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December 2015

World’s Strangest Christmas Characters

The strangest Christmas characters from around the world

Santa Claus may be the world’s most popular Christmas figure after Jesus, but he’s not alone. Around the world, many cultures have added to the legend of jolly old St. Nicholas with new figures of their own. And while many of the characters are sympathetic gift givers, not all of them are so kind. Today we’ll take a look at the world’s strangest Christmas Characters.

Zwarte Piet is, according to stories in the Netherlands, the helper of Santa, originally an Ethiopian slave rescued by St. Nick. The controversy of having a figure covered in blackface during a modern celebration, however, has made its mark; today, many refer to Zwarte Piet as a chimney soot-covered boy rather than an African.

In Norway, the holidays mark the period when witches restock their broom collections, at least according to mythology. If you're unlucky, a needy witch may sneak into your home and take your brooms. In older times, the tradition was to hide brooms each Christmas Eve.

Tió de Nadal ("log of Christmas") is a character in Catalan and Aragones mythology that children cover to keep warm from the cold, then, on Christmas Eve, beat in hopes that the log will poop out presents for them. Variations of a song known as Caga tió is sung during the celebration. The log normally relieves itself of smaller items, like candies, nuts, and turrón (nougat). When tió finally empties its contents, it drops a salt herring, garlic, onion, or a bowl of water in final "urination". Then there’s the Catalan story of the Caganer who poops in the middle of the nativity scene...

In Wales, Mari Lwyd ("gray mare") is a sheet-covered person holding a horse's skull attached to a long pole. The jaw of the horse is made to snap at passersby as the figure walks throughout the town. If this isn’t enough to convince children to mind their manners, nothing will.

Straw devils appear every year in Bavaria, particularly in the city of Bischofswiesen, to scare the residents in a custom dating back to pagan times. The event, known as Buttnmandl, features pigmented men dressed in straw outfits adorned with devil masks who run through town ringing cowbells. The ultimate hope is that the festival chases off evil spirits.

In Alpine folklore, Krampus and Perchta, are two demons that accompany St. Nick. Krampus, a horned figure, will drag naughty children to hell, while Perchta might opt to rip them open at the abdomen. Definitely more threatening than a lump of coal in your stocking.

The Kallikantzaroi are goblins that live underground, according to Greek stories, that resurface during the 12 days of Christmas. Spending their time plotting to destroying the "World Tree", they emerge during Christmas to spread some one-on-one terror. When they return underground, however, they are dismayed to find the World Tree replenished and healed, a good lesson to never leave your post.

Who is your favorite Christmas character? Does your country add to the story of St. Nick? Let us know on Facebook and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on culture from around the world.

Picture: (c) Fotolia, JiSign