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Arts + Culture

Craziest Customs Around the World

Demonic anti-Santas, belly-button dwellers and baby-hurdling devils – yes, you read that right. Check out some of the nuttiest customs, traditions and superstitions observed around the world.

Photo by Spencer & Cole via Flickr

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart

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That Festival Where the Devil Hurdles Babies Castrillo de Murcia, Spain

For one day each year, parents in Castrillo de Murcia leave daycare to the devil. During the El Colacho Festival, held during the Corpus Christi Feast, babies are laid on mattresses in the middle of the street and grown men – dressed as demons – jump over them, absolving the infants of their original sin. The tradition has been around since the 1600s, but it was just a couple of years ago that Pope Benedict reached out to Spanish priests, asking them to remove any and all pretense that the custom was Catholic. His main contention was that the only true baptism is a gentle dip in cleansing waters (failing to mention what is far more pressing, in our opinion: babies being crushed underfoot), but the town has yet to give up their airborne devils.

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When Lightening Strikes...Hide Your Belly Buttons? Japan

Parents in Japan have really pulled one over on their children. They have them believing that good old Raijin, the Shinto god of lightning and thunder, will strike their bellies with lightning bolts should they not be adequately covered. The fib stems from Japanese mythology which tells of Raijin’s buddy/fellow demon, Raiju – a trickster known to take naps in the stomachs of little ones. When Raijin catches Raiju sleeping on the job, he shoots thunderbolts at the host’s stomach to wake his lazy friend; teaching kids at an early age that 1. You should always cover your belly-button during a storm and 2. Sleeping on your stomach is the safest way to go.

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The Blackening of the Bride and Groom Scotland

Leave it to Scotland to develop a pre-wedding ritual intent on embarrassing the future Mr. and Mrs. The blackening of the bride and groom begins with a good dousing of soot, flour, rotten eggs and fish sauce. Friends and family then bang on pots, making as much noise as possible while parading the betrothed through town and dumping them in a body of water for washing. The exact origin of the time-honored tradition (most commonly practiced in the Highlands and Northern Isles) is a topic of debate. Some historians say Scottish ancestors believed it would ward off evil fairy spirits, others say it was all about preparing wives for the hard times they’d endure in marriage, and some believe it’s an offshoot of a ceremonial foot-washing tradition. Most modern-day brides accept their fate, but we’re not so sure we would. It’s all fun and games till someone dumps rancid fish guts on your head.

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Photo by Spencer & Cole via Flickr


What’s in Fashion? Hats of Human Hair China

Over in China, women in the Long-horn Miao minority stash away ancestors' hair to make hats and headdresses for weddings and feast days. Mounds of fallen hair (collected from years of brushing) are woven together with yarn and twine around a horn-shaped piece of wood which is used to secure the getup to the wearer’s head. Wigs are kept sleek through diligent dyeing and combing, and are so well-kept, in fact, that they survive being passed down from mother to daughter, and so on, generations down the line. Not to make this about us, but with all the hair our ponytail holders have so ruthlessly claimed – we’re pretty sure we could make a wig or two of our own.

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Throwing Fine China at Your Friend’s House Denmark

Forget standing in a crowded square to watch a dinky ball drop – New Year’s Eve in Denmark is rung in by chucking broken dishes. Throughout the months, Danes collect cracked dishware, hoarding it all for the last day of the year, when they take to friends’ houses and throw it at their front doors. Those who wake up on January 1st with a sizable pile of smashed China know they’re well-loved, and those who don’t? Well, looks like they have something to add to their list of resolutions.

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The Yin to Santa’s Yang: Krampus Austria

Kids in the US have it real easy when it comes to empty threats of coal on Christmas – it’s the poor youngsters of Austria who have something much more frightening to fear: Krampus, the demonic anti-Santa. Giant gnarled horns, a pale wrinkled face with bloodshot eyes, razor-sharp teeth, and oh...he’s half goat? On December 5th he steps out with his pal Kris Kringle to visit Austrian children, and while his bud spoils the well-behaved with candies and treats, legend has it that Krampus punishes troublemakers with kidnappings and beatings. And despite the Catholic Church shaking a collective fist at the practice (it is pretty satanic), Krampus lives to see another holiday season.

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Punxsutawney Phil’s Prophecy United States

So far we’ve been doing a lot of finger pointing, but we’re well aware that the US has its fair share of odd customs. Have you ever taken a step back and thought about how every February 2nd – Groundhog Day – we look to Punxsutawney Phil for our weather forecast? Should he see his shadow and return to his burrow, six more weeks of winter await, but if no shadow is cast – hooray– spring is supposedly on it’s way. Perhaps weirder than the fact that we’ve been relying on a marmot for weather predictions since 1887, is the fact that Phil made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was a guest of President Reagan at the White House. That's one well-traveled rodent.

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Planning Your Daily Commute Around Manhole Covers Sweden

Has Nicholas Sparks written a book about this yet? If not, he should really get to it (and Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling should reunite for the movie...). In Sweden, manhole covers bear the letter K for kallvatten (clean water) or A for avlopp (sewage), but lovey-dovey Swedes like to interpret the practical marks as K for kärlek (love) and A for avbruten (broken, or heartbreak), instead. Out on a walk or rushing to work, some go out of their way to avoid the As and cross paths with a K. Unfortunately for us, nothing good is coming from an NYC manhole.

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Saluting Lone Magpies United Kingdom

The older you get, the more you realize how depressing most nursery rhymes are, and One for Sorrow, as you might imagine, is no exception to the rule. “One for sorrow/ Two for joy...” and on goes the popular (but foreboding) magpie rhyme. When crossing a magpie, many UK lads and ladies will heed the tune and greet it with, “Good morning Mr. Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” The salutation is believed to show the bird respect, and ensure that he won’t bestow any bad omens. To further pad their luck, they ask about his wife; the sly but simple question implies there are two magpies, which according to the rhyme, brings joy rather than sorrow.

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Photo by Tracey Pattison


The Wassailing Dead Horse, err, Mari Lwyd Wales

The Mari Lwyd, or Grey Mare, is a pre-Christian tradition said to bring good luck. Though it was once widely practiced, it’s now primarily seen in Glamorgan County. Basically, Christmas carolers parade around with a hobby horse, singing door-to-door and challenging families to a bout of Welsh rhyming insults. At the end of the battle of wits (known as a pwnco) the group is invited into the house for drinks and snacks. By the way, we kind of forgot to mention...the Mari Lwyd is made with a real horse skull – it’s stuck atop a pole, draped in a white sheet and festooned with ribbons, bows, and bells – because nothing says Merry Christmas like a fashion-forward horse skeleton.



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