Crackers Christmas Traditions

If you thought a fat bloke coming down the chimney in a red suit was odd, then you have a lot to learn! Countries around the world have some very strange customs.

Christmas

WHEELY CRACKERS IN CARACAS

The Venezuelans are resolute Christmas Eve church-goers. Nothing strange there, you might think. But the country's capital folk make a point of travelling to the house of God... on roller-skates.

The streets of Caracas are blocked off so the devout masses can blade to early-morning mass. Such is the Venezuelans' devotion to this tradition that they tie pieces of string around their big toes and dangle the ends out of the windows, so that should they sleep through the alarm, their wheel-brandishing neighbours can give them a jolt into the land of the roller-skating as they pass. Ouch.

MAD AS A BRUSH IN NORWAY

Norwegian culture is very sensitive to the supernatural, and the season of peace and goodwill is no exception. On Christmas Eve it's traditional for the family to hide all the brooms and brushes in the house. Why? Well, many years ago it was believed that witches and other pesky spirits emerged on Christmas Eve to steal the brooms and use them for riding around the skies. When they're not rounding up household cleaning apparatus, the Norwegians like to honour the festive period's pagan roots by dressing up as goats. As you do.

SIX LEGGED FRIENDS IN UKRAINE

Arachnophobes had best stay clear of the former Eastern bloc during the festive period, for Ukrainian tradition dictates that spiders be welcomed into the home and encouraged to spin their webs all over the gaff (the spider-shy get round this issue by hanging plastic insect decorations on the tree - hmm, pretty). Why do they do this? Well legend has it that magic spiders once came to the rescue of a poor, present-less family one Christmas, turning every web in their house into gold and silver. Course they did.

PARENTAL KIDNAPPING IN CROATIA

Children in Croatia get several gift-accepting opportunities during the festive period. On the second Sunday before Christmas, a child finds its mother and ties her to a chair, refusing to let her go until she comes up trumps with a pressie. The following Sunday the cheeky little blighter repeats the process on the father. Unfairly, tradition (and possibly also child protection legislation) denies a parent the right to tie the spoilt brats up in return.

A ROTTEN CHRISTMAS DAY IN GREENLAND

If you thought British turkeys got a raw deal at Christmas, wait until you hear what they do with auks in Greenland. It is considered a culinary delicacy to take the raw meat of an auk, wrap it in sealskin and bury it under a stone for several months until it's rotten beyond recognition. The resulting monstrosity is said to be 'rich and pungent', and not unlike blue cheese in flavour. Mmm, yummy.

WATER LOT OF FUN

Why start Christmas morning snuggled up under your duvet opening your stocking when you can instead go for a brisk swim in the freezing cold waters of the Serpentine Lake in London's Hyde Park? For this rather hideous tradition we have JM Barrie to thank. In 1864 the author of Peter Pan presented a cup to the fool who could swim the icy length of the lake in the fastest time. Members of the Serpentine Swimming Club continue to race each and ever 25th December.