10 Strange Christmas Traditions to Make You Grateful for That Damned Elf on a Shelf

Could be worse. You could be eating kiviak — aka auks fermented inside a dead seal.

Left: "Gruss vom Krampus" by Unknown - Historie čertů KrampusUploaded by Kohelet. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. Right: "Mari Lwyd (wiki)" by R. fiend - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Left: “Gruss vom Krampus” by Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. Right: “Mari Lwyd (wiki)” by R. fiendOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

The Washington Post ran a story last week, later picked up by the Inquirer, about boomer parents who are ready to be done with Christmas but can’t be because their millennial kids won’t let them — and boy, did it hit home. Essentially, the gist is that boomer parents were so kid-centric that they now have entire rental storage spaces full of Christmas crapola they long to jettison, but that their offspring, who because of student loans and the lousy economy live in barely furnished hovels with no closet space, are neglecting to put up their own holiday decorations and instead want to be able to come home for Christmas and find everything exactly the same as it was when they were eight.

This story spoke to me in a big way because last year, in a break with tradition that absolutely shocked my kids, I didn’t put up a tree. For every single one of their then-respective 22 and 25 years of life, we’ve had a big ol’ tree that we all trudge out into the wilds of the local cut-your-own-tree place to secure and which we then drag home, erect in the living room, and festoon with lights and thousands of ornaments, each of which holds a special place in our hearts. Except what the hell do I mean “we,” because I’m the one who does the festooning, while son Jake plays video games and daughter Marcy watches Real Housewives reruns and my husband … well, I’m not actually sure what Doug does, but it sure isn’t decorate the tree.

So last year, when Marcy and her husband announced they’d be spending Christmas with his family in Kenya, I got to thinking about the annual dragging of the tree and hauling all those boxes of ornaments out of the attic and, even worse, taking them down off the tree and packing them carefully away in tissue paper and then hauling them back up to the attic, and I just … could … not. Not for just Doug and Jake and me. So I posed the possibility of no tree, very gingerly, making sure Jake understood it wasn’t only because Marcy (who of course he’s convinced is The Preferred Child) would be away for Christmas, but for other, larger reasons. To my grateful surprise, he allowed as how he was never any help putting up the tree anyway so if I didn’t want to, it was fine by him.

Excellent! So, no tree. But now, a year later, with Marcy and her husband spending Christmas with us, the question — tree or no tree? — has reared its ugly head again (complicated, of course, by the fact that if I do put one up, it looks even more like Marcy is The Preferred Child). I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do. But I did come across these Christmas traditions from around the world that put the whole tree-decorating thing in perspective. It may be tedious to hang all those ornaments up, but at least there’s no risk of death.

In Iceland, the huge, mangy Yule Cat is said to wander the hills and pounce on and devour anybody who doesn’t get new clothes by Christmas Eve.

In Estonia, the whole family crawls into the sauna together for Christmas Eve, which is just … no. Ewwww.

In Japan, thanks to a highly successful ad campaign during the 1970s, people eat KFC for Christmas. No kidding. As much as 10 times more of the Colonel’s best is sold during the holidays.

In Caracas, Venezuela, people get up much too early and roller-skate to church during the holidays; the streets are cleared of cars until 8 a.m.

In Spain, Catalonians include a small figure of a defecating man — the Caganer — in their nativity scenes.

South Africans celebrate Christmas Day by feasting on the deep-fried caterpillars of the emperor moth.

In Greenland, Inuits enjoy a winter treat of kiviak, dead auk birds that have been stuffed inside a seal carcass and left to ferment for seven months.

In Austria, the Krampus. Yeah.

In Wales, people celebrate ritualized bullying by choosing one villager to parade around town carrying a terrifying-looking mare’s skull on a stick.

Back to South Africa for the grand finale: Folks here tell the heartwarming story of little Danny, who ate the Christmas cookies meant for Santa, causing his grandmother to fly into a rage and brutally murder him. Now his spirit roams around frightening other kids who might be tempted to swipe a macaroon. Happy Holidays!

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