5 Christmas traditions around the world that you may not know about

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A rendering of Jolakotturinn, the Icelandic Christmas Cat, an Icelandic mythological character. The first written accounts of the Yule Cat date back to the 19th century. (Bourbon-88, Shutterstock)

Estimated reading time: 3-4 minutes

TORONTO — To some, the idea of ​​a large, bearded man sliding down a chimney might seem cause for alarm.

Christmas traditions vary widely around the world, and from horse skulls to cheeky figurines to buckets of fried chicken, here are five Christmas customs you might not know about.

Horse skulls in Wales

Don’t be alarmed if you find a singing horse skull on your doorstep in Wales. From Christmas to early January, Mari Lwyd tradition sees a decorated skull and horse cape placed on a pole and paraded by a person hidden inside.

Accompanied by other folk characters, the group will visit homes and sing Welsh songs in exchange for food and drink. First described in the 1800s, the custom is believed to have much older pagan roots. While Mari Lwyd may seem frightening, receiving a visitor is actually considered good luck.

fried chicken in japan

In Japan, nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a steaming plate of chicken.

While Christmas itself is not widely celebrated in the country, many in Japan mark the holiday season by going out for Kentucky Fried Chicken. The tradition dates back to a wildly successful marketing campaign in 1974 for a holiday-themed meal that has now devolved into lines, crowded restaurants, and special Christmas-themed “party kegs” that often have to be ordered weeks in advance. Just add a red hat and jacket, and Colonel Sanders is an easy replacement for Santa too.

Number two in Spain

In the Catalonia region of Spain, your crib wouldn’t be complete without something a little racy.

Known as El Caganer, or the defecator, the holiday figurine traditionally depicts a bare-bottomed farmer picking up a number two. Although its origins are uncertain, the custom probably developed in the 17th or 18th century and is believed to be linked to fertilization, good health and prosperity.

El Caganer can be found elsewhere in Spain and Europe, but Barcelona is the best place to buy one as a souvenir, where you can also shop for celebrities, athletes and occupying politicians such as former US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Catalonia also has a smiling and equally rude Christmas log that children beat with sticks to get presents.

A witch in Italy

Though she may look like a witch, well-behaved children in Italy should be happy to have a visit from La Befana. Often portrayed as a kind, ugly old woman with a broomstick, she visits children across Italy on the night of January 5th to deliver treats and gifts to the good ones, and chunks of coal, onion or garlic to the bad ones.

Covered in soot, she can enter houses through a chimney like Santa Claus, but then sweeps before leaving. Many families leave her wine and a snack. The tradition is believed to date back to medieval Rome and ushers in the beginning of the Epiphany on January 6, which is a national holiday in the country.

Icelandic fashion cat

Iceland’s Yule Cat, or Jólakötturinn, stalks the snowy countryside to devour people who haven’t received new clothes in time for Christmas Eve, as a reward for finishing work or chores.

The huge, frightening creature also encourages clothing donations and is part of a cast of folklore characters who scare children or give gifts each holiday season. Another is a Krampus-like giant who devours bad kids and their 13 children who get into mischief, but also leaves small gifts in place of well-behaved kids.

The first written accounts of the Yule Cat date back to the 19th century, although it probably goes back much further.

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Daniel Otis, CTVNews.ca via CNN

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