Jenni Brooks 14th December 2018
Christmas is weird. We wait in bed for a man to break into our homes and leave us presents, all in exchange for a glass of milk, a mince pie and maybe a carrot for his favourite reindeer with chronic sinus issues. And that’s not even a tradition we think is strange.
From defecating logs to Welsh rhyming insults, here are six wild traditions and their odd origins. Some you’ll want to be a part of, and others will make you want to vomit. But you can’t blame me. I didn’t invent them. I’m just trying to spread the festive joy.
Gift or Offering?
If you don’t think gift-giving is weird, just wait until you hear about the reason it came about. The giving of presents didn’t actually start through Christmas, but through the Pagan festival of Saturnalia, which celebrated Saturn — the Roman god of agriculture. The Romans believed that every winter the sun lost its power, causing the cold weather. Due to this, they would sacrifice people — including kids and babies — to give the sun its strength back. After this, wax dolls would be given as gifts to commemorate those who had been sacrificed, and wow that’s dark. I’d rather have a box of Quality Street, to be honest.
Likewise, waiting for Santa might not seem that strange a tradition; he is the father of Christmas after all. But just like gift-giving, he has a bleak history. One rumour is that the original Saint Nick, who was actually a bishop at the time, went to an inn and found that the innkeeper had not only slaughtered three little boys, he had pickled their corpses in barrels in the basement. Nicholas caught the innkeeper and brought the boys back to life for good measure, earning him the title of patron saint of children.
Don’t worry, this one isn’t as horrific. In Catalonia, families make a creature out of a log, known as a Caga Tiὀ, which literally translates as “shit log”. Over the Christmas period, kids will fill it with fruit, sweets, chocolate and any other calorific treat they can get their hands on.
On Christmas Eve, they will sing a song, basically commanding it to shit out gifts. When that fails, they beat the shit out of it. This glorious tradition has thought to have origins in a time when heating wasn’t a thing, so fireplaces were really important. After the treats were eaten, Caga Tiὀ would be burnt. So, he was just used for his sweets before being cast aside. We’ve all been there, buddy.
What’s the traditional nativity? Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the three wise men? You forgot the man taking a dump in the corner! Shit seems to be a theme in Catalan Christmas traditions, and a defecating man takes pride of place, alongside with the rest of the nativity scene. The reason isn’t to be offensive but rather a sign of good luck and fertility. People were also a lot less self-conscious in those days. I mean, they didn’t have toilets, so they probably had to be. I think that this Catalan tradition is much more realistic than our picturesque and prudish equivalents, and if having a shitting man on your mantelpiece isn’t fucking liberating I don’t know what is. Shit’s got power, people.
Kentucky Fried Christmas
In Japan, Christmas isn’t celebrated. That didn’t stop The Colonel though. In 1974, a festive marketing campaign was launched, entitled Kentucky for Christmas, and it was preposterously successful. Christmas Eve is the busiest time for KFC in Japan, as families flood the restaurants for their festive meal. To be honest, I know many people who could get on board with this. Turkey is so dry and rarely comes in a popcorn format.
The Insulting Horse
I’ve saved the best for last; this is not a matter of opinion, it is fact. A very old tradition from Wales is to go to people’s houses with a decorated horse skull and partake in an adult version of trick or treat. If you didn’t already know, this involves singing the first verse of the traditional folk song the Mari Lwyd and then following it up with a second verse of rhyming insults.
The host takes on the guests, like some crazy Welsh rap battle. This usually involves mocking each other’s appearance, drunkenness and singing abilities, and if the guests win, they are allowed in the house to eat cake and drink ale. The origins of this genius tradition are unclear, but it could be said to commemorate the journey Mary took to Bethlehem, when Joseph and Mary famously spat tight bars all over fool-ass innkeepers who had overbooked for Christmas.
Have a nice Christmas. And for the love of God, please try out the Mari Lwyd, and try not to shit on anyone’s mantelpiece.
Jenni Brooks 14th December 2018