“Who brings gifts to Europe?” Thanks to a Redditor named rappzula, we now have a brief overview of European Christmas traditions – displayed neatly on a colourful map! Most cultures in Europe have an omniscient and omnibenevolent mythical creature – or in some countries, two or more – who is known to bring gifts to children at Christmas. Have a look at the map, it’s worth it!
In the UK, this individual is Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, as the Americans believe the English call him) who climbs down our chimneys (or radiator pipes, if we don’t have a chimney?) on the night before Christmas Day. However, in many European countries, Santa (St. Nicholas, obviously) visits on the 6th of December. But then who brings the presents at Christmas? In Hungary, the Christ Child and his angels have the responsibility of putting up Christmas trees and ensuring that no house is left without presents for the children. As you can see on the map, most Europeans have someone or something to watch out for during the Festive Season. But the variety is incredible!
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to do some thorough research and give a detailed overview, so I’ll just pick out two of my favourite ones. Please prove me wrong in a comment if any of the following information is false! To begin with, who is Joulupukki? If you type the name into Google Images, you are very likely to see illustrations of Santa Claus. But the original figure was a goat, named Joulupukki (‘Yule Goat’) who frightened children in order to ensure they behaved well throughout the year. According to Wikipedia, “the figure eventually became more or less conflated with Santa Claus,” due to what we now call ‘Americanisation’. Although one may still see goats made out of straw in Finland (especially in the form of Christmas ornaments), Joulupukki is now an white-bearded, old man with a red coat and a bag full of gifts. But is he Santa Claus?
Today, Joulupukki looks and behaves mostly like his American cousin, but there are differences. Joulupukki’s house and workshop are situated in the mountains of Korvatunturi, whereas his American counterpart resides somewhere near the North Pole. Another difference is that instead of sneaking in through the chimney during the late hours, Joulupukki knocks on the front door during Christmas Eve celebrations. Upon entering, he traditionally greets the household with “Onko täällä kilttejä lapsia?” (“Are there [any] well-behaved children here?”). (Wikipedia)
My favourite one of all is the Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log) of Catalonia. It is sometimes called Caga tió, which has derived from the Catalan imperative “Sh*t, Log!”, a phrase found at the beginning of many Catalan Christmas songs. To sum up the tradition, Catalan families pretend to feed a piece of wood for a few days before Christmas, and on Christmas Eve they beat it with a stick, thus ordering it to poop out ‘turrón’ (nougats) for the children. I know, it may sound a bit strange, but here’s a good video that explains the tradition in more detail.
And a bit of comedy to finish with! The video below mocks the tradition by presenting it as slightly… bizarre? (I don’t even know how that is possible, to be honest…) Oh, and I apologise for the quality of this article, I seem to be just as lazy right now as I was when I published ‘Can you guess the language?‘ in August. But let me announce that a rather interesting series of articles is expected to be published soon. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do!