Whether you are celebrating a religious festival, such as Christmas or Hanukkah, or something more secular, you are sure to have a set of rituals or traditions that make the holiday season extra special. Some of these may be a little odd, unusual or outright weird but, guaranteed, they won’t beat these strange traditions from around the world.
If the shoe fits
Every year, Dutch children eagerly place their shoes by the fire in the hope that Sinterklaas will fill them with small gifts and treats during the night. If they were naughty, though, they can expect to find a potato instead. Traditionally, kids would leave carrots in their shoes for a white horse named Amerigo, Sinterklaas’s trusty companion.
Try this instead: Fill your children’s Christmas stockings with a range of tiny gifts and treats.
Santa’s evil accomplice
Spare a thought for people in Austria, where a ghoulish creature called Krampus – Santa’s evil accomplice – is said to wander the streets in search of naughty children. He looks like a cross between the devil and a goat and roams the streets throughout December, terrifying children. But what does he do once he catches a naughty little boy or girl? According to legend, he carts them off and eats them!
Try this instead: Around Christmas time, a ‘hollow threat’ of Santa skipping your house is usually enough to get even the naughtiest child to behave.
Afraid of spiders? Then be grateful that you don’t live in the Ukraine where, instead of baubles, tinsel and lights, people use decorations that look like spiders’ webs. This tradition stems from a folktale about a poor widow who couldn’t afford to decorate a tree for her children. Legend has it that the spiders in the house took pity on the family and spun beautiful webs all over the tree. Spiders’ webs are considered to be lucky in Ukrainian culture.
Try this instead: Maybe stick to baubles, tinsel and lights. If you’re looking for something unique, let the kids make their own decorations this year.
On a roll
On Christmas morning the streets of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas are closed to traffic, so that people can safely make their way to mass – on roller skates!
Try this instead: Swap the roller skates for ice skates and spend a day on the ice with your kids.
In Iceland, a giant beast called the Yule Cat is said to roam the snowy countryside at Christmas time. Traditionally, farmers used the Yule Cat as an incentive for their workers; those who worked hard would receive a new set of clothes, while those who didn’t would be devoured by the beast. To avoid meeting an unfortunate end, everyone in Iceland now gets new clothes for Christmas.
Try this instead: Treat your kids to a new set of pyjamas on Christmas Eve.
Kentucky Fried Christmas
In 1974, KFC released a festive marketing campaign in Japan with the simple slogan ‘Kentucky for Christmas!’. Although Christmas is not even a national holiday in Japan, the campaign started a tradition – on Christmas Eve, families from all over the country head to their local KFC for a special meal.
Try this instead: While you should probably stick to more traditional festive fare on Christmas Day, there’s no harm in treating the kids to a take-away meal during the holidays.
Many homes in Finland have a sauna. On Christmas Eve, it is customary to strip naked and spend a long and contemplative time in the sauna to commemorate your ancestors before heading out for an evening of festivities.
Try this instead: This tradition could be particularly awkward for big family gatherings… Why not invite the family around for a pool party instead?
Every Christmas, families around Sweden gather around the television at 15:00 sharp to watch a Donald Duck Christmas special. The entire day is planned around the screening, with more than 40% of Sweden’s population still tuning in like clockwork.
Try this instead: Have a Christmas movie marathon featuring all your family’s favourite festive flicks.
Each December, a giant lantern festival is held in the city of San Fernando, which is known as the Christmas capital of the Philippines. Eleven villages take part in the festival, each of which tries to build the most elaborate lantern. Originally, the lanterns were small, simple creations; today, they have grown to around six metres in size.
Try this instead: Load the family in the car and drive around the neighbourhood looking at Christmas lights.
O Christmas tree
We have been brainwashed by Christmas movies to think that there is only one real type of Christmas tree. The Kiwis, however, have been decorating their homes with the pohutukawa, a beautiful tree with bright crimson flowers, for years. The pohutukawa is a recognised symbol of Christmas around New Zealand and is featured on Christmas cards, decorations, and even in Christmas carols.
Try this instead: Instead of decorating a plastic tree from your local retailer, try to come up with some proudly South African alternatives this year.
If you are looking for things do during the holidays, check out these 15 festive bucket list ideas.