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8 Truly Strange Christmas Customs

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The holiday called Christmas is an amalgam of many winter holidays from around the world. The name is designated as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, although the date is not recorded in the Bible, and people at that time did not place particular important on birth dates. Scientists say the actual date was June 17th, 2BC because of the appearance of the star that beckoned the Magi. December 25th was set as the date for Christmas in the 4th century by Pope Julius I as an attempt to Christianize midwinter pagan holidays such as Solstice and Saturnalia. Customs such as bringing evergreens inside, eating fat-laden foods, and hanging lights are universal responses to the cold, dark winter season. Some of the stranger Christmas traditions are remnants of those older pagan holidays, and some have been changed over the centuries until their origins are hard to discern. Others were just made up to boost business!

1. Krampus

St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, or Santa Claus is the weirdest Christmas tradition ever, but he is so well known and so well documented that his origins are beyond the scope of this particular post. As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. People dress as Krampus and roam the streets looking for someone to beat with a stick. Since it is also a night for drinking, the beatings probably don't hurt much. (Image by Flickr user salendron.)

2. Caga Tió

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In English, Caga Tió is "the pooping log". Really. The Catalan custom is still celebrated in Spain, where you can buy your own el Caga Tió. The log is hollowed out, with legs and a face added. You must "feed" him every day beginning on December 8th. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, put him in the fireplace and beat him with sticks until he poops out small candies, fruits, and nuts. When he is through, the final object dropped is a salt herring, a garlic bulb, or an onion. Oh yeah, there is a traditional song the family can sing to encourage the process.

poop log,
poop turrón,
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don't poop well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
poop log!

3. Caganer

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Another Catalonian tradition is the Caganer, a Christmas statue found in nativity scenes in Andorra and parts of Spain, Italy, and Portugal. The scenes depict the entire town of Bethlehem, and the Caganer is usually tucked away in a corner, far from Mary and Joseph. The Caganer needs privacy, because he is defecating. There are quite a few explanations for this custom, but none have been confirmed as the original source. Caganers have been used for at least a couple hundred years. You can even buy Caganers that resemble modern-day celebrities. (Image by Flickr users clare_and_ben.)

4. The Pickle Ornament

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The story goes that when German families decorate the Christmas tree, the last ornament to be hung is the Christmas pickle -usually a blown glass ornament that may have been passed down through generations. It is tucked away in a hard-to-see spot (it is green, after all). The first child who finds the pickle on Christmas morning gets a special gift and good luck all the next year. The trouble with this legend is that people in Germany were unfamiliar with it. Glass tree ornaments were indeed made in Germany, in the shape of fruits and vegetables and other objects. These ornaments became very popular in America when F.W. Woolworth began importing them in the 1880s. An old German legend no doubt helped to sell more glass ornaments! (Image by Flickr user the queen of subtle.)

5. Kentucky Fried Chicken

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The celebration of Christmas in Asia usually involves imported western traditions, but in Japan those traditions have been shaped by commercial interests. The holiday places special emphasis on romantic love, so it's a day to spend with a sweetheart or spouse. Bakeries sell Christmas cakes as traditional sweetheart treats. And you might have to make reservations to get a table at KFC. Yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fast food franchise let it be known that fried chicken is traditional for the Christmas feast. And so it is -in Japan. (Image by Flickr user sleepytako.)

6. Zwarte Piet

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Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter is Santa's helper in the Netherlands. Sinterklass arrives on the eve of St. Nicholas Day in a steamship with his slave Zwarte Piet, portrayed in public processions in several cities. Since about 1850, children who don't behave during the year were told that Black Peter might take them back to Spain, where Sinterklaas lives. The racist aspects of the custom have been downplayed in recent decades, and the tale of Black Peter now describes him as a chimney sweep instead of a slave, which explains the blackface. But charges of racism still follow Black Peter, as he is often portrayed with an Afro and exaggerated features.

7. TV Yule Log

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The Yule Log is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. The Yule Log on TV is a relatively new tradition for those who have no fireplace to burn their own log. WPIX in New York has broadcast 24 hours of a burning fireplace on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day since 1966. The original film was shot at Gracie Mansion, but a carpet fire during the first filming made the mayor wary of a reshoot a few years later, so the loop seen now was filmed in California.

8. Mari Lwyd

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Mari Lwyd, an old midwinter custom in Wales, is a holdover from pagan celebrations before Christmas was introduced. Mari Lwyd means "gray mare" in English.

In its purest form (still to be seen at Llangynwyd, near Maesteg, every New Year's Day) the tradition involves the arrival of the horse and its party at the door of the house or pub, where they sing several introductory verses. Then comes a battle of wits (known as pwnco) in which the people inside the door and the Mari party outside exchange challenges and insults in rhyme. At the end of the battle, which can be as long as the creativity of the two parties holds out, the Mari party enters with another song.

The horse in the above scenario is made of a horse's skull attached to a pole. The person operating the horse is concealed by sheets, and sometimes has a contraption to work the horses jaw! (Image by Flickr user arosmae.)

See Also...

8 Great TV Christmas Specials (But Not The Ones You're Probably Thinking)
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Is It True That No Two Snowflakes Are Alike?
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12 Things You Might Not Know About A Christmas Story (Even though you've seen it 90 times)
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The Stories Behind 10 Famous Christmas Songs
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11 Notable Presidential Pardons

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8 Bizarre Places People Have Gotten Stuck
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Some days it just doesn’t pay to venture outside, particularly when you wind up the subject of a police and fire department rescue because you’ve somehow trapped yourself inside an ATM machine. Check out eight other strange environments that have ensnared bystanders and prompted emergency responses.

1. A CLAW MACHINE

A giant see-through container full of plush toys is any child’s idea of paradise, and they will attempt any means possible to inhabit it. For three-year-old Jamie Bracken-Murphy of Nenagh, Tipperary, Ireland, that meant crawling through the small flap from which the toys can be retrieved and finding himself lodged in a claw machine. Murphy was on display for about 10 minutes before an off-duty fireman was able to coax him back out the way he came in. Jamie’s father, Damien, expressed little surprise at his son’s predicament, saying that, "He's a very mischievous, sharp kid who's always pushing boundaries."

2. A TRAFFIC CONE

A man has a traffic cone over his head
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In 2013, a man in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England thought he’d have a bit of fun by sticking a traffic cone—otherwise known as a bollard—on his head. To his dismay, the large cone slid down over and past his shoulders, entombing him in plastic. John Waterman, a witness to the incident, captured it all on his cell phone. "It was very random," Waterman told The Telegraph. "It's not the usual thing you see in the middle of Hemel Hempstead on a Sunday lunchtime." The man stumbled around for more than two hours before anyone bothered to call police.

3. A CEMENT HOPPER

Aurora, Illinois was the site of a recent cement mix-up, when an unidentified man became trapped in a cement hopper. The worker had climbed into the machine to clean it, but found he was unable to move when residual cement on the machine's floor began hardening around his legs. It took firefighters more than two hours to extricate him from the hopper. He was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for minor injuries, but released the same day, according to the local fire department.

4. A TOILET

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In 2016, a Norwegian man named Cato Berntsen Larsen found himself in deep trouble after he tried lowering himself into a public toilet to retrieve a friend’s cell phone. The toilet’s tank was located underneath the seat, allowing enough room for Larsen to become trapped. To his dismay, the tank—which is not connected to a sewage system and is only emptied sporadically—was full of human waste. Adding to the putrid nature of his enclave, Larsen vomited and was bitten by an unknown animal: His situation did not improve until authorities were able to come and pull him out. "It was damn disgusting," Larsen said, "the worst I have experienced. There were animals down there, too."

5. A GIANT STONE VAGINA

Tourists and residents of Tübingen, Germany are quite familiar with Chacán-Pi, a giant stone sculpture of a vagina created by Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara. The towering display sits just outside Tübingen University’s Institute for Microbiology and Virology and has attracted curious onlookers since 2001. In 2014, an unnamed American student decided to go spelunking in the 32-ton carving for a photo opportunity and became trapped, necessitating rescue by 22 firefighters. The Guardian called them “midwives” and reported that the student was “delivered by hand.”

6. A WASHING MACHINE

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Sometimes, games of hide-and-seek can go very wrong. That was the case for a man near Melbourne, Australia in 2014, who climbed into his top-loading washing machine fully nude to surprise his partner. Unfortunately, he was unable to climb back out. Responders were able to grease him with a liberal application of olive oil and pull him out. First Constable Luke Ingram told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that, as a rule, “My advice would be for people not to climb into appliances.” The warning went unheeded by another Australian man in 2015, who found himself lodged in a front-loading machine and had to wait while rescuers disassembled the entire unit in order to free him.

7. A BABY SWING

If you’re ever challenged by your adult friends to fit into a baby swing at a public park, you can confidently say that it won’t work. That’s because a man from Vallejo, California tried it in 2011. While he managed to slide into the seat using liquid laundry detergent, he couldn’t slide back out. As his legs began to swell, his friends abandoned him overnight. He wasn’t rescued until nine hours later, when a groundskeeper heard his screams for help at 6 o'clock the following morning. "The man sustained non-life threatening injuries to his body," the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "but there’s no word yet on the condition of his ego."

8. A CHIMNEY

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There are many Santa jokes to be made, but when you’re the man trapped in your own home’s chimney for four hours, there probably isn’t a huge urge to start laughing. In late 2016, a Tucson, Arizona homeowner who had locked his keys in his home opted to retrieve them by re-entering his abode via the chimney. While it was a spectacularly bad idea, he actually almost made it: His feet were touching the floor of his fireplace before the space grew too narrow to allow for any further passage and he got stuck. Firefighters were able to pull him out from the roof, covered in soot but otherwise unharmed.

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Animals
This Octopus Species in Northern Australia Can Hunt on Dry Land
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Most octopuses live in the ocean—but in northern Australia, a small, shallow-water species takes to land in search of food. Abdopus aculeatus is the only octopus that’s specially adapted to walk on dry ground. Using its long, sucker-lined arms, the slimy sea creature pulls itself along the shoreline as it searches tide pools for crabs.

Witness Abdopus aculeatus in action by watching BBC Earth’s video below.

[h/t BBC Earth]

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