Fermented auks, horse skulls and setting the table for ghosts…Some unusual Christmas traditions

On the second Sunday before Christmas, children in Yugoslavia creep in and tie their mother’s feet to a chair, shouting ‘Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day, what will you pay to get away?’ Surprisingly, she then gives them presents. Children play the same trick on their father the following week and the children get more presents. Unfortunately, parents don’t get to do the same to their children the week after.

Kiviak is a gastronomical Christmas treat from Greenland which, for some reason, hasn’t been adopted by many other nations. It’s made from the raw flesh of an auk which has been buried under a stone in sealskin for several months until it’s achieved an advanced stage of decomposition. Apparently, it smells like old blue cheese and tastes very pungent.

In the Christian homes in Iraq, a child reads the story of the Nativity from an Arabic Bible while other family members hold lighted candles. As soon as the story has been read a bonfire made of dried thorns is lit and the family sing a psalm. If the thorns burn to ashes, the family will have good fortune during the coming year. When the fire has burned down, everyone jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish.

Ever wondered where the phrase ‘putting the bite on’ comes from? At Christmastime, in some rural areas of south Wales, the Mari Llwyd is a person hiding under a horsehair sheet (a brethyn rhawn) whilst carrying a horse’s skull on a pike .The Mari Llwyd wanders the streets with a band of mummers and anyone ‘given the bite’ by the horse’s jaws must pay a cash fine.

The Labanese plant chickpeas, wheat grains, beans and lentils in cotton wool, a fortnight before Christmas. They water the seeds every day and at Christmas, the sprouted shoots are used to surround the manger in nativity scenes.

In Portugal, the ‘consoda’ feast takes place on the morning of Christmas Day. Extra places are set at table for the souls of the dead and they are offered food to these souls to bring luck to the family during the forthcoming year.

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