rubicund root vegetables are used to create nativity scenes each 23 December. The noche de los rábanos (night of the radishes) is a tradition believed to date from the 18th century when radishes were introduced to Mexico from China, and became a formal competition in 1897.
On the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the city of San Fernando is lit by the glow of beautifully decorated lanterns, some up to 6m in diameter, competing for prizes during the festival of Ligligan Parul.
Children across the island leave shoes by the window on each of the 13 nights before Christmas in anticipation of a visit from one of the jólasveinar (Yule Lads), a baker’s dozen of troll-like characters with names such as Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker) and Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper). Good children can expect to wake to a treat next morning – but if you’ve been naughty you’ll be left nothing but a rotten potato!
Christmas Eve sees the residents of Caracas head to an early morning mass – on roller-skates. Many streets are even closed to motor vehicles so that skaters can reach church safely, before returning home for a festive meal of hallacas (known elsewhere in Latin America as tamales – steamed maize meal dumplings stuffed with meat).
In one of the most macabre yuletide customs, a torchlit procession follows the Mari Lwyd (‘grey mare’) to the pub in Llanwrtyd Wells late on New Year’s Eve. Despite the gruesome headline act, this unusual take on the mumming tradition is a cheery affair, with songs, rhymes and plentiful banter en route.
On 8 December, Catalan children start feeding an unusual pet: Tió de Nadal – the Christmas log. This smiling, stick-legged, red-hatted hollow log is looked after till Christmas eve, when children beat Tió de Nadal with sticks until he poops sweets and presents – after which he’s tossed on the fire. A defecating man known as Caganer is a popular addition to Catalan nativity scenes, too.
Chante Noël (or, in local Creole, Chanté Nwèl) sees crowds gather at various spots across the French Caribbean island to croon carols to the backing of a live Creole band – refuelling with various local dishes including sweet or savoury pâtés, yams, boudin créole and yule log, washed down with shrubb, a cocktail made with dried orange peel, sugarcane syrup and white rum.
The Christmas season in Colombia begins on 7 December with the Día de las Velitas (Day of the Little Candles) - though the lightshow that accompanies the festival today is far from diminutive. To honour the Virgin Mary, people create vivid window displays of candles and paper lanterns in windows and on balconies.
During the Carriacou Parang Festival, an annual affair held in mid-December for over 40 years on this Caribbean island, folk musicians travel from house to house performing carols. Local villages compete with one another, and there are concerts and cultural exhibitions to enjoy, too.