Mari Lywd, Wales
Predating My Little Pony as the equine must-have at Christmas, the Welsh tradition of Mari Lywd dates back to the 19th century and entails a man getting under a white sheet and donning a horse’s skull, before setting off to call upon neighbours and requesting refreshment. Being Welsh, they of course do this in song. They are usually rewarded, if only to make them go away.
Yule Goat, Scandinavia
Move over, Rudolf, here’s the Yule Goat! Or Julbocken. The Yule Goat has been Scandinavia’s beast of choice for present delivery, which is something of a surprise as Santa’s reindeer are supposedly housed in Lapland. With its roots in Norse mythology (Thor the god of war’s chariot was pulled by two goats,Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr) Julbocken actually delivered the gifts, before his role was taken over by Santa (or St Nicholas in northern Europe). Now it’s more commonly found as a straw and ribbon Christmas tree decoration. And, just to show that the UK doesn’t hold a monopoly in such things, it’s also the subject of terrible Christmas songs too...
Santa with guns, USA
Nothing says peace on earth and goodwill to all men better than a belt-fed machine gun. Get your photo taken with Santa at the Scottsdale Gun Club. We’d like to think there’s a moratorium on anti-aircraft weapons and the Arizona skies are a Safe Sleigh Zone until the 26th, at least.
Bundle of sticks, Belgium
The language divide spills into the two communities, Pere Noel for the French speakers, St Nicolas for the Walloons. This is great news if you’re a well-behaved bi-lingual child. If you’re bit on the naughty side, it’s a double whammy - you’ll get a bundle of sticks from Pere Noel. And the same from Saint Nick.
Kentucky Fried Chicken, Japan
He’s fat, he’s jolly and he has a white beard. Yes, it’s Colonel Sanders. Kentucky Fried Chicken sniffed out a marketing opportunity in the 1970s in Japan and now the bucket of deep-fried chicken is part of a decades-honoured Christmas tradition in a country in which less than 1% are Christian.
So grim even the Brothers Grimm must have thought him a bit over the top. Think of him as Santa’s equivalent of the Portrait of Dorian Grey. With horns, cloven hooves and a long, pointed tongue, you can’t miss him as Krampus searches out children who’ve been naughty not nice and punishes them by beatings, being taken away in a sack or even dropped down a well. Parents who’ve experienced being woken at four on Christmas morning by overexcited kids may sympathise.
Roller skating, Venezuela
They’re Christmas Caracas in the week before the big day, as the street of the capital city are closed to traffic to allow early morning Christmas service attendees to go to church by roller skates.
Rice pudding, Denmark
It’s traditional for kids to leave a bowl of rice pudding out for Santa’s elves, Tomte and Nisser, who are pretty miffed if it’s missing. Which makes them possibly the most easily pleased elves you’ll find at Christmas, or any other time.
Kangaroo-pulled sleigh, Australia
Santa keeps Prancer and co under lock and key as his sleigh soars above Sydney pulled by boomers - six white kangaroos. And if he’s delivered the presents to the wrong house, who can blame him? It’s the kids leaving him the traditional tins of beer rather than milk and mince pies who have only themselves to blame.
Shoe throwing, Czech Republic
On Christmas Eve, a single woman stands with her back to the front door and throws a shoe behind her. If the toe-end points at the door, she’ll be lucky in love that year. If it points elsewhere… buy another pair of shoes. In fact, buy two pairs. You deserve it.
For more planning the perfect Christmas, see our Christmas guides and tips
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