Christmas, as we all know, is a time for family, skilfully-wrapped presents under a richly-decorated tree, socks with holly leaves on, feel-good movies (Elf, anyone?) and way, way too much food and drink.
It’s also a great excuse for us to regale you with a compendium of Christmas curiosities!
6 Great Christmas Customs from Around the World
Austria Described as the evil spirit of Santa Claus, Krampus is a mythical ‘half-goat, half-demon’ figure from Germanic folklore. He punishes naughty children with bundles of reeds ‘or ‘ruten’ and appears in Christmas parades frightening the kids into a year of being good!
Norway In Norwegian folklore, witches appear on Christmas Eve and they rampage through homes stealing all the brooms so they can go about their witchy business. Just before bed on the 24th, the women of the house make sure all their brooms are hidden so the witches can’t find them.
Finland Staying in Scandinavia, you’ll find freezing Finns in the sauna just before sunset on Christmas Eve. It’s not purely for warmth, it marks a sacred custom where they consider the sauna a place where many of life’s important events happen, from the healing of the sick to giving birth.
Ukraine Christmas-loving Ukrainians put fake spider webs on their trees as they believe they ‘capture’ good luck. The tradition comes from the tale of a poor family who woke up on Christmas morning with their tree covered in spider webs which turned to gold and silver.
Venezuela This one is more practical than traditional! Rather than walk or drive, Venezuelans in the capital Caracas roller-skate to church in the days leading up to Christmas and it has become so popular that the city’s government closes the roads to allow the tradition to continue!
China Although China is officially atheist, Christmas is widely celebrated (but not considered an official holiday). It is associated with romance and young couples will often go ice-skating or to a movie and they will exchange cellophane-wrapped apples because the word for Christmas Eve (píng’ān yè) and the word for apple (pínggu) are very similar.
The Strangest Saint Nick Stories
As many would have us believe, our modern interpretation of Father Christmas was neither the brainchild of a marketing executive at Coca-Cola in the 1930s nor (**spoiler alert**) a white-bearded fat man who lives at the North Pole with elves.
He was based on a real-life Christian saint called Nikolaos of Myra who lived in modern-day Turkey around 1700 years ago. He is not only the patron saint of sailors, merchants, children and bizarrely, repentant thieves, he had a habit of giving gifts in secret to the poor to save them the humiliation of accepting what was perceived to be charity.
But as the years rolled on, the stories and legends got more fanciful…
The Patron Saint of Prostitutes A poor man in third century Myra had three daughters but couldn’t afford their marriage dowries and decided to sell them into slavery as prostitutes. Upon hearing this tale of woe, Nikolaos sneaked into the house at night and left a bag of gold in the eldest girls’ shoe. She woke to find she had enough money to get married and as the other two came of age, he repeated his generosity.
He was caught on the last trip by the girls’ father and Nikolaos made the man promise not to reveal his identity.
He Performed Miracles in the Womb Accounts suggest Nikolaos’s mother was incapable of childbirth and he became known for performing two miracles. The first was his own conception in a barren womb and the second was the birth itself.
He Fasted at One Week Old To honour the Virgin Mary at his baptism, his third birth-related miracle was that he stood up for three hours and refused to breastfeed on Wednesdays and Fridays because they were holy fast days.
He Punched a Bishop in the Face At the Council of Nicaea hosted by Roman Emperor Constantine in AD 325 calling 300 bishops from around the world to discuss the Holy Trinity, Nikolaos decreed that Jesus was equal to God. Bishop Arius disagreed, saying that God was the ruler supreme. That didn’t sit well with Nikolaos who got up and punched Arius in the face.
He Resurrected Three Children In the ‘Story of the Three Pickled Boys’ Nikolaos comes across a butcher who, seven years’ previously, invited three boys to stay the night, chopped them up and put them in a pickle barrel. Naturally Nikolaos asked the butcher about it who promptly freaked out, forgetting it was still there. Nikolaos offered forgiveness to the butcher and performed yet another miracle, bringing the children back to life.
Children Left Gifts for his Donkey An early Catholic tradition would see children leave hay and carrots in their shoes and then pray for Nikolaos to come in the night with his donkey. He would then leave toys, fruit and sweets in the shoes of the kids in return – a clear reference to his gift of dowries to the daughters of the poor man from Myra…
All things considered, he seemed like a decent chap!
The Funniest Letters To Santa
We couldn’t leave without a few brilliant letters to Santa which thanks to Facebook and Twitter, will remain with us for ever…!
Chris writes, Dear Santa Claws, I’m so sorry of what I did in the past. What I really want for Christmas this year is fifty-three billion dollars. I love you. Your friend, Chris.
Riley writes, Dear Santa, what I want for Christmas is a stuffed chicken. Love Riley.
Unknown child writes, Dear Santa, you better bring me a pony this year or there will be consequences……
Stefan writes, Dear Santa, how are you? Well, enough chit-chat, let’s get down to business. This year I want; 1. A big space Lego set 2. Some jelly beans 3. A Sharks jacket and hat 4. A Lamborghini Aventador in red 5. A Nintendo game (you choose). Thanks, Stef
Jordan writes, Dear ‘King of the North’, I wish for my boat to work. Right now I just have an un-operational boat. Thanks, Jordan
Jackson writes, Dear Santa, I’d like something for my community. I would like a McDonald’s because I like going there. Love, Jackson
Tennessee writes, Dear Santa, please text my dad. He has my whole list. I love you, Tennessee
Out of the mouths of babes…!
So if you’re coming to London over Christmas, don’t forget to make sure you book your stay at The Rathbone now… It’s not too late!