1Santa and Machine Guns: Arizona, USA
"Santa and Machine Guns" allows families, including children and babies, to take their pick of weaponry from a large arsenal of pistols, shotguns, AK-47s, grenade launchers, and machine guns and use them as props in a cozy Christmas photo with dear old St Nick. Families grin from ear to ear, with automatic weapons poised and ready, as they take photos for their holiday cards with a friendly, white bearded Santa Claus. A team of elves is on hand to give gun safety instructions to the uninitiated before the photo is taken. This event is so popular that it has many hundreds of folks lining up around the block for this annual opportunity for strangeness.
2A Christmas Log that Poops Presents: Catalonia, Spain
Beginning on the night of December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Caga Tio is placed by the fireplace, covered with a blanket, and treated as a pet. Each evening the children of the household feed the log fruit, nuts, and chocolate in hopes that it will grow bigger. Loving parents secretly swap out the log with a progressively bigger one until magically, by Christmas, it is full grown.
On Christmas day, the children of the household gather round their Pooping Log pet and sing songs to urge it to release its loot. The song lyrics translate as "Poop log, poop candy! If you don't poop well, I'll hit you with a stick. Poop log!" The children then beat the little log with sticks to force it to defecate traditional presents like Turon nougat candy, small toys, and coins.
3Krampus, the Christmas Beast from Hell: The Alpine Region of Europe
His job is to wreak general havoc and dish out well-deserved punishment to the bad little children of the world. He carries a large wicker basket on his back, similar to Santa's sack. Instead of delivering presents in his basket, however, he uses it to kidnap the naughtiest children and deliver them straight to hell.
Although Krampus' origins are based in ancient pagan customs, the Christians came in and made him a useful part of their holiday tradition. Since the 1600's he has accompanied St. Nicholas on his feast day of December 6, taking on the bad cop role to Santa's good cop. There's no need for St. Nick to deliver lumps of coal when Krampus is ready to whip a child with the menacing lash that he carries at all times.
Since the early 1800's, Krampus festivals have kick-started the holiday season in many parts of Europe and it has become a holiday to celebrate with costumes, food, and strong drink. Weird and interesting Krampus-themed cards have been exchanged since that time period, as well, and have become quite collectible.
Today, Krampus is spreading to parts of America, particularly in more urban areas like Los Angeles and New York. A new generation of people there have imported the tradition and use it as an excuse to create elaborate Krampus costumes and throw bacchanal parties. Even the best of us can have a little sympathy for the devil.
4Santa Claus World Championships: Samnaun, Switzerland
There are snowshoe relay races, a wooden rocking horse obstacle course, sled races, a gingerbread decorating contest, and more, all with the goal of crowning the best Santa team. In the chimney climbing contest numerous St. Nicks throw bags of toys over their backs and race to ring a bell at the top of of a chimney structure. Seeing hundreds of red Santa suits contrast against the gleaming white snow is truly a strange spectacle. The object here may be to win, but having some jolly holiday-inspired laughs is the real goal of this event.
5Chasing Santa with Whips and Cowbells: Kussnacht, Switzerland
Afterwards, a procession of 200 locals dressed in giant illuminated stained glass-style bishop hats follow in line, while over 20,000 spectators ogle the offbeat pageant. The lighted hats glow gloriously in the dark, giving watchers a sense of awe and peace. The festival concludes with a march of over 1,000 locals who are loudly blasting deafening cow bells, instruments, and horns. While this strange celebration makes sense with its original intent as a protection from evil, it is quite strange that Santa Claus has become the focus of the chase. When early Christianity found it necessary to merge old pagan customs into their theology so as to gain more followers, some odd customs were definitely created.
6La Befana, The "Good Witch" Who Brings Presents: Italy
Originating from an ancient year-end pagan custom which burned an effigy of a withered old woman on a pyre to symbolize death and rebirth, La Befana was recreated in the 13th century with Christianity in mind. The established legend tells us that La Befana turned down an invite from the three wise men to visit baby Jesus in his manger. Feeling guilty, she now travels the world on the eve of the date when the wise men reached the manger, forever delivering presents to children to make up for her regretful mistake.
7Night of the Radishes: Oaxaca, Mexico
The custom originated with 16th Century Spanish missionaries. While converting the indigenous people of the region to Christianity, they decided to incorporate the native's local carving practices into the conversion. The giant local radish was chosen to be honored and carved and a Christmas ritual was created. Nowadays there are cash prizes for the best radish sculpture, which feature designs that run the gamut from religious and Christmas themes to random pop art. Over one hundred annual competitors, who take this contest very seriously, provide assurance that this weird holiday institution continues to be observed.
8SantaCon: Worldwide (Origin United States)
Essentially, SantaCon is a meet-up wandering party where thousands of followers dress in mandatory Santa Claus, elf, or reindeer costumes and travel around a given city in a massive pack, bursting out into planned Christmas songs, stopping at local bars, and generally stunning passersby. Lately, it has evolved into an elaborate party and drinking event with widespread rowdiness and public drunkenness. SantaCon's website has explicit rules of conduct to try to keep the event under control.
A record for the Guinness World Book was set in 2007 when over 13,000 Santas converged at one SantaCon in Ireland, but the SantaCon website claims that the record was actually topped the year before in 2006 when 70,000 Santas clogged the streets of Moscow.
9Spiders Mean Extra Christmas Luck: Ukraine
This custom is based on an ancient Ukrainian legend in which a poverty-stricken widow had no funds to decorate her family's Christmas tree. Her desolate children were left saddened and crying. After the children went to bed, some friendly spiders who had sympathized with the children's tears spun gorgeous, light-reflective webs to decorate the bare tree. When the children awoke on Christmas morning they were joyous to find the beautifully decorated tree. From that day forward the poor family was prosperous and lucky.
10Hide the Brooms from the Witch: Norway