norway

Christmas Around the World

Learn strange Christmas traditions from other countries.

Why are these people in blackface? It’s just one of the quirky Dutch Christmas traditions!

Why are these people in blackface? It’s just one of the quirky Dutch Christmas traditions!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes. But in many parts of the world, it’s one of the strangest times of the year as well.

Americans have their share of kooky Christmas traditions, including the belief that a misfit reindeer with a glowing red nose named Rudolph flies through the sky, helping pull a fat man’s sleigh. Not to mention that said fat man somehow fits all the presents for every kid onto this sleigh and makes it around the world, slipping down chimneys, all in a single night.
But that’s nothing compared to some of the holiday traditions in other parts of the world.

People in the Netherlands dress as Black Peter, a Moor, by putting on blackface.

For example, Christmas takes on a strangely scatalogical bent in Catalonia, a region of Spain. People place the figurine of a guy in the act of deficating in their nativity scenes as well as beat a log until it poops out treats for kids.

And in Austria and other parts of Europe, if you’re a naughty child, a devil named Krampus will kidnap you, beat you savagely with a stick and drag you to Hell.

Here are some of the more bizarre ways to celebrate the holidays in other parts of the world.

The Dutch version of Santa Claus has a helper named Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter

The Dutch version of Santa Claus has a helper named Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter

Go in blackface as Santa’s helper in the Netherlands.

Sinterklaas, as Santa Claus is known to the Dutch people, travels with his servant. But instead of diminutive elves, Sinterklaas is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter. Today people dress as Black Peter, a Moor, by putting on blackface. Not very PC — it’s amazing this tradition still exists. It wouldn’t in the United States, I’ll tell ya that.

Someone’s been naughty and needs to get stuffed into a sack and sent off to Spain!

Someone’s been naughty and needs to get stuffed into a sack and sent off to Spain!

It’s these fellows who keep tabs on who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. The good kids get presents, while the bad ones are shoved into a sack and taken off to Spain for a year of reform school.

Spiderweb decorations are common in Ukraine and Poland

Spiderweb decorations are common in Ukraine and Poland

Decorate the tree with spiderweb ornaments in Ukraine and Poland.

Spiderweb ornaments might sound more Halloween than Christmas, but there’s a story behind them. A poor Ukrainian widow lived with her children in a hut. The kids saw a majestic evergreen outside and wanted it to be their Christmas tree. Trouble was, they didn’t have any ornaments and couldn’t afford them.

So the woman cried herself to sleep that night. The hut’s spiders heard her sobs and decorated the tree in intricate webs overnight. In the morning, the sunrise caught the webs and made them glisten like metal. And everyone lived happily ever after, as they tend to do in these fairy tales.

In Poland, they also decorate Christmas trees with spiderwebs, but there’s a different tale behind this tradition. They believe a spider wove a blanket for baby Jesus. I’m sure it wasn’t warm and was annoyingly sticky, but I suppose they appreciated the sentiment.  

If a witch can’t find a broom in your house, Norwegians think she’ll leave you alone

If a witch can’t find a broom in your house, Norwegians think she’ll leave you alone

Hide brooms from the witches in Norway.

Apparently witches and evil spirits like to come out to play on Christmas Eve. So Norwegians, to keep them at bay, hide their brooms, which we all know is a witch’s favorite means of travel. To thwart the witches and evil spirits, men will also fire three shots from their rifles into the air.

These nuns in Venezuela were off to celebrate Christmas mass on roller skates

These nuns in Venezuela were off to celebrate Christmas mass on roller skates

Roller skate to church in Venezuela.

Amid the explosions of firecrackers, entire Venezuelan families in Caracas don roller skates and head off to Catholic mass. As tradition has it, children go to bed with a piece of string tied around their toe with the other end dangling out the window. As the skaters roll past, they give the string a tug, and children know that it’s time to put their own skates on. It’s such a popular tradition that the government took to closing entire streets to traffic so families could skate together in safety. This has gotta be the only time church feels like a disco club. All that’s missing is the mirror ball.

Grab your horse skull! It’s time to go wassailing in Wales!

Grab your horse skull! It’s time to go wassailing in Wales!

Carol (and beg for booze) with a dead horse in Wales.

Perhaps you’ve heard the song that begins, “Here we come a-wassailing.” This is the Welsh version of caroling. Wassail is an old England word for “cheers” and can also refer to the boozy beverages the carolers are begging for: ale or mulled wine.

The old Mari Lwyd just ain’t what she used to be

The old Mari Lwyd just ain’t what she used to be

The tradition, known as Mari Lwyd, translates to the Gray Mare, involves people going from house to house, singing and challenging the families inside to a battle of rhyming insults until they get a boozy beverage. What makes this creepy is that one person dresses up like a horse, donning a white sheet topped with an actual horse skull adorned with ears and eyes.

Take me to church

Take me to church

Bring a rooster to mass in Bolivia.

Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), the midnight service on Christmas Eve, by bringing along a rooster. It must get quite boisterous. But what’s with all the cocks? It’s to honor the creature that is believed to be the first to have announced the birth of baby Jesus.

Dark-haired men, come on in! Blonde and red-haired women, stay the heck away!

Dark-haired men, come on in! Blonde and red-haired women, stay the heck away!

Hope for a dark-haired man to visit you on Christmas in Estonia and Ireland.

Your first Christmas visitor (the first-footer) can determine if your household will have a good year or not — at least that’s what the Estonians believe. If you’re a woman, blonde or red-haired, just stay home, though, please. It’s really only dark-haired gents who bring good luck.

Ireland has the same tradition, though they light a candle and, at the last stroke of midnight, throw open their front doors to welcome in the New Year. Women will beat the door with a loaf of bread, while hoping for a dark-haired gentleman to darken their doorway.

People in Finland buy small tin horseshoes to melt on New Year’s Eve as part of a fortune-telling ritual

People in Finland buy small tin horseshoes to melt on New Year’s Eve as part of a fortune-telling ritual

Melt tin and predict the future in Finland.

You might need a book of symbols and their meanings for this tradition. On New Year’s Eve, Finns purchase small tin horseshoes to melt and ladles. The molten tin is dropped  into a bucket of snow or ice-cold water. Once it hardens, they hold the blob up to the light to see what shape its shadow casts. If it looks like a hill, for example, there will be obstacles ahead. If it looks like a coin, you’ll be coming into some money.

Pesky Greek goblins called the kallikantzari take a break from trying to cut down the World Tree to cause mischief on the 12 days of Christmas

Pesky Greek goblins called the kallikantzari take a break from trying to cut down the World Tree to cause mischief on the 12 days of Christmas

Kallikantzari like to scare humans — and poop in their food

Kallikantzari like to scare humans — and poop in their food

Watch out for goblins in Greece.

According to Greek legend, the hobgoblins called kallikantzari come up from their underground homes on Christmas Day to play tricks on humans until Ephiphany, January 6. They’re particularly fond of sneaking down the chimney like Santa to hide in your home and jump out and scare you. The kallikantzari also rearrange the furniture and, shudder, take dumps in any open containers of food they find.

Grab a colander — it’s one of the best ways to get rid of these Greek goblins

Grab a colander — it’s one of the best ways to get rid of these Greek goblins

If you want to avoid goblin crap on your cookies, burn logs or old shoes, or hang sausages or sweetmeats in the chimney. In addition, many Greeks put a colander on their doorsteps because the goblins will be compelled to count the holes. They don’t make much headway, though, according to A Scary Little Christmas, because the dim-witted creatures can only count to two.

They’re burning Mickey Mouse?! What did  he  ever do to hurt anyone?

They’re burning Mickey Mouse?! What did he ever do to hurt anyone?

Burn effigies in Ecuador.

In their own version of Guy Fawkes Day, Ecuadorians celebrate La Quema de los Años Viejos, the Burning of the Old Years. They make life-size dolls that resemble someone they dislike — maybe a local politician or the ever-popular Osama bin Laden. (I’m going to guess that Trump is a new fave.) People write notes explaining why the dolls should be burned and what changes they’d like to see in the coming year.

The effigies are proudly displayed on balconies or in windows until New Year's Eve, when they’re burned in a bonfire in the street. People jump over the fires for good luck.

Don’t be late on the winter solstice — you’ll be the Thomas Donkey and will end up the butt of jokes all day

Don’t be late on the winter solstice — you’ll be the Thomas Donkey and will end up the butt of jokes all day

Try not to become a donkey in Germany.

Don’t be an ass! In Germany, the Winter Solstice is also known as St. Thomas Day. It’s not a good day to be tardy. In parts of the Sauerland region, if you sleep in or get to work late, you’re given a cardboard donkey. called the Thomas Donkey and you’ll be the butt of jokes all day.

At least you’re rewarded at the end of the day with Thomasplitzchen, iced currant buns.

The Greek goblins known as the kallikantzari like to take dumps in any open containers of food they find.

Put on your skates and grab your cock before hitting midnight mass! Maybe you can incorporate some of these traditions into your Yuletide celebrations! –Wally

Norse Mythology "Thor: Ragnarok" Got Wrong

Learn the truth about Thor, Hela, Ragnarok, Loki, Odin and Valkyries.

There’s a lot going on during Ragnarok, the Norse version of the apocalypse. In fact, practically everyone dies — before the world is engulfed in flames

There’s a lot going on during Ragnarok, the Norse version of the apocalypse. In fact, practically everyone dies — before the world is engulfed in flames

While Thor: Ragnarok was a surprisingly funny intergalactic romp, Marvel’s version doesn’t quite match up to the actual Norse mythology. Here’s a look at some of the big themes from the movie, and how they differ from the legends.

Be warned: Spoilers below.

Hel, the goddess of death, is actually Loki’s daughter, not his sister

Hel, the goddess of death, is actually Loki’s daughter, not his sister

Who was Hela really?

Cate Blanchett’s badass bitch is more commonly called simply Hel (which means “Hidden”) in Norse mythology. And while she is indeed the goddess of death — an extremely powerful one at that — she’s not Thor and Loki’s older sibling. In fact, she’s Loki’s daughter, her mom being the giantess Angrboda, whose name has the pleasant translation of She Who Brings Grief. Hel’s siblings are the monstrous wolf Fenrir and Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent.

Hel’s putrid stink is a sure sign she’s in the vicinity.
Hel is half a beautiful woman, half a rotting, skeletal corpse

Hel is half a beautiful woman, half a rotting, skeletal corpse

The goddess doesn’t have Blanchett’s steely beauty — well, at least half of her doesn’t. Hel is usually depicted as being split down the middle, with one half a young woman, the other half a rotting skeleton, according to Northern Tradition Paganism. Hel’s putrid stink is a sure sign she’s in the vicinity.

Hel rules over a dominion that shares her name (much like Hades in Greek mythology). It’s this word that inspired the Christian version of Hell.

The fire giant Surtur leads the army that battles the Asgardian gods during Ragnarok

The fire giant Surtur leads the army that battles the Asgardian gods during Ragnarok

Who’s Surtur the fire giant?

Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s Loki’s godfather, having helped raise that little troublemaker.

The fire giant is more commonly called Surt (“Black”) due to his charred appearance. Instead of being a cool flaming demon as he’s depicted in Thor: Ragnarok, he’s more humanlike in Norse mythology, with a flowing beard.

He carries a flaming sword and has a destiny to fulfill (everyone in Norse myths seems to be playing out preordained roles): Lead his kin and Hel’s undead minions into battle against the gods of Asgard during Ragnarok, the cyclical destruction of the cosmos. Surt sweeps his sword across the earth, leaving nothing but an inferno. He killed the god Freyr, who in turn offed him. Few survived Ragnarok.

Everyone seems to kill each other during Ragnarok, including Thor and the Midgard Serpent

Everyone seems to kill each other during Ragnarok, including Thor and the Midgard Serpent

What exactly is the Ragnarok prophecy?

The “Doom of the Gods” is an appropriate name for the Norse version of the end of the world.

Like the Christian apocalypse described in the book of Revelation in the Bible, Ragnarok, too, is foretold by a series of omens, starting with a Great Winter (how very Game of Thrones) that lasts for three years, brought on after humans and even the gods have sunk into nihilism.

Then come the three cocks. One red rooster warns the giants that Ragnarok has begun, while a second alerts the dead. The third, which resides in Valhalla, the majestic drinking hall afterlife for heroes, lets the divine partiers know their fun has come to an end.

Even though Odin could foresee that there was no defeating Surt and his army, he and the gods still fought valiantly. During this epic war, the world is utterly destroyed and sinks into the sea. The end.

And yet it’s not the end. A new world rises from the depths of the water, and two mortals will repopulate the Earth.

The giant wolf Fenrir kills Odin, swallowing him whole during Ragnarok

The giant wolf Fenrir kills Odin, swallowing him whole during Ragnarok

How does Odin really die?

Though he was prone to wander, Odin doesn’t go off to Norway to die (after his rest home gets destroyed) and dissolve into gold dust. Instead, he perishes during the battle of Ragnarok.

The naughty Fenrir was kept chained up — until he escaped to wreak havoc during Ragnarok

The naughty Fenrir was kept chained up — until he escaped to wreak havoc during Ragnarok

Fenrir, the massive wolf who’s Loki’s son and Hel’s brother, has been a bit too wild and has been chained up by the gods. He escaped, though, and “ran across the land with his lower jaw on the ground and his upper jaw in the sky, consuming everything in between. Even the sun itself was dragged from its height and into the beast’s stomach,” according Norse Mythology for Smart People. He also swallows Odin whole, ending the life of the Father of the Gods.

You wouldn’t want to fight Thor, especially when he’s armed with his hammer Mjollnir

You wouldn’t want to fight Thor, especially when he’s armed with his hammer Mjollnir

Do Loki and Thor have a troubled relationship?

In a word, hell yes — though they did bond once in a cross-dressing ruse to win back Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir.

Thor and Loki did bond once in a cross-dressing ruse to win back Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir.
Loki convinces the manly Thor to dress up as a woman to pretend to be the goddess Freya (it’s a long story)

Loki convinces the manly Thor to dress up as a woman to pretend to be the goddess Freya (it’s a long story)

Loki is a trickster, so you never know what to expect. He’s likely to cause damage — in fact, at the time of Ragnarok in Norse mythology, he’s been chained inside a mountain as punishment for his involvement in the death of the god Balder, a favorite of the Asgardians. (Loki gave his blind brother Hod a mistletoe dart — the only thing that could harm Balder — and guided his aim so it struck and killed the deity.)

But Loki’s also known to actually help the gods as well. The Marvel universe has captured his mercurial spirit; you never know if he’s on Thor’s side — and you know you should never fully trust him.

During Ragnarok, Loki breaks free of his chains and launches an attack on his Asgardian brethren, sailing on a ship that’s somehow constructed of dead men’s nails. Eww.

In some versions of the myth, it’s Loki and not his daughter Hel who leads the army of the undead.

Thor defeats the massive serpent Jormungand — but perishes from its poison right after

Thor defeats the massive serpent Jormungand — but perishes from its poison right after

Loki’s offspring Jormungand and the god of thunder have an intertwined destiny. The two have always been bitter enemies, and the serpent is a formidable foe: He’s so large that he encircles the Earth, biting his own tail — what’s known as an ouroboros. During the apocalyptic war of Ragnarok, Thor kills the Midgard Serpent — only to die from its poison. There’s a lot of these double deaths going around.

The Valkyries choose who lives and dies in battles

The Valkyries choose who lives and dies in battles

What’s the truth about the Valkyries?

These fierce, beautiful maidens ride in groups of nine upon flying horses and guide fallen heroes to Valhalla for Odin.

Scandinavians in the Middle Ages believed the gorgeous streaks of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, were the Valkyries sweeping across the night sky, according to Credo.


LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NORTHERN LIGHTS: Why You Should Consider Visiting Iceland


A common misconception is that the Valkyrie are warriors — probably because they’re decked out in armor, are often depicted holding spears and like to hang out on battlefields.

“The meaning of their name, ‘choosers of the slain,’ refers not only to their choosing who gains admittance to Valhalla, but also to their choosing who dies in battle and using malicious magic to ensure that their preferences in this regard are brought to fruition,” writes Norse Mythology for Smart People.

The Valkyries were fierce woman who soared over battlefields on flying horses — until they were relegated to waitresses at Valhalla

The Valkyries were fierce woman who soared over battlefields on flying horses — until they were relegated to waitresses at Valhalla

While they started out as dark angels of death swooping over the slaughter of a battlefield, the Valkyries later became associated as Odin’s shield maidens, lovely virgins with golden hair and snow-white skin who serve an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet of mead and meat in the great feasting hall in the sky. Dead heroes remained there until called to fight by Odin’s side during Ragnarok.

Marvel’s version of Ragnarok might be a bit off-base, but it’s still a fun one nevertheless. And as much as I’d love to have seen Loki captaining that ship of yellowed fingernails and toenails, I’m glad that hottie Chris Hemsworth’s Thor survives to star in another movie. –Wally

During Ragnarok, Loki launches an attack on Asgard, sailing on a ship constructed of dead men’s nails. Eww.

The Monsters of “Supernatural,” Season 1, Episodes 10-12

Learn witchcraft spells to protect yourself from ghosts, pagan gods demanding human sacrifice and Death itself.

It really is kind of effed-up what English teachers sic upon impressionable young minds. I read Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” when I was 15, and it has stuck with me ever since. I was intrigued by the idea of a modern town ritually sacrificing one of its members, based on a pagan tradition so far in the past they’ve simply ceased to question it. And the final scene, where even the poor woman’s own son is given pebbles to help stone his mother to death, shook me to the core.

There’s a similar type situation in this roundup of Supernatural monsters. And we’ll also meet Death himself.

Symptoms of ghostly possession can include oily skin, rashes, feeling like your eyes are being pulled inside, migraines, the sensation of being strangled, loss of appetite (or increased appetite), tics and miscarriages.

There were only two people posing for this pic!

Apparently, ghostly possession is way more common than we think

S1 E10: “Asylum”

Monster: Ghost

Where it’s from: All over the world. About 30% of the world’s population is possessed by ghosts, according to the Spiritual Science Research Foundation, which I’m sure is totally legit.

Description: This particular spirit possesses people and feeds off their rage.

Encountering a ghost? Don’t panic — we’ve got you covered

What it does: Symptoms of ghostly possession can include oily skin, rashes, feeling like your eyes are being pulled inside, migraines, the sensation of being strangled, loss of appetite (or increased appetite), tics and miscarriages. In this particular case, those possessed turn murderous and then suicidal.

How to defeat it: A rifle loaded with rock salt can repel the ghost. Salt has a long history of protective properties.

To fully destroy the ghost and restore those who are possessed to themselves, Dean and Sam Winchester have to find the original corpse and burn it.

 

That scarecrow could come to life with the murderous spirit of a pagan god

That scarecrow could come to life with the murderous spirit of a pagan god

S1 E11: “Scarecrow”

Monster: Vanir, a pagan Norse god

Where it’s from: Northern Germany and Scandinavia

Freya is the goddess of beauty (and a bit of a slut, turns out)

Freya is also the goddess of war and death

Description: This branch of the Norse gods holds in its ranks Freya, goddess of love, beauty, sex, gold, war and death (busy gal), accused by Loki of having slept with all the elves and gods, including her brothers.

Pagans would offer sacrifices to Freyr, the Norse god of fertility

Freyr’s power over fertility is symbolized by his giant phallus, as depicted in this idol

Speaking of which, her brother Freyr, god of fertility, was a popular guy. People’s well-being and prosperity depended upon him, including bountiful harvests. This was apparently symbolized by his “enormous, erect phallus.”

What it does: Freyr was a frequent recipient of sacrifices, including the celebration of a harvest. Instead of offering up the traditional sacrifice of his favored animal, the boar, the townsfolk in the episode lured one male and one female to their deaths. With the sacrifice, the town assures a good harvest and general happiness.

The personification of this Vanir takes on the form of a living scarecrow, which actually has more of a connection to the Celts and their wicker man.

Julius Caesar wrote about the Gallic practice of burning humans alive in a giant wicker man

This sick ritual was described by none other than Julius Caesar in Book Six of The Gallic War:

“The whole Gallic race is addicted to religious ritual; consequently those suffering from serious maladies or subject to the perils of battle sacrifice human victims. … Some weave huge figures of wicker and fill their limbs with humans, who are then burned to death when the figures are set afire. They suppose that the gods prefer this execution to be applied to thieves, robbers and other malefactors taken in the act, but in default of such they resort to the execution of the innocent.”

How to defeat it: In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the mythical tree that connects the nine worlds, which include Asgard, where Thor and his relations live, and Midgard, their term for Earth.

In Norse mythology, the sacred tree Yggdrasil connects the nine worlds

In this episode, there’s a sacred tree that’s tied to the Vanir. Once the Winchester Brothers chopped it down, the god — and his blessings — abandon the village.

Our personification of death as the Grim Reaper began in Ancient Greece


S1 E12: "Faith"

Monster: Reaper

Where it’s from: All over the world, especially the United States and Europe

An old tarot Death card from Germany depicts a reaper

An old tarot Death card from Germany depicts a reaper

The reaper uses its scythe to chop up bodies

Description: The Grim Reaper is the personification of death. He’s most often depicted as a skeletal figure wearing a black hooded robe and carrying a large scythe. In some parts of Europe, his robe is white.

Ancient Greeks worshiped Thanatos, or Death, who was portrayed as an attractive, bearded man with wings and an extinguished flame (what vivid symbolism!). Departed souls had to pay the ferryman Charon to get across the River Styx into the underworld. Some sources described Charon as a skeletal figure much like today’s Grim Reaper.

What it does: On the show, reapers can stop time — and only their victims can see them coming for them.

How to defeat it: As the altar Sam discovers attests, you can gain control over a reaper with a binding spell.

 

Poppet Binding Spell

This spell is best worked on a waning or dark moon.

Cut two layers of black cloth in the rough shape of the person or creature you wish to bind and sew together to create a small poppet. Leave part of the head unstitched.

Fill the poppet with earth, a smoky quartz and an amethyst. Also include hair or nail clippings, or a photograph or sample of handwriting of the person you wish to bind.

Create a sacred circle, then take an altar candle and a black candle. Hold the poppet out in front of you and say:

Creature of cloth thou art,

Now creature of flesh and blood you be.

I name you [name of the person or creature you are binding].

No more shall you do me harm,

No more shall you spread false tales,

No more shall you interfere in my life,

Nor in the lives of my loved ones.

By the power of the gods and by my will,

So mote it be.

Draw an invoking pentagram over the poppet.

Now take some black ribbon or wool and begin to wrap the poppet like a mummy, leaving no space unwrapped and say:

I bind your feet from bringing you to harm me.

I bind your hands from reaching out to harm me.

I bind your mouth from spreading tales to harm me.

I bind your mind from sending energy to harm me.

If you continue to do so, let all negative energy be cast directly back at you!

Tie off the ribbon and hold the poppet in front of you. Visualize all the negative energy this person has sent you being cast back at them.

Wrap the poppet in a piece of black cloth and tie with a black ribbon. Say:

Great Mother, I have bound this person

From harming me and my loved ones.

By the powers of three times three,

By Earth and Fire, Air and Sea,

I fix this spell, then set it free,

’Twill give no harm to return on me,

As I will, so mote it be!

Let the candle burn out while the poppet sits at its base.

Then take the poppet and the remains of the candle and bury them in the ground or toss them in the ocean. Walk away without looking back.

 

Now, it’s not always possible to get nail clippings and the like from your enemy (does Death even have fingernails?!), so this spell from Free Witchcraft Spells might work better. It takes some time; so hopefully you can avoid the reaper in the meantime!

 

Black Candle Binding Spell

Anoint a black candle with sandalwood oil while you concentrate on the person or creature you want to get out of your life.

Wrap a piece of black thread around the candle until you use the whole length, then tie it tightly.

Repeat this, with a piece of black yarn. Then, on top of that, wind around a piece of rough twine of the same length. The exact lengths of the cords don’t matter — just use the same for all three. About 18 inches works well.

Light the candle, and let it burn out completely. Try to do this spell in the evening, letting the candle burn down overnight. Keep it somewhere safe and flameproof because the strings might catch fire as the candle burns down. I’ll burn candles in a small cauldron for my peace of mind.

You can try, but there really is no escaping death


Give it a go, but let’s face it: If your time has come, Death will find you. Have the Final Destination movies taught us nothing? –Wally