Top 10 weird and wonderful festive traditions

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These 10 festive traditions from around the world are certainly wonderful – sometimes wonderfully weird – and guaranteed to put you in a festive frame of mind.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For a couple of weeks every year the world takes on a magic glow, people seem merrier and even winter somehow feels cozy.

The time for friends and family, good food and gifts is just around the corner and, whether you’re celebrating a religious festival, like Hanukkah or Christmas, or a more secular occasion, you’re sure to have your own selection of traditions and rituals that make the holiday season so special.

These 10 festive traditions from around the world are certainly wonderful — sometimes wonderfully weird — and are guaranteed to put you in a festive frame of mind.

Day of the Little Candles, Colombia

Little Candles’ Day (Día de las Velitas) marks the start of the Christmas season across Colombia. In honor 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 neighborhoods compete to see who can create the most impressive arrangements.

Day of the Little Candles, Colombia. Photo by Luz Adriana Villa
Day of the Little Candles, Colombia. (Luz Adriana Villa, Noche de las velitas via Flickr CC BY 2.0)
Day of the Little Candles, Colombia. Photo by Luz Adriana Villa
Day of the Little Candles, Colombia. (Luz Adriana Villa, Noche de las velitas via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

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.

The 2014 festive menu will soon be advertised on the KFC Japan website and, even if you don’t understand Japanese, the pictures sure will look delicious with everything from a Christmas-themed standard bucket to a premium roast-bird feast.

Colonel Sanders Santa, Japan. Photo by Catherine
Colonel Sanders Santa, Japan. (Rumpleteaser, Colonel Sanders Santa via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Krampus, Austria

A beast-like demon creature that roams city streets frightening kids and punishing the bad ones – nope, this isn’t Halloween, but St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, Krampus. 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.

Happy Krampus Card, Austria. Photo by Duncan Hull
Happy Krampus Card, Austria. (Duncan Hull, Gruß vom Krampus: Greetings from the Krampus: Happy Christmas by Artist unknown via Flickr CC BY 2.0)
Krampus Beer. Photo by Bernt Rostad
Krampus Beer. (Bernt Rostad, Birrificio del Ducato Krampus 2008 via Flickr CC BY 2.0)
Krampus masks. Photo by Krista
Krampus masks. (Krista, Krampus masks via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

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.

While their parents, Grýla and Leppalúði, are two of the most frightening creatures in Icelandic folklore, the Lads themselves are more mischievous than scary. You’ll find them in the north of Iceland wearing either traditional Icelandic costume or a more conventional Santa Claus outfit.

The Yule Lads’ names hint at the type of trouble they like to cause: Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), Stúfur (Stubby), Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker), Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper), Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker), Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer), Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler), Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper), Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper), Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer), Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook) and Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer).

During the holiday season, you can visit the Lads in the Hallarflöt area of the Dimmuborgir lava fields. Then, two weeks before Christmas, the lads come down from their mountain home to take their Annual Bath at Myvatn Nature Baths.

The Yule Lads' annual bath at Myvatn Nature Baths, Iceland. Photo by Myvatn Nature Baths
The Yule Lads’ annual bath at Myvatn Nature Baths, Iceland. (Myvatn Nature Baths, The Icelandic Santa’s at their yearly bath via Flickr CC BY 2.0)
Visiting the Yule Lads in Dimmuborgir, Iceland. Photo by Jon Stefansson
Visiting the Yule Lads in Dimmuborgir, Iceland. (Jon Stefansson, Dimmuborgir – Sóley via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

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.

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. 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.

A young girl reads a poem to Nikolaus. Photo by weisserstier
A young girl reads a poem to Nikolaus. (Weisserstier, 091206_Retz_007 via Flickr CC BY 2.0)
Knecht Ruprecht and Nikolaus. Photo by Patrik Tschudin
Knecht Ruprecht and Nikolaus. (Patrik Tschudin, CIMG4240.JPG via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Gavle Goat, Sweden

Since 1966, a 43-foot-tall Swedish Yule Goat has been built in the center of Gavle’s Castle Square for the Christmas Advent, but this festive tradition has unwittingly led to another “tradition” of sorts – people trying to burn it down.

In its 48-year history, the Goat has been successfully burned down 26 times – the most recent destruction was in 2012.

If you want to see how the Goat fares this year when it goes up on December 1, you can follow its progress on the Visit Gavle website through a live video stream.

Gavle Goat, Sweden. Photo by Johan Hansson
Gavle Goat, Sweden. (Johan Hansson, Lo-Mob Julbocken II via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington, D.C.

Hanukkah is celebrated with much fanfare across the United States with one of the most elaborate events taking place on a national stage.

Since 1979, a giant 30-foot Menorah has been raised on the White House grounds for the eight days and nights of Hanukkah.

The ceremony is marked with speeches, music, activities for kids and, of course, the lighting of the Menorah.

Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington DC. Photo by American Friends of Lubavitch.
Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington, D.C. Photo by American Friends of Lubavitch.
Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington DC. Photo by American Friends of Lubavitch.
Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington, D.C. Photo by American Friends of Lubavitch.
Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington DC. Photo by American Friends of Lubavitch.
Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington, D.C. Photo by American Friends of Lubavitch.
Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington DC. Photo by American Friends of Lubavitch.
Lighting of National Hanukkah Menorah, Washington, D.C. Photo by American Friends of Lubavitch.

Fête des Lumières, France

The Festival of Lights (Fête des lumières) in Lyon, France is a four-day celebration of the Virgin Mary from December 5-8.

What began in the 17th century as local homes placing candles in their windows has grown into a spectacular event that attracts more than 4 million tourists each year.

The festival is marked by professional displays including brilliant light shows on the Basilica of Fourvière and the Place des Terreaux.

Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Fulvio
Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Fulvio
L'Hotel de Ville, Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by João Ernani Oliveira
L’Hotel de Ville, Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by João Ernani Oliveira
Place des Terreaux, Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Aurélien Catinon
Place des Terreaux, Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Aurélien Catinon
Hôtel de Ville, Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Pierre Guinoiseau
Hôtel de Ville, Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Pierre Guinoiseau
Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Fulvio
Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Fulvio
Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Fulvio
Fête des Lumières, France. Photo by Fulvio

Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto

In wintry, wonderful Toronto the annual Cavalcade of Lights marks the official start to the holiday season. Now in its 48th year, 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 p.m. until the New Year.

Richard Eriksson, Cavalcade of Tiger Lights via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Richard Eriksson, Cavalcade of Tiger Lights via Flickr CC BY 2.0
John Vetterli, Mirror Star via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
John Vetterli, Mirror Star via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

 Main image by Aurélien Catinon

Top 10 weird and wonderful festive traditions was last modified: May 10th, 2016 by Kara Segedin
Author: Kara Segedin (256 posts)

Writer, traveller, Tweeter, blogger and part-time adventurer. A kiwi living in London off to explore the world! I can never travel enough!