Unique Holiday Traditions Around the World

By Amanda Little


Everyone celebrates the holidays differently, but across the globe, even the same holidays can take on an entierly different guise. Check out these odd, funny, and sometimes scary winter holiday traditions!


Spain

Gather round with the family to enjoy a magnificent dinner for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8th, and be sure to bring little Tio de Nadal, the Christmas Log! This log is decorated with legs, a face, and a cute red hat, and is tucked in at the end of the night with a blanket! Be sure to leave some of your feast out for the little log, it’s known to get hungry at night, and in return, you’ll find presents wrapped in the blanket in the morning.


Oaxaca, Mexico

There will be no porcelain or plastic figures found in a nativity scene in Oaxaca. Every December 23rd, hundreds of carved vegetables are displayed for a radish carving contest, all depicting Christmas-themed or Mexican folklore scenes. Radishes are grown specifically for this event, but in the past it was a simple radish carved by shopkeepers to attract customers. Today, it’s a three-day long festival that attracts thousands of spectators. Sounds rad! Well, rad-ish.


Norway

Every Christmas Eve, Norwegians take all of their brooms and hide them due to a tradition leftover from Norway’s pagan days. Legend says witches and evil spirits would come out on that night each year, so brooms were hidden, and when guns became a bit more accessible, it was even common for families to fire a warning shot into the air to deter any ghoulish visitor from dropping in.


Japan

Japan truly understands the American way of celebrating, and that’s with KFC. While Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, many still celebrate it by visiting the nearest KFC and eating together with friends and family. The tradition was accidentally started in the 1970s when KFC released a special Christmas dinner on their menu for homesick expats. Now, the lines get so long and KFCs everywhere get so crowded, it’s suggested that those wishing to celebrate place their holiday order two months in advance!


Ukraine

It’s rare that a spider becomes the hero in a holiday tale, but the Ukrainian myth decorating the Christmas tree of a poor family has brought on years of tradition. The story says the children of a poor widow wanted to decorate their Christmas tree, but with no money to buy decorations, it would remain barren. The spiders in their house heard the children’s wish and spun intricate webs throughout the tree, and in the morning sun the webs turned to strands of silver and gold. Now, people decorate their Christmas tree with webs to invite good luck in the coming year.


Caracas, Venezuela

Break out the fireworks before the sun rises and set them off, not to disturb your neighbors, but to help rouse the whole city of Caracas, Venezuela. Everyone pulls out their roller skates and floods the streets, many of which are closed to anticipate the sudden influx of skating residents, as they all make their way to the nearest church for Christmas Mass. This might be the only time your Sunday best includes wheels!


Wales

Nobody knows what day the bleached skull of a horse will show up at their door, cheerfully singing songs, but most people in Wales expect it sometime between Christmas and late January. The old ritual of Mari Lwyd, the Grey Mare, calls for one person to dress up as a horse, using an actual horse skull, gather five or six of friends together, and go from house to house singing. A quick rhythm and singing contest tears through the town with Mari Lwyd as the lead, and she often wins. The ritual is meant to bring good luck, and residents or pub owners often compensate being visited by offering food or drink.


Iceland

Strolling through a residential Icelandic town on the week leading up to Christmas, keep an eye out for shoes on the window still. Children leave their shoes there for the 13 Yule Lads, who come down from the mountains and leave presents that relate to each of their distinct personalities. But only good children get presents! Bad kids will only find rotten potatoes filling their shoes, but even this punishment is far lighter than the horrifying stories that were once told about the Yule Lads, and their monstrous mother.


Scotland

While Christmas is enjoyed in Scotland, its almost a solemn affair compared to Hogmanay, or New Years. After a quiet family Christmas, the Scottish gear up for an explosive celebration to bring in the new year, with First-Footing as an important tradition. The first visitor to your home in the new year is said to predict the amount of good fortune the family will have! The luckiest person to cross your threshold is a dark-haired man, but any first-footing visitor brings bread and whisky, so there is still fortune.


Guatemala

Spring cleaning and seasons greetings collide to become seasons cleanings in Guatemala. On December 7th, the neighborhood collects garbage and refuse, anything on their property they wish to rid themselves of, and piles it in a heap in the middle of the street. At the top of the garbage pile is an effigy of the devil himself, sporting a crown, and then the whole thing is set on fire. Once the devil goes up in flames, taking away all of the negativity and evil spirits that have been cleaned out of the homes with him, the Christmas celebrations can begin!


Italy

Those spending the holidays in Italy should abandon hope of seeing the familiar red coat of Old Saint Nick. Instead, keep an eye out for the ugly witch named Befana. In spite of her appearance, Befana, or Giver of Gifts, is a kind witch who flies around the world on her broomstick and delivering toys, clothing and candy to good children, while enjoying a plate of broccoli and spiced sausage with a glass of wine at each house! She visits on the eve of Epiphany, January 5th, to the delight of children all throughout Italy.


Newfoundland

Don't be afraid as a band of oddly dressed people with unique gaits, indecipherable speech patterns, and wild fashion choices approach your door in Newfoundland, it’s simply Mummering! In December, mummers make their way through the neighborhood singing, dancing, and acting out skits as they try to remain unrecognizable to friends, family, and neighbors. If the mummers visit your home and you recognize them, invite them in for food and drink! The Mummers Festival includes concerts, parades, and even workshops to perform better next year.

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