We all have Christmas traditions that we keep up year after year and wouldn’t change for the world. But when it comes to travelling, other cultures are opened up to us and we gain insight into how the festive period is celebrated in other parts of the world.
The things that seem so familiar may appear strange to others and vice versa. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the more unusual traditions from across Europe.
As the old year starts to draw to a close, many people are thinking about the future and new beginnings. It’s therefore natural to contemplate what the new year will bring and for singletons in the Czech Republic, this means carrying out a simple ritual.
The unmarried woman will stand at her front door, facing inside and throw a shoe over her shoulder. How it lands will determine her fate for the year to come. Footwear pointing towards the door means the welcoming of a new person in her life and she will be married in the next 12 months. Needless to say, if it’s lying in the other direction she won’t have as much luck.
The widespread belief that naughty children will get coal in their stockings instead of presents seems fairly benign compared to the fear that kids in the Netherlands hold. Santa Claus in Holland is accompanied by a sidekick known as Zwarte Piet and those who have been badly behaved throughout the year are said to be abducted by him and taken to Spain.
Speaking of Spain… Those lucky enough to be enjoying a festive break in Catalonia this year should look out for a very naughty gnome. This little figure – known as Caganer – likes to show his bottom and in the most inappropriate of places – the nativity scene. Look out for these traditional tableaus with Caganer in the corner to make you smile. They pop up in window displays across Barcelona especially in December.
Icelandic jumpers are so warm and come in such natty designs that they have become coveted by people all over the world. But getting a lovely knitted jumper doesn’t come as much of a surprise on Christmas Day in Iceland – everyone gets one. That’s because legend suggests that anyone not equipped for the cold will be eaten by the scary Christmas Cat. Family members therefore gift each other holiday jumpers to ensure they’re not devoured!
Placing the fairy on top of the Christmas tree usually means the task of decorating is over, but not in Germany. The final item to be added to the inside greenery is always a gherkin, but it isn’t put in a prominent place like the fairy. In fact, it is hidden as carefully as possible and the first child to find it will be given an extra present on Christmas Day.
You may be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into a house still bedecked for Halloween in the Ukraine, but actually spiders’ webs are a traditional Christmas decoration in the country. It springs from a tale about a widow with anywhere between 65, 16 or six children, depending on what you believe, who couldn’t afford to spruce up her spruce. An angel in the form of a spider is said to have spun a shining web to help out and Ukrainians have been doing the same ever since.
If you are travelling in Europe this festive season, be on the look out for these unusual Christmas traditions. As always don't forget to take out some travel insurance just in case.