And while we wouldn’t call it strictly a tradition, our compilation of odd and quirky rituals for the festive season is back in business.
Let’s take a look and enjoy at how the world goes completely nuts every time the snow starts falling and the bells start jingling!
Ursul The Bear Dance
Romania has always been a country with a very rich and colorful connection to its traditions and superstitions, and while the modern world has slowly chipped away at them in recent years, Ursul (the bear dance) is still going strong in the regions of Bucovina and Moldova.
Bears tend to be represented as rather lovable and fluffy creatures, especially when directed to children. In reality, they are apex predators that will rip your head off if they feel it could go well with some mayo in a bun. As a direct result, the bear suits worn by the dancers represent this side of the animal, and while these range from elaborate and realistic to pretty basic and somewhat silly, they rarely look like the teddy bears we feel like we could hug. There’s always a weird and slightly creepy feel to the outfits.
In sharp contrast to the bizarre costumes, the dance itself is a lively and cheerful event in which the bears fertilize the land for the next year. We don’t really need to know how they get that done though.
What is a Christmas tradition list without the inclusion of a self-flaying Mesoamerican God that requires human sacrifices to keep delivering the goods? Xipe Totec was God of a lot of things to the Aztecs, ranging from agriculture, winds, and rain, to disease, death, and silversmiths of all things. Naturally, such an important figure needs attention during the winter solstice, but since the standard worshipping via human sacrifice is somewhat out of vogue in the 21st Century, something a bit more tame had to be introduced.
Make no mistake, as the Palo Volador dance is still formidably dangerous in its own right. Three men climb on top of a tall pole fashioned from a tree (with permission from the mountain gods). As one of them beats a drum and plays the flute, the other two men wind a rope attached to the pole around one foot and jump. If they land on their feet, it is believed that the sun god will be pleased and that the days will start getting longer.
It goes without saying that sometimes people do not land on their feet, and while it’s no surprise that the days still get longer regardless, sadly there is no God of medical bills to help ease the costs.
To a lot of people, the mere thought of Wales evocates a green and lush land filled with tales of old, legends, fairies, and druids. When the Christmas season comes around, it’s natural that this rich folklore makes an appearance in everyday life, and sometimes in quite the creepy manner indeed.
Mari Lwyd (or Grey Mare) consists of acquiring the skull of a dead horse, attaching it to a white robe or blanket that makes it look like a phantasmal steed from the underworld, and carrying it through the streets while singing seasonal songs. Sometimes, the carriers knock on the doors of nearby houses, horse skull in hand, which must be a super Christmassy event for the poor fellow who opens it. In the case the victim survives the inevitable heart attack, he or she can choose to let the horse and the carriers inside and offer them some ale.
It must be noted that after a few of these drinking rounds, the horse skull often emerges from the homes with some additional decorations, like Christmas balls in its eye sockets or plastic reindeer horns, courtesy of far too much booze. While we’re sure that the intention is to lighten up the initially creepy item, sometimes it can make it look even more macabre.
Merry Christmas to everyone!