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Nine weird/awesome/terrifying winter rituals

By Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter
Sunday, January 19, 2014, 6:00 AM

Winter is a hard season, it's true, and each person and each community deals with it in a way that best helps them cope with the season's trials, or celebrate the best it has to offer.

For some, that means outdoor sports, indoor activities, an extra log on the fire place.

For others, like some parts of Iceland, the season is celebrated with a hefty draught of beer made from whale ingredients.

We had a look around, and we found Iceland isn't the only country with weird winter rituals. Read on for nine others.

Saint Nick's child-stealing rival has his own parade

For those of you who are bored with the same thing at Christmas every year, meet Krampus, St. Nick’s terrifying counterpart.

Image: Anita Martinz/Wikimedia Commons

Image: Anita Martinz/Wikimedia Commons

With his roots in pagan ritual, our boy Krampus spends the holiday season seeking out the boys who’ve been naughty this year and making them pay for their orneriness. 

And forget the “lump of coal” punishment. Krampus straight-up loads the young wrongdoers into a bag, and either tosses them into a nearby river, or hauls them off to his lair, where they are presumably eaten.

He’s most popular in Central Europe, where he either has his own parades at the time of the Winter Solstice, known as Krampusnacht, or has a glowering presence beside Santa Claus. 

Image: Johan Jaritz/Wikimedia Commons

Image: Johan Jaritz/Wikimedia Commons

And, in certain Swiss villages, young men actually dress up in the horns and beards and chase down children and rival young men, whacking them with brooms

Christmas, and all the warm feelings of togetherness and giving, is all very well and good, but, for our money, we reckon the devil-dude is at the very least a bit more interesting.

Shetland Islanders warm themselves at the annual Viking longship burning

Scotland’s Shetland Islands were once ruled by Vikings, so once a year, the islands’ current residents will get together to honour their ancestors’ proud history, particularly the bits that involve sweet hats and setting things on fire.

Image: Anne Burgess/Wikimedia Commons

Image: Anne Burgess/Wikimedia Commons

Held in January, regardless of weather, hundreds of inhabitants of the town of Lerwick dress up like actual Vikings, winged hats and all, and proceed in a torchlight procession that usually ends in the burning of a longship built specifically for that purpose (if you’re holding a Viking festival, you have to burn a longship. There’d be no point otherwise).

Image: Anne Burgess/Wikimedia Commons

Image: Anne Burgess/Wikimedia Commons

Afterwards, it’s party time. Groups of mail-clad “guizers” move from hall to hall, singing, dancing, performing, carousing and feasting all through the night.

Up Helly Aa only lasts a day and a night, but the effects linger into the next day – which is a public holiday in the islands, much to the relief of the many aching heads to be found in Shetland that day.

Japan's naked man festival is almost exactly what it portends to be

If the picture below doesn’t give it away, Japan’s Hadaka Matsuri translates as “the naked man festival.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Despite its name, most participants go in at least a loincloth, mercifully (for them, not for us – the event happens in February, and onlookers routinely toss water on them throughout the proceedings). 

Around 9,000 people converge on the city of Okayama, strip down to their skivvies, and wait until a priest tosses two wooden sticks about the size of rolling pins down into the throng.

Then all hell breaks loose, as everyone in the pit struggles to grab ahold of, and KEEP ahold of, those sticks. All while dressed, we remind you, in little more than loincloths on a typical Japanese February day.

The whole thing looks like the worst mosh pit of all time, mixed with elements of rugby, until someone manages to get one of these sticks into a special box.

According to tradition, whoever manages this statistically unlikely feat will have what can only be called the most richly-deserved good luck all year long.

NEXT PAGE: The festival that revolves around a frozen dead guy in a shed.

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