An uncle with questionable views on evolution loosens his belt and proclaims that he feels gassy, your mother worries from the kitchen that this is the fifth family gathering in a row you have attended alone, and the Christmas sweater your grandmother knitted has given you an unsightly rash. The festive season brings families together for better, or sometimes worse.
But what if you wanted to experience something different this year? A festive celebration that did not involve sitting through the airing of long-forgotten sibling grievances as you finally admit defeat and move up a belt size; a Christmas event like nothing you had ever seen? Well, dig out your passport because here are some of the most memorable ways Christmas is celebrated around the world today.
Santa as you’ve never seen him before
Nothing says getting into the “Christmas Spirit’” quite like running through the streets of wintery Budapest nearly naked in a Santa hat. During the annual Mikulás Jog (or, “St Nicholas Jog”), which raises money for the Child Cancer Foundation in Hungary, the streets are literally overrun with joggers dressed as Santa… well, Santa if he was only wearing underpants.
Participants in one of Hungary's more bizarre annual festive exercises meet at a roof garden at the WestEnd City Centre, jog around the mall, then head out to Nyugati tér, Oktogon, and back. They also stop at every major intersection to do a few exercises and sing Christmas songs, which apparently helps to keep you warm whilst forcibly spreading Christmas cheer to those shoppers fortunate enough to get caught in their path. After the jog, survivors get a much-needed (lifesaving?!) dip in the hot pool at the Széchényi Baths.
A battle of Good vs. Evil for Christmas
Joseph versus Goliath; Batman versus the Joker — everyone loves a Good versus Evil battle. Have you ever wondered if Santa Claus may have his very own nemesis? While Santa gives gifts to the children who have been good all year, in Europe there are a series of nasty characters in charge of distributing coal to one’s who have been naughty. While each region has its own fable (France has Le Pere Fouettard, in The Netherlands, it is the controversial Zwarte Piet), surely the most terrifying arch-enemy to the tubby man in the red suit would have to be Krampus.
Picture a large group of seven-foot horned demon figures who look like the castoffs from a Slipknot reality television program, covered in goat hair, and carrying a whip of some description, and you have something close to the legend of Krampus.
Krampus has become so popular in Germany and Austria that a weekend celebration is held every December called Krampusfest — or, as it is known in south-east Austria, the Kränchen. The celebration usually involves a village-wide party where townspeople dress in Krampus costumes — many with ornately carved wooden masks — run rampant through the streets. The objective being to scare the kids straight (and perhaps inadvertently provide a handy business boost for the local psychologist’s practice.)
Flowers of the Holy Night in Mexico
According to Mexican folklore, one Christmas many years ago, a poor peasant girl approached her local church following the townspeople who were carrying extravagant gifts to honour baby Jesus. The peasant girl became embarrassed that she had nothing to offer baby Jesus and began to cry. A friend (some legends say her brother) consoled her and said that surely anything she could offer would be significant, and so the girl made a bouquet from the weeds that grew by the roadside to give as her offering.
The townspeople looked on shocked and derided this seemingly meagre offering to baby Jesus when compared to their own. However, as the girl placed her weeds near the manger, it is said that a miracle occurred and suddenly the weeds transformed into beautiful red flowers, Poinsettia flowers. Today, travellers to Mexico over the festive season will see the Poinsettia flowers (or Flor del Noche Buena, as they are known locally) prominently throughout the country; the flowers are used to decorate homes, businesses, and civic buildings where they are celebrated as a true symbol of Christmas.
Not your usual nativity scene
A powerful star illuminates perfectly the clear night’s sky. Three men, weary from their travels, approach a young family; their arms laden with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Sheep, ready for shearing, settle on a bed of hay for the evening as a young baby sleeps peacefully, unaware of the role he is yet to play.
Nativity scenes are a common sight around Christmas, but in Spain, there is one curious addition to what you might expect. In the Catalan region of Spain, it is the tradition that nativity scenes feature Caganer, a male figurine squatting on a toilet with his pants rolled down. Caganer, which in English translates roughly to the “defecator,” lives up to his name by appearing to be “delivering” in one of the most iconic religious scenes in history.
The tradition was believed to have been established by local farmers, who thought that the “fertilizer” would enrich the earth around them, thus promising a buena cosecha (a good harvest) during the forthcoming year. Those farmers who did not include a Caganer within their nativity scene would be cursed with bad fortune and produce a poor crop at the following harvest… and nobody wants that!
G Adventures runs a number of departures encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.
Header image courtesy Ajuntament Barcelona.