There are certain symbols, traditions, and customs that immediately come to mind when you think of Christmas. Take for example sleigh bells, snow, stockings, trees and presents – all typical. But, how about a cat that will eat you or a religious roller-skater? Suddenly, those things don’t sound too Christmassy do they? Then again, if you think about it, most traditions are a little strange, So when we look at other tales from around the world, one shouldn’t be too surprised that it includes burning goats and shoe throwing.
Let’s take a little global Christmas trip and find out a little more…
For the past 40 years, the town of Gavle in Sweden has erected a giant straw goat to mark the beginning of the holiday season and every year vandals have done their best to burn down the massive farm animal. Why? Who knows, but since 1966, the poor goat has only survived a total of 10 times.
According to ancient beliefs, witches and evil spirits will roam the lands on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to steal and ride the skies. So every year, all brooms and broom-like tools are hidden away to prevent their theft. Must make cleaning up after dinner a little painful though.
Sure, modern day Italians probably do the whole Santa thing now, but before Santa, there was La Befana. La Befana is a witch – not the Norwegian broom stealing kind, but a kind, gift-giving witch. She doesn’t look the part though – La Befana looks like something more fitting to Halloween, but legend has it that she flies down chimneys on January 5th to give gifts to all the boys and girls. The story is said to have originated when the Three Wise Men asked her for directions on their way to visit the baby Jesus. She didn’t know where to point them towards, but she gave them a place to stay for the night. The next day, after the Three Wise Men had left, she decided she wanted to join them but she didn’t know where they were headed – so since then she has flown the skies looking for Jesus and, presumably, giving out gifts.
On Christmas Eve, everyone goes to morning mass. Not so strange right? Well, they don’t walk to church, or drive, or bike. They skate. Yup, you heard that right. Roads are closed as of 8am in order to clear them for the masses of roller-skating churchgoers. Some say this tradition originated from the idea that religious festivities are held from December 16th until the 24th and the most devout wanted to be able to attend every single one.
If you ever needed a good excuse to go shopping, it’s Iceland’s Yule Cat. The Yule Cat is a mythical character that will eat you if you have committed the horrible sin of not having your new Christmas clothes before Christmas Eve. The myth was supposedly propagated as an incentive for workers to finish processing their autumn wool before Christmas. The ones that finished were rewarded with new clothes. The ones that didn’t, well they stayed up nights fearing the Yule Cat.
So, if you’re a single girl and you’ve been wondering when your prince charming will finally come along, maybe you’ve been living in the wrong country. In the Czech Republic, single ladies don’t dance to Beyoncé (well they might, but not on Christmas Eve). To find out whether or not they will marry that year, they stand with their backs to their house door and toss one shoe over their shoulder. If it lands heel away from the door, then she’ll definitely be getting married that year. Heel towards the door? Her parents get to keep her until at least next Christmas. Extra eggnog, anyone?
While some of these traditions still take place, some of them have been left to become folklore and children’s tales. But however you celebrate Christmas, whether it’s with a witch, a goat, some roller-skates or just some good old fashioned family time, Al Rifai can make the entire holiday season a little bit more special.