12 Bizarre Christmas Destinations
1. Catalonia, Spain
In Catalonia and a few other regions, there is a cheeky addition to the traditional nativity scenes in the form of the ‘caganer’, which translates to ‘defecating man’, caught with his pants down. The figure represents good fortune and fertility. Traditionally a shepherd, the figure is now also available in the form of celebrities, footballers, politicians etc. Another joyful tradition is that of the Christmas log (Tió de Nadal), also known as the pooping log (‘cagatió’). Children are supposed to keep the wooden log warm and ‘fed’ in the days leading up to Christmas and the better they treat it, the more gifts the log will give (poop).
After a rather successful ad campaign in 1974, the Japanese have the odd tradition of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas. During the holidays, tables at KFC need to be reserved months in advance and the restaurants have lines out the door.
If you’re in the mood to skip the usual holiday feast and are daring enough to try some truly bizarre food, head to Greenland for the holidays. A traditionally Inuit food is kiviak – which is little auks stuffed in the carcass of a seal, beak, feathers, feet and all. It is buried underground for months and left to ferment and eaten raw. Another traditional dish is mattak, which consists of slices of raw whale skin. This is not for the weak-hearted.
4. Czech Republic
If you want to dabble in a bit of fortune-telling this holiday season, head to the Czech Republic. Unmarried women stand with their back to a door and throw a shoe above their shoulder. If the toe of the shoe is pointing towards the door when it lands, they will get married within the next year. Exciting holiday tradition or sad reminder of your lonely life? We’ll only know when the last shoe drops.
If you want a warm Christmas, head to the land down under. Christmas comes in the middle of their summer and hence, spending time on the beach is a common holiday activity. Barbeques or seafood or a meal with ham, pork and turkey are typical. Most cities and towns have Carols by Candlelight services, in which locals and performers both participate. Most harbours are lit up with an impressive display of fireworks.
6. Gävle, Sweden
Go visit the straw Swedish Yule Goat that is if the vandals haven’t burnt it down already. Also, find out what the next year holds in store for you. In Sweden, a festive rice pudding is served with a peeled almond hidden in the dessert. The person who finds it will get married within the year.
If you want a Christmas reprisal early in January visit Italy. Here children wait for La Befana, a good witch, to bring them presents instead of Santa Claus. She’s expected to come around Jan 5th, on the eve of the Epiphany. They even leave wine and food out for her, like children leave milk and cookies for Santa. She travels on a broomstick and if you’ve been naughty will leave you lumps of coal. The town of Urbania in the Marche region has a national Day of the Epiphany celebration in the form of a Befana festival. In Venice, they celebrate with the Epiphany boat race where boats are decorated and people dressed as witches travel down the Grand Canal.
8. Salzburg, Austria
In the Alpine countries, there is a folk-tale character called Krampus, a devil-like figure who comes around to punish children who have been naughty. He puts them in his sack and takes them back to his lair to eat them. While the Catholic Church had banned any depictions or celebrations of the character earlier, now many parts of Alpine region hold Krampus shows, along with the famous Christmas markets. People dressed in evil, scary costumes, looking like Krampus take to the streets to scare children and adults alike.
Originally a Swedish tradition, December 13th is now celebrated in parts of Finland as the Day of St. Lucia or Luciadagen, with lots of lights and candles and candle-crowed young girls dressed as Lucia. For a more traditional dose of holiday cheer, visit Santa Claus himself at his official office in Lapland and enjoy a heart to heart. If those aren’t reasons enough, a typical activity on Christmas Eve is for the whole family to visit a sauna. Now what could be more heart-warming?
10. Remedios, Cuba
In the days before Christmas, Cuba erupts in a festival of lights called Las Parrandas. The oldest and largest version of the festival takes place in Remedios. It involves opulent light shows, floats, fireworks, music and a carnival-like atmosphere — ensuring a truly novel but exuberant Christmas experience.
11. Medellín, Colombia
Around Christmas, the small town of Medellín in Colombia becomes a wonderland. The major roads and areas of the city, including along the Medellín River are lit up with millions of lights and light displays which are planned months in advance and have a different theme every year. The city has an atmosphere of revelry, and attracts tourists from all over the world, promising a bright and lively Christmas.
For the longest and most lavish Christmas, head to this Asian nation, which is primarily Christian. A traditional event is Simbang Gabi, which is nine days of mass, culminating in Christmas Eve. If you make a wish after attending all nine days, it will come true. They also hang up beautiful lanterns called parols, made of bamboo and paper. These parols are used to light up cities and especially the path to churches. They are an intrinsic part of the Filipino Christmas and result in some truly beautiful and festive streets.