This time of year is all about cheer and light, so we’ve decided to highlight some of our favorite holiday traditions from around the world, in the hopes that you can even adopt a new one for yourself this year. Whether you have a whole slew of your own traditions, aren’t the festive type or have no clue how you’ll ring in this year’s holiday season, this list is sure to inspire you to get merry.
The Yule Lads, Iceland
We’ve all heard those spooky stories, those long-lost tales that have been handed down over hundreds of years, maybe even thousands. For Icelandic folk, one of the more popular of these myths involves the Yule Lads. Today, there are believed to be 13 of these creatures, who are rumored to be the sons of the mythical giantess Grýla, and they play a big role when it comes to Christmas in Iceland.
According to legend, it all begins 13 days before Christmas, when children leave one of their shoes on their windowsill before they go to bed. As they sleep, the Yule Lads take turns visiting, leaving either a small gift or a rotten potato in the shoe, depending on the child’s behavior. The lads are also known for their mischievous quirks (though this aspect is often omitted in the modern narrative) — it is said that some enjoy stealing food while others slam doors and pick on farm animals. So, if you’re visiting Iceland in the middle of December, remember to put your shoe on the windowsill before bed, just in case!
Gävle Goat, Sweden
Coming across a Yule (Christmas) goat in Sweden isn’t unexpected, as these critters have been synonymous with the holiday in Nordic countries for ages. But the small city of Gävle is home to a special one, and it’s made quite the name for itself over the last five decades, thanks to advertiser extraordinaire Stig Gavlén, whose idea it was to rectify a certain festive fixture. Each year, on the first day of Advent (in late November or early December, depending on the year), a gigantic goat figurine is erected in the middle of Castle Square. Standing at 23 feet (seven meters), it symbolizes the coming of Christmas in Swedish culture. Over the years, the Gävle Goat has taken its fair share of heat — local vandalizers have tried to destroy and burn the wood-and-straw structure a total of 36 times (as of 2017). But despite these anti-goat efforts, the tradition forges on.
Mummering, Newfoundland, Canada
Look out — mummering is making a comeback! Once an old-school tradition from the British Isles, mummering was first introduced to the vast and rugged island of Newfoundland when settlers moved across the Atlantic in the 19th century. The idea was and continues to be simple: dress in an odd, colorful costume, usually involving a mask to obscure identities, and go say hello to your neighbors. In the past, these participants have performed a play or concert, but today’s version, which includes a parade, is more a game, as participants visit friends and family, leaving their hosts guessing at the identities of their visitors. After mummering’s original introduction to Newfoundland, the practice faltered and finally flatlined along the border of extinction. But in 2009, it experienced a resurgence of sorts. Hundreds showed up for a parade put on by the Heritage Foundation and Memorial University’s Folklore Department one Sunday in St. John’s, and the holiday get-together has been running strong ever since.
Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines
The name itself should spark some interest, but you’ll also be happy to know that this Philippine festival lives up to its big billing. For over a century, Filipinos have gathered in San Fernando — a city just north of Manila — to celebrate their love of Christmas with bright lights and gigantic lanterns. Light has a special place in the hearts of locals, as many are Christian and hold the holidays in high regard, as it stands as a sign of hope. Over the years, the festival and its lanterns have grown in size (hence its name) and today, you’ll find intricate lanterns as tall as 20 feet (six meters) made of steel, fiberglass, plastic, and thousands of light bulbs, though the smaller, paper-bamboo-style lanterns are still popular. Due to the enthusiasm surrounding the festivities, San Fernando is self-dubbed the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines,” meaning the lanterns will only get bigger in years to come!
Roller Skating, Venezuela
Venezuelans sure know how to make the most of their moderate climate. As those enduring the brunt of winter elsewhere find themselves huddled under blankets and sipping warm drinks, the people of Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, strap on their skates and head to Christmas mass. The tradition’s origin is hard to pinpoint, but however it started, it remains a popular way to celebrate these festive days. Between December 16 and 24, a number of streets are closed in the early hours leading up to mass, and people roll through the streets to the sounds of bells and firecrackers until they reach their respective church and slip into more appropriate footwear.
Chinese New Year, China
There are few holidays around the world as well known as the Chinese New Year. And with the country’s population nearing 1.4 billion, it’s no wonder that the holiday is celebrated in countries across the globe. Traditions vary between regions, but shared customs include fireworks, red clothing, family meals, and, on the last night (which coincides with the full moon), a lantern festival. Because this event follows the lunar calendar, dates change from year to year, with the upcoming New Year beginning on February 5, 2019. And as one year ends and another begins, with it comes a new zodiac sign — 2019 is the year of the pig, which we hope brings good luck to all!
Hanukkah Menorah, Washington, D.C.
A menorah is a nine-branched candle tree used during Hanukkah, with one branch typically elevated and used to light the others. The one you’ll find in Washington, D.C., was first introduced to the public in 1979, when then-president Jimmy Carter ignited the traditional artifact with help from Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Today, the memorial attracts thousands of people, as it houses the world’s largest menorah — which is lit each year in late November or early December, depending on the Hebrew calendar. This display of the strength and acceptance of the Jewish-American community can be found in the Ellipse, just south of the White House.
Spider Web Tree, Ukraine
If you’ve ever wondered why there’s tinsel on your Christmas tree, we may have found the answer. The story began in Ukraine, with a poor widow, her sad children, and a lone pine cone. Then something peculiar happened. From the cone sprouted a sapling, which grew into a Christmas tree by the time the holidays rolled around. There was still one problem, though: they couldn’t afford decorations. But as these tales often go, a touch of magic twisted the plot, and in the morning, the family woke to find their cherished holiday centerpiece covered in glistening cobwebs, the early morning light creating a dazzling scene of silver. And that was that — a merry Christmas story that has been passed down through generations. Today, the tradition lives on as the sight of shiny tinsel can be found on trees all around the world, and we have Ukrainians to thank for that.
Fiestas de Quito, Ecuador
Fiestas de Quito may be less of a celebration of the holidays than a celebration of the city itself, but that’s okay. Since 1960, between the end of November and December 6, the people of Quito take to the streets with vigor in honor of the founding of their country’s capital. Events during the festivities include bullfights in the famous Plaza de Toros, parades, concerts, operas, plays, block parties, and endless flamenco dancing. Not to mention, the average temperature in Quito during December is a moderate 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius), which could serve as an escape from the snow for some!
What are some holiday traditions you celebrate? Let us know in the comments below!