The world is full of diverse traditions and customs, especially when it comes to the celebration of Christmas. If you think a jolly, white-bearded man that delivers presents is a fun idea, wait until you read how some of the rest of the world celebrates the holiday season.
In Italy the children are visited by Befana, the goodly old witch who brings them gifts on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). As the story of Befana goes, when the three wisemen left their country bearing special gifts for baby Jesus, people from every village they passed ran to meet them and accompany them on their journey. But there was one old woman who did not join them because she claimed to be too busy with housework. Instead Befana promised to join them later when she had time. She immediately regretted her decision and to this day flies around from house to house on her old broomstick, delivering gifts to good boys and girls; all the gifts she didn’t give to the Holy Child.
In Catalonia, Spain, children take care of Tió de Nadal (the “Poo Log”) in hopes that he’ll poop out presents for them on Christmas Day. Yes, you read that correctly. Tió used to be just a hollow log, but is often now seen with legs and a painted, smiling face that makes him more endearing to children. If the children do a good job of taking care of him by “feeding” him, and keeping him warm with blankets, he’ll reward them on Christmas day. The children will beat him with sticks and tell him to defecate presents for them. Hopefully they’ve been good and they will find some special gifts. What a fun tradition!
In Sweden, Tomte (sometimes called Nisse) are house gnomes that secretly live in or under a house and protect the children and animals from misfortune. These white-bearded gnomes will come to the house on Christmas eve to deliver gifts, but the tomten require porridge with almond and butter for their efforts. And be careful not to cross these little creatures because they are known for having a temper, playing tricks, and even killing livestock if offended by rudeness.
On New Year’s Eve, children in Russia are visited by Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost, and his granddaughter, Snegurochka (“Snow Maiden”). Dez Moroz is usually seeing wearing a long, Russian-style silver-blue or red which is lined or trimmed with white fur, and dons a rounded Russian cap. It is believed that Ded Moroz was once an evil sorcerer, but is trying to redeem himself by bringing children gifts and protecting them from the evil witch, Baba Yaga.
In Basque Country, the children receive their gifts from Olentzero, an abandoned infant who was granted eternal life by a fairy after dying in a house fire. On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes in the middle of a room and go to bed early so they can wake up to find gifts that Olentzero left them next to their shoes.
In France, good girls and boys are visited by Père Noël, or Father Christmas, and given wonderful Christmas gifts. And the naughty children? They get a visit from Père Noël’s assistant, Père Fouettard (“Father Whipper”), who beats naughty children with his whip. How did Père Fouettard get such a job? As Legend goes, he was given the task from Père Noël as a punishment for eating children. Merry Christmas!
We each have our own unique Christmas traditions that mean something special to us. Whether we receive our present from jolly old Saint Nicholas or a poo log that defecates presents, Christmas is definitely a wonderful time of the year. Happy holidays!