Below are some unusual traditions from around the world.
Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines
The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) is held each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the city of San Fernando. Eleven barangays (villages) take part in the festival and competition is fierce as everyone pitches in trying to build the most elaborate lantern.
Originally, the lanterns were simple creations around half a metre in diameter, made from Japanese origami paper and lit by candle. Today, the lanterns are made from a variety of materials and have grown to around six metres in size, illuminated by electric bulbs in a kaleidoscope of patterns.
Gävle Goat, Sweden
Since 1966, a 13-metre-tall Yule Goat has been built in the centre of Gävle’s Castle Square for the Advent, but this Swedish Christmas tradition has unwittingly led to another “tradition” of sorts – people trying to burn it down. Since 1966 the Goat has been successfully burned down 29 times – the most recent destruction was in 2016.
In Austrian tradition, St. Nicholas rewards nice little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack. In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus (especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day) frightening children with clattering chains and bells.
Kentucky Fried Christmas Dinner, Japan
Christmas has never been a big deal in Japan. Aside from a few small, secular traditions such as gift-giving and light displays, Christmas remains largely a novelty in the country. However, a new, quirky “tradition” has emerged in recent years – a Christmas Day feast of the Colonel’s very own Kentucky Fried Chicken. Not sure this will catch on elsewhere!
The Yule Lads, Iceland
In the 13 days leading up to Christmas, 13 tricksy troll-like characters come out to play in Iceland.
The Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar in Icelandic) visit the children across the country over the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. For each night of Yuletide, children place their best shoes by the window and a different Yule Lad visits leaving gifts for nice girls and boys and rotting potatoes for the naughty ones.
Saint Nicholas’ Day, Germany
Not to be confused with Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas), Nikolaus travels by donkey in the middle of the night on December 6 (Nikolaus Tag) and leaves little treats like coins, chocolate, oranges and toys in the shoes of good children all over Germany, and particularly in the Bavarian region. St. Nicholas also visits children in schools or at home and in exchange for sweets or a small present each child must recite a poem, sing a song or draw a picture.
But it isn’t always fun and games. St. Nick often brings along Knecht Ruprecht (Farmhand Rupert). A devil-like character dressed in dark clothes covered with bells and a dirty beard, Knecht Ruprecht carries a stick or a small whip in hand to punish any children who misbehave.
Perhaps one of the most unorthodox Christmas Eve traditions can be found in Norway, where people hide their brooms. It’s a tradition that dates back centuries to when people believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. To this day, many people still hide their brooms in the safest place in the house to stop them from being stolen.
Love Christmas, but think it could be improved by a spot of roller-blading? If the answer is yes, visit Caracas, Venezuela this year. Every Christmas Eve, the city’s residents head to church in the early morning – so far, so normal – but, for reasons known only to them, they do so on roller skates.
This unique tradition is so popular that roads across the city are closed to cars so that people can skate to church in safety, before heading home for the less-than-traditional Christmas dinner of ‘tamales’ (a wrap made out of cornmeal dough and stuffed with meat, then steamed).
Day of the Little Candles, Colombia
Little Candles’ Day (Día de las Velitas) marks the start of the Christmas season across Colombia. In honour of the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception, people place candles and paper lanterns in their windows, balconies and front yards.
The tradition of candles has grown, and now entire towns and cities across the country are lit up with elaborate displays. Some of the best are found in Quimbaya, where neighbourhoods compete to see who can create the most impressive arrangement.
Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto
In wintry, wonderful Toronto the annual Cavalcade of Lights marks the official start to the holiday season. The first Cavalcade took place in 1967 to show off Toronto’s newly constructed City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square.
The Square and Christmas tree are illuminated by more than 300,000 energy-efficient LED lights that shine from dusk until 11 pm until the New Year. On top of that, you’ll get to witness spectacular fireworks shows and engage in some outdoor ice skating.