A trio of curious Christmas traditions from Europe

One week of frantic shopping left before Christmas. As part of our festive countdown, here are a couple of loveably odd Christmas traditions from Europe. Enjoy.

Krampus, Austria

In Austria, children leave shoes outside their door on Christmas Eve so that Santa can leave fruit and nuts in them. Ahh, isn’t that sweet? But then they’ve probably earned it, having had to endure Krampus Night earlier in the month. Krampus is the dark side of the festive period, St Nicholas’s evil twin, more malevolent even than Brussels sprouts or Christmas-morning sherry. In Austria, while the big guy in the red suit dishes out the gifts to those who have been good this year, Krampus gets busy terrorising kiddies who haven’t behaved. And boy is he scary – sharpened teeth, ram’s horns, klingon-style forehead and jaundiced eyes, with rattling old chains and bells completing the look. 5 December is the big night, when people dress up as this festive devil, fill up on mulled wine, then roam the streets at night looking for children to scare. Sounds fun, in a psychotherapy-needed-in-later-life sort of way.

The Caganer, Spain

For devout Catholics, the Spanish are pretty adept at irreverently poking fun at Christmas. Take the nativity scene for example. In parts of Spain, people like nothing more than carefully crafting a reverential manger moment, the baby Jesus in his crib, the Magi genuflecting and so on. Look closely, however, and you’ll spot an uninvited guest: the Caganer. Look even closer and you’ll see the Caganer is a figurine caught in the act of defecating, pants around his knees bending over with a pile of, ahem, his affairs at his heels. The Caganer is usually sufficiently tactful not to take centre stage in the nativity, instead parking himself in a corner somewhere, but nonetheless it’s a rather jarring inclusion, particularly when the figurine is that of a celebrity (Obama’s been popular over the past couple of years).

Shoe throwing, Czech Republic

Christmas is, in the Czech Republic at least, traditionally the time of year for unmarried women to thrash out whether they will be wed in the forthcoming year or not. And it is, it seems, easy to determine: stand with your back to a door and toss a shoe over your shoulder. If it lands with the toe facing the door, you will get married. If the heel faces the door, it’s another year of spinsterdom – presumably a particularly troubling result if an engagement ring is already on the finger and invites have gone out.

Another tinsel-clad Christmassy blog next week.

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