9 of the most metal Christmas traditions from around the world
Something about the holiday season brings out the bizarre side of people. Whether it’s the emphasis on goodwill, the proximity to family, or the barrage of cheery music and capitalism, cultures that normally seem reasonable as a whole devolve into outlandish madness. As the year ends and we all celebrate good will towards humanity, the maniac in all of us climbs out of the proverbial woodwork for a glass of high-proof eggnog. Suddenly, you have moms getting topless at holiday parties and hard-partying madmen crying at church.
But the beauty of this is that plenty of cultures’ craziest old-world traditions rise to the surface – and they’re kind of rad. Be it a figure from yuletide folklore or a tradition based on everyone’s favourite short story a thousand years ago, some of the things certain people do to celebrate Christmas are about as twisted and unholy as it gets. And while that may shock and confuse some squares, metal fans are more than happy to embrace the insane customs of a season during which they often feel forgotten.
Here are nine Christmas traditions that’ll make metalheads a little cheerier…
The Yule Goat (Sweden)
Because of how many of Christmas’s early pagan traditions stem from Scandinavia, people from Sweden and Norway maintain a lot of Viking-style yuletide traditions. One of these is the Yule Goat, a straw goat created as a Christmas ornament that represents an invisible animal spirit, dating back to the thunder god Thor who rode a chariot pulled by two frostgoats. The most notable Yule Goat is most likely to Gåvle Goat, a giant wicker goat erected in Gåvle, Sweden. Every year, the goat is erected, and pretty much every year, someone tries to burn it down, making the arson almost a Christmas tradition unto itself.
Ah, the Alps, land of huge beers, rich sauces – and Santa’s demonic henchman. Krampus is the Central European Christmas demon, a terrifying alternative to getting coal in your stocking. While Saint Nicholas brings you toys if you’re good, Krampus whips you with a birch switch, maddens you with rattling chains, and, if you’re an especially horrible kid, drags you to hell where he eats your heart. These days, Krampus is every metalhead’s reason to love Christmas, a demonic entity that gives lovers of devil music a holiday icon they can relate to. Better watch out.
Mari Lwyd (Wales)
Nothing says tidings of comfort and joy like the scariest damn thing you’ve ever seen. The Mari Lwyd is a Welsh folk custom which involves a horse skull decorated with jewelled eyes and blue ribbons, affixed to a pole and trailing a sheet. The figure is a resilient piece of folk custom that used to be a pagan spirit, and now sort of represents the Virgin Mary (the term roughly translates to ‘Blessed Mary’). These days, it’s begun emerging as another alternative to typical Christmas imagery – basically, if Krampus has gotten a little commercial for you, there’s something less evil but far more disturbing for you to enjoy.
Spiders on the tree (Ukraine)
In the Ukraine, fake spiders and spiderwebs are put on the Christmas tree as tinsel-like ornaments. The tradition stems from an old fairy tale about a widow and her children who raise a tree to be their Christmas tree, but can’t afford to decorate it. When they awaken on Christmas morning, they find the tree covered with cobwebs – which then turn to gold and silver in the sunlight. The result is that Ukrainians have trees that look a lot more Tim Burtonish than most others.
Burning the Devil (Guatemala)
In Guatemala, the feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated in the most obvious way: burning the Devil in effigy! At 6pm sharp on December 7, Guatemalans kick off the Christmas season by building a bonfire and torching a piñata or statue of the Devil. La quema del diablo stems from an old belief that the Devil lurks in one’s home behind furniture or in piles of trash; to out him, families would burn their rubbish that evening, and eventually began burning the Devil himself. Though metalheads have an affinity for Satan, there’s something about seeing his depiction engulfed in flames that’s badass no matter which direction you pray toward.
Whale blubber and fermented seabird for dinner (Greenland)
While you’re enjoying your ham or Seven Fishes for Christmas dinner, they’re going hard as fuck in Greenland. The traditional Christmas meal there usually includes mattak, a tough piece of whale skin with a strip of blubber on it that often has to be swallowed whole because it’s difficult to chew. Even tougher is kiviak, which is a seabird wrapped in seal skin and left to ferment for months before eating. Yeah, enjoy your sweet potatoes, poser.
The Christmas pooper (Catalonia)
Look, even in the manger, there had to be a corner where Mary and the wise men could drop a deuce. Caganers are figurines included in Catalonian nativity scenes that depict someone in the act of defecation. Usually, the caganer in question is a depiction of a Catalonian or Spanish peasant, though sometimes it can take the Día de los muertos muñeca strategy of depicting a famous person or cultural figure as the pooper. Taking a dump near the baby Jesus – metal as fuck.
Hide your broom (Norway)
As with the Swedish Yule goat, Norwegians believe that Christmas Eve is a time filled with unseen spirits, including witches and ghosts (fun fact: some legends say that if you’re born on Christmas Eve, you’ll be a werewolf – sorry, Lemmy). And since witches have a habit of riding broomsticks, the obvious way to keep witches from taking to the sky on the night before Christmas is to keep them away from your broom. On Christmas Eve, Norwegians hide their brooms, hoping to keep witches from stealing them for malicious purposes. Never sweep again!
Black Friday (The U.S.)
In Europe, Pagan rites linger around Christmas, but in America the oldest god has always been money. Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving, where stores around the country offer deep discounts and unheard-of deals on big-name appliances. The result is that people line up around the block, and when stores open they indulge in what is basically a shopper’s melee, assaulting one another in the name of savings. These days, many shoppers have turned it into a drinking game, their soused state only adding to their bargain-driven bloodlust. There’s nothing more oddly satisfying than watching two soccer moms bust each other’s faces open over a pasta maker.
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