At a winter concert last weekend, there was a song about Lucia with the line: “wears a coronet, a circle of bright candles bound in berry branch…”*. This was referring to the traditional pre-Christmas winter solstice celebration in Scandinavia. And indeed, in Scandinavian countries, it is traditional for girls to wear a crown of burning candles on 13th December, which is St Lucia’s day. Sounds a little dangerous to me…
So this led me to think about what other strange customs there are around on the world at Christmas. Here are just a few:
- In Austria, young men dress up as a monster called Krampus, which is a devil-like demon (just like something from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). These monsters roam the streets, scaring adults and children alike – how festive!
- In the Czech Republic, young women put a branch of a cherry tree in water and, if it blooms before Christmas, then they believe they will marry during the next year.
- In Denmark, it’s more like trick or treat: children leave out a bowl of rice pudding for a naughty elf called Nisse – and if they don’t, then he might steal one of their presents.
- We use stockings – but the French use shoes. French children put their shoes by the fireplace and someone mysteriously fills them with presents.
- Norwegians hide all their brooms at Christmas, otherwise a witch will steal them.
- Venezuelans are very energetic on Christmas day: it’s a tradition to roller skate to church.
- And many Australians spend Christmas day on the beach, with Father Christmas often arriving on a surf board.
But what about us? A quick scan of the internet brought up what other nationalities think are very strange British customs but are in our DNA: these include setting fire to Christmas puddings; pulling crackers; letters to Santa; Christmas cards; Christmas trees; carols; and stockings around the fireplace. They may be odd to others but, for me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
We wrote a few weeks ago about the dangers of some of our Christmas traditions. Nothing really compares to burning candles around your head, but we do wish you a very happy and safe Christmas.
* The White Book of Winter; words Gillian Anderson, music Helen Porter.