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11 weird and wonderful Christmas traditions from around the world

This is the most wonderful time of the year. For a few weeks, the world is enveloped in a magical glow, people cheer, and even winter takes on a more pleasant mood. Whether you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday or a more secular event, you certainly have the habits or Christmas traditions that make this holiday season special. We are sure that the Christmas traditions we have chosen from all over the world will add a new dimension to the festive fun.

1. Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines

The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) is held every year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in San Fernando, the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines”. Visitors from all over the country and the world flock to the city to see the festival. 11 ‘barangay’ (villages) participate in the festival and there is fierce competition at the event, where a collective effort is made to build the most magnificent lantern. At first, the lanterns were 60 cm. made using papel de hapon (Japanese origami paper). They were simple designs in width. Today, lanterns are made from a wide variety of materials and have grown to 6 meters in size. Their illumination is provided by electric bulbs that glow in kaleidoscope patterns.

2. Gavle Goat, Sweden

Since 1966, a 13-metre goat has been built for Christmas in Gävle’s Castle Square, but this Swedish Christmas tradition has inadvertently evolved into another kind of tradition where people try to burn the goat over time. In its 48-year history, the goat has been successfully burned 26 times so far, and the most recent year was 2013.

3. Krampus, Austria

A monster-like creature that roams the streets scaring children and punishing mischievous children too – no, we’re not talking about Halloween, we’re talking about Krampus, one of St. Nicholas’ (Santa Claus) evil sidekicks. According to Austrian tradition, St. Nicholas rewarded the good boys and girls, while Krampus threw the naughtiest ones in his sack and disappeared. So, we can summarize this tradition as young men wearing Krampus costumes in the first week of December (especially on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day) to scare children with jingling chains and bells.

4. Kentucky Fried Christmas Dinner, Japan

Christmas has never been a major event in Japan. Only a few basic traditions, such as giving gifts and light displays, were maintained, which was seen as an interesting and pleasant experience. But in recent years, a strange “tradition” has emerged – a Christmas Day feasting on Kentucky Fried Chicken by Colonel Sanders (the founder and face of KFC)!

5. Yule Lads (Christmas Boys), Iceland

In the 13 days before Christmas, 13 playful troll-like characters show up in Iceland to play all sorts of games. Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar in Icelandic) visit children across the country for the 13 nights before Christmas. Each night of the Christmas season, children put their best shoes on the windowsill, and each night a different Yule Lad leaves gifts for the good children and rotten potatoes for the naughty ones. Dressed in traditional Icelandic costumes, these youngsters are quite mischievous, and their names hint at their problems: Stekkjastaur (Sheep Net Fool), Giljagaur (Water Pit Stump), Stúfur (Stump), Þvörusleikir (Licking Spoon), Pottaskefill (Scraping Pot), Askasleikir ( Bowl Licker), Hurðaskellir (Door Slam), Skyrgámur (Yogurt Eater), Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Peeler), Gluggagægir (Window Peeping), Gáttaþefur (Door Sill Smell), Ketkrókur (Meat Hook) and Kertasníkir (Candle). How about spending this Christmas in Iceland and catching all of these badass?

6. St. Nicholas Day, Germany

Not to be confused with Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus), Nikolaus travels with a donkey on December 6 (Nikolaus Tag), leaving gifts such as coins, chocolates, oranges and toys in the shoes of good children all over Germany, and attracts attention especially in the Bavarian region. Saint Nicholas also visits children in schools and in their homes, and in return for sweets or small gifts, each child must read a poem, sing a song, or paint. To put it briefly, Nikolaus is a truly wonderful man. But fun and games are not always in question here. Saint Nicholas sometimes travels with Knecht Ruprecht (Farmer Rupert). Knecht Ruprecht, dressed in dark clothes, a scruffy beard, and bells dangling from his head, is a demonic character who carries a wand or a small whip and punishes mischievous children.

7. Norway

Perhaps one of the most unusual Christmas Eve traditions takes place in Norway, where people hide their broomsticks so they won’t be stolen. This tradition goes back hundreds of years, when people believed that on Christmas Eve, witches and evil spirits came looking for broomsticks to ride on. Even today, one can come across people who hide their brooms in the safest places of their homes so that they are not stolen.

8. Burning the National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington, D.C.

Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday, is celebrated splendidly all over the United States, and one of the most elaborate celebrations takes place on a national scale. Since 1979, a 9-metre Menorah (sacred candlestick) has been erected in the White House garden and remains there for 8 days and 8 nights until Hanukkah ends. Highlights of the ceremony in Washington, D.C. include talks, music, activities for kids, and of course, the lighting of the Menorah.

9. Venezuela

You love Christmas but you think it could be improved with a piece of roller skates, right? If your answer is yes, you should visit Caracas, Venezuela this year. Every Christmas Eve, city dwellers go to church early in the morning – perfectly normal – but for a reason only they know, they do it on roller skates. This unique tradition is so popular that roads are closed to vehicular traffic throughout the city so that people can skate safely to church. At the end of the day, all these people go home and eat the not-so-traditional tamale (a Mexican dish made from cornmeal dough stuffed with meat and steamed) for Christmas dinner.

10. Candle Day, Colombia

Candle Day (Día de las Velitas) marks the start of the Christmas period throughout Colombia. In honor of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception, people place candles in their windows, balconies and front gardens. With the spread of the candle tradition, it is possible to see towns and cities all over the country that are completely illuminated by these elegant light shows. One of the best you can find is the Quimbaya district, where all the locals compete with each other to create the most impressive lighting arrangement.

11. Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto

The annual Cavalcade of Lights show in Toronto, synonymous with winter, marks the official start of the festive season. The first show, now in its 49th year, was held in 1967 to ostentatiously present Toronto’s newly built City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. The square and the Christmas tree are illuminated by more than 300,000 energy-efficient LED lights from dark to 11 am every day until the new year.


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