From burning devils to witches on tattered broomsticks, these holiday traditions have been celebrated around the world for centuries.
St. Nick’s Evil Counterpart – Austria and Hungary
In certain parts of Europe, St. Nick doesn’t travel alone. His devil-like counterpart, Krampus, is said to punish bad children before Christmas. Bearing horns, dark hair, fangs, and a long tongue, Krampus carries chains and a basket for taking bad children to the underworld. Quite a different scene than jolly, old St. Nick.
A Game of Ganna – Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 with a series of celebrations and traditions called Ganna or Genna by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Around the time of Ganna, men and boys play a traditional game of the same name. Similar to our version of hockey, the game is played with curved stick and a round wooden ball and can be a brutal match that lasts until nightfall on Christmas Eve. According to local tradition, the biblical shepherds played the game when they first heard about the birth of Jesus.
A Witch Named La Befana – Italy
In Italian folklore, La Befana is a witch who brings good children treats on the morning of the Epiphany, January 6, marking the official end of the Christmas season. Flying on her tattered broomstick, La Befana leaves candies and chocolate for good children and a lump of coal for the bad ones. This tradition dates back to the eighth century, long before Santa Claus took up similar traditions.
Remembering the Souls of the Dead – Portugal
The traditional Christmas meal in Portugal, called ‘Consoada’, is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve and consists of codfish with green vegetables and boiled potatoes. This is normally followed by shellfish, wild meats or other expensive foods. Families set extra places at the table for alminhas a penar (“the souls of the dead”) to remember friends and family who have passed.
La Quema del Diablo – Guatemala
Every December 7 at 6:00 p.m. sharp, Guatemalans “burn the devil,” building bonfires outside their homes to mark the occasion. To cleanse their homes of evil on the night before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Guatemalans burn their trash topped with a devil statue.