Good evening all! I know Christmas was yesterday but it is still the holiday season and I have some interesting holiday traditions to share with you! Not only that but I have an extra special large special featuring nine such traditions! It is time to get inspired for your worlds and holiday adventures!!!! Also please keep in mind that I have no personal experience and just internet research. If you know more details or corrections please share them and I will correct!
This is one that has been quite popularly shared this year, but I still needed to include the Mari Lywd. Also known as the Grey Mare, this strange tradition comes from Wales and features a dressed up person with horse skull and festive decorations. This includes round ornaments where the eyes would be. People take the Mari Lywd around their town or village singing along the way and stopping at residents’ homes to engage in rhyming contests. If she and her party win the contests then the loser is supposed to ask them inside. This is said to bring that person good luck. While strange, this tradition sounds like a lot of fun for a community to take part in and something similar could feature in the festivities of your world.
In the Ukraine, folks cover their trees in spider web decorations. This is supposed to be based of an old folk tale of a poor family who could not afford a tree. Instead they grew their own tree from a pine cone. Still being poor, they were unable to decorate the tree with anything. However, when the family awoke in the morning they found that spiders had spun webs all about the tree in decoration. More than that, with dawn the webs turned to gold and silver! Astounding luck for the poor family who did what they could to celebrate. Today, folks decorate their own trees in a similar manner in order to invite good luck for the coming year. This is another example of a story that involves animals or fey creatures helping those who need it and a tradition that emulated that story in hopes of good luck. Use it as an example for your own stories!
The Witch of Italy
In Italy it is not Santa that has the gift giving duties, traditionally. Nor is it on the 25th that kids wake up to presents. Instead the good witch Befana leave treats in the children’s stockings. This sounds very familiar, but the similarities don’t end there. On the 5th of January, the equivalent to Christmas Eve, the family will leave out a traditional, regional meal. This is markedly similar to the tradition of leaving milk and cookies for Santa. On the 6th, the family wakes up to their stocking full of presents, just as the Christmas tradition. Like Santa, Befana is said to travel around the world flying to each house and entering via the chimney. However, unlike Santa, she uses a broomstick instead of a reindeer pulled sleigh.
Hide The Brooms?
There is rumor to be a tradition in Norway for the superstitious. It is said that people will hide all of the brooms that they have to make sure that no witches can steal them. Why? Because witches and other evil spirits are able to come out on Christmas Eve. Of course witches want brooms, we all know that. Interestingly enough, I have found that this might not be a true tradition even though it makes for a good tale. According to certain sites, folks in Norway have never heard of this tradition and it stems from a different, more real tradition: making things up for tourists. Either way, there is plenty to take to your RPG table.
Shoes & Sticks
In Germany it seems to be a Christmas tradition for treats to be left in shoes, rather than the stockings like other traditions. This goes for the good boys and girls, but what about those who made it to the naughty list? Well, you may have heard of Krampus who would punish children. As far as I can tell, aside from the tradition of a frightening Krampus being a part of parades, is that sticks would be left in your shoe if you are naughty. This is similar to the idea of coal in one’s stocking, but with a darker tone. You see, in the older traditions Krampus would whip kids with a stick as punishment. The tradition of beating bad children is an old one, despite trying to move beyond that in modern times, and the threat of the stick may still hold some sway.
Everyone has their traditional meals at the holidays. These are the snacks, meals, and deserts that are made every year and often by the same person. Recipes are handed down for generations in some families. Every family and every culture has its own meals, but some of them are stranger than others. Greenland has some especially odd holiday foods. One of these raw whale skin that still has some blubber. This…uh…delicious snack is known as mattak. Then there is kiviak which consists of dead auk birds stuffed into seal skin and left to ferment for months. Fermenting things like grain gives us beer and cabbage becomes kimchi, maybe fermented auk is pretty good?
I think I may have mentioned this before but it is a fun tale worth mentioning again. Iceland has a number of stories and characters during the holiday season. One of these is the Yule Cat who specifically seeks out those who have not received new clothes for the holiday. As a result new clothes is a common and expected gift. If you do not get it, the Yule Cat will find you and devour you. With the Yule Lads out and other troubles to worry about, getting some new socks seems like a good solution to avoiding a giant man-eating cat.
Sweeping & Burning
While brooms seem to feature in a number of traditions, they are just a tool in Guatemala. Here people sweep their houses and collect all the dirt that is swept up out in front of the house. Neighborhoods will gather up their piles into one large pile. They then take an effigy of the devil, place it on the pile, and burn it. This tradition does not take place right on Christmas or the eve of. Instead the Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil) takes place on the 7th of December. The tradition stems from the cleansing ability of fire and the burning will help rid your house and neighborhood of negative energy.
In Portugal there is a holiday tradition that is much more family oriented. Consoada is a traditional holiday meal meant to honor the deceased. Those who can no longer join in holiday festivities are specifically left an empty seat at this early morning meal on Christmas day. The souls of the dead may be around and may wish to have a part in the celebrations. They are left a meal as a gift to do well in the future and crumb are sometimes left on the hearth for good luck. This tradition stems from leaving seeds to the souls of the dead for a bountiful harvest in the future.
Did I miss a great tradition? Did I get something wrong!? Please let me know!