A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe
A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Giant Lantern Festival Lights Up the Philippines
Each December, the city of San Fernando in the Philippines lights up with a dazzling display of giant, colorful lanterns as part of the annual Ligligan Parul festival. Locals work for months in advance designing and building elaborate lanterns made of papier-mâché, bamboo, and glass that tower up to 20 feet tall. On the Saturday before Christmas, each competing barangay (neighborhood) parades these vibrant creations through the streets as thousands look on.
The festival originated in 1904 when San Fernando was still a barrio of Bacolor. At the time, lantern making was a common craft, but Francisco Estanislao wanted to develop it into an art form. He challenged locals to build the biggest lantern they could. This friendly competition has now evolved into a months-long contest between barangays vying to construct the most intricate, vibrant lantern.
Preparations start in May when each barangay begins gathering materials and planning their design. Frames are assembled from bamboo, then covered in papier-mâché made from paper, glue, and cement. Designs often depict religious scenes, cultural icons, nature motifs, and more. Shells, beads, and pieces of colored glass are added for sparkle. Electric lights are also wired in to illuminate each lantern from within.
Hundreds of people work on each entry. Men traditionally build the frames while women handle the delicate papier-mâché shell and decorations. Fierce pride drives participants to build the best lantern to represent their community. The rivalry is friendly but intense, with each barangay hoping theirs will be chosen as the festival's grand winner.
On parade day, crowds line the streets to watch each lantern get carried through on a bamboo platform. Up to 20 men are needed to move the massive creations. Viewers are amazed by the vibrant colors, intricate designs, and towering sizes as each one passes by. An esteemed panel of judges rates them on creativity, craftsmanship, materials, and overall visual impact. Cash and other prizes are awarded to winning barangays.
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- A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Giant Lantern Festival Lights Up the Philippines
- A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Austrians Hunt Witch-Like Creatures on Krampus Night
- A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Spaniards Play the Lucky Poop Log Game
- A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Guatemalans Roll Burning "Balls of Fire" Through the Streets
- A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Ukrainians Deck Their Homes With Intricate Spiderwebs
- A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Norwegians Hide Their Brooms from Witches
- A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Swedes Watch Donald Duck Cartoons on Christmas Eve
- A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Italians Feast on 7 Types of Seafood for Good Luck
A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Austrians Hunt Witch-Like Creatures on Krampus Night
While visions of sugar plum fairies may dance in the heads of American children at Christmastime, Austrian youngsters have something far more frightful occupying their imaginations. In parts of Austria, the holidays bring an annual tradition known as Krampusnacht or “Krampus Night” when adults dress up as devilish creatures called Krampuses and prowl the streets looking to chase down and punish misbehaving children.
According to folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as “half-goat, half-demon” who accompanies St. Nicholas on his gift-giving rounds each December 5th. Whereas St. Nick rewards nice children, legend has it that the Krampuses’ job is to beat naughty kids with birch switches and drag them down to the underworld in chains.
While Krampuses were banned for many years during the 20th century, the tradition has seen a revival in recent decades. Now adults costume up as the nightmarish beasts with fur suits, horns, fangs, and long lolling tongues. They take to the streets in a Krampuslauf or “Krampus run,” charging through town centers with bundles of sticks and bells in hand. Locals and tourists alike pack the sidewalks to watch the costumed krampuses in action.
For those playing the krampus roles, running through town embodying these wild mythical creatures provides a thrill and sense of freedom. But the main purpose is to continue this ancient tradition and evoke the darker side of old world Alpine folklore. The frightful krampuses are meant to serve as a reminder to get one’s affairs in order before Christmas arrives.
Krampusnacht celebrations take place in various parts of Austria, with some of the liveliest festivals happening annually in Salzburg. As many as 1,000 krampuses stomp loudly through the city chasing adults and children alike. Some carry baskets on their backs into which they jokingly try to throw spectators. The Salzburg spectacle culminates with a massive krampus concert where costumed krampus bands take the stage playing loud percussion and bells.
A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Spaniards Play the Lucky Poop Log Game
Of all the quirky Christmas traditions around the world, Spain’s Caga Tió surely takes the cake – or rather, the log. Translating to “poop log” in Catalan, Caga Tió is a hollowed-out tree trunk with a smiling face painted on one end that people in Catalonia “feed” for weeks leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, children gather round and sing songs ordering the tió to “poop” out presents!
Documented since the 18th century, the Caga Tió tradition begins in early December when families select a log, add a face, and prop it up on little legs near their fireplace. Every night the tió gets a blanket, is “fed” fruits and nuts, and is sung lullabies so it can “poop” nicely on Christmas. The feeding is especially important so the log can “produce” many gifts.
As Christmas nears, children keep an eye on the log, spying for any “movement” that suggests something is coming out the back end. The bigger the log, the more gifts it can potentially deliver. Finally, on Christmas Eve the family gathers around, sings, beats the log with sticks and commands “Caga tió!” Children hold cloths underneath to catch the treats magically popping out the log’s rear - everything from candy, nuts and tangerines to small toys and coins.
The Caga Tió tradition stems from old pagan solstice rituals welcoming the return of warmer weather. The log represented nurturing the “mother” earth and sun so nature would bear fruit again. Families kept actual firewood logs indoors, feeding them tidbits to show gratitude. When Christianity spread, the log was re-imagined as a Christmas tradition. The smiling face represents the nativity and the log's “offerings” are gifts from Christ. Kids are told extra prayers and songs will help the log be more generous, just as people must live generously to receive God’s gifts.
While the religious symbolism has faded, the Caga Tió remains a beloved tradition. As Catalonians see it, there’s no Christmas without a pooping log! Neighborhoods compete to find the best log, adorning them elaborately. On Christmas Eve people fill the streets, going house to house to see each family’s tió. Gathering around the log singing Caga Tió songs is the day’s main event before dinner. Kids can’t wait to coax out the sweet treats and gifts.
A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Guatemalans Roll Burning "Balls of Fire" Through the Streets
Guatemalans usher in the holiday season with an explosive tradition called La Quema del Diablo or the Burning of the Devil. In cities across Guatemala, processions roll flaming boulder-sized “balls of fire” through the streets in a symbolic ritual cleansing. As this fiery spectacle lights up the night, crowds gather to feel the heat and take in the exhilarating energy.
La Quema del Diablo dates back centuries with indigenous Maya influences. Guatemalans believed evil spirits emerged at the winter solstice to haunt communities. Rolling fiery "balls of fire" through the streets was thought to vanquish any bad spirits and usher in renewal. When Spain colonized Guatemala, they merged this ritual with All Saints' Eve traditions of warding off evil. Christians reinterpreted the burning fireballs as defeating the devil so Mary could have a peaceful pregnancy.
Today, La Quema del Diablo is celebrated annually on December 7th, the eve of the Day of the Immaculate Conception. Weeks in advance, communities prepare materials for assembling the candela gigante or giant fireball sculptures. A metal frame is structured with wire then stuffed to hulking size with flammable materials like sawdust, hay, and paper. Around this they carefully wrap rolls of old clothes doused in fuel to create the “burning skin.” Community groups competing to build the best fireball work for weeks adding layer upon layer until these monstrous flaming spheres reach diameters of 15 feet or more!
As evening falls on December 7th, the colossal fireballs get ignited then paraded through streets on metal frameworks. Teenagers clad in brightly colored masks and costumes dance around wielding firecrackers and sparklers. Marching bands and indigenous performers accompany the fiery processions. Enormous bursts of flame, sparks and loud crackling fill the air as each massive fireball gets rolled through town centers and neighborhoods. The fiery beasts leave smoky trails in their wake with flames leaping 15 feet high.
Thousands line the streets to feel the heat as these incendiary sculptures go by. Locals and tourists watch with nervous excitement as the mammoth fireballs lumber past just feet away. The spectacle embodies the fiery energy and chaos of Guatemalan culture. Seeing several in full blaze at once is jaw-dropping. While risky, carefully coordinating the burns prevents major injuries beyond a few singed eyebrows.
A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Ukrainians Deck Their Homes With Intricate Spiderwebs
Of all the outlandish Christmas decorations found around the world, few can compete with the tradition in Ukraine of elaborately adorning homes with handmade spiderweb designs. This unique practice stems from ancient pre-Christian beliefs and remains an important part of Ukrainian holiday celebrations today.
The intricate spiderweb ornaments, called pavuchi, are painstakingly crafted using paper, tinsel, string, beads, and other materials. To Ukrainians, spiders represent good fortune and prosperity. Decorating with spiderwebs blesses the home for the coming year. It also references an old folk tale of a poor woman who found gold coins in a spiderweb on Christmas morning, allowing her to prepare a special dinner.
Creating pavuchi is a serious endeavor that starts weeks before Christmas. Using paper, wire, tinsel, beads, and glitter, Ukrainians fashion delicate spiderweb designs of varying sizes and complexity. These handmade webs may contain pinecones, ribbons, oranges studded with cloves, wisps of wheat, paper flowers, and more. The most elaborate pavuchi feature a central spider figure made of wire and beads.
Once finished, the ornamental webs get draped artfully over ceilings, doorways, chandeliers, and Christmas trees. When hit by the light, the shimmery silver threads and decorations create a magical glittering effect many find mesmerizing. The spiderwebs can become so abundant that some rooms end up filled with dozens of dazzling webs!
While time-consuming to make, these decorative spiderwebs hold deep meaning. The intricate designs symbolize the complexities of life and the future’s uncertainty. Yet the orderly patterns represent human ability to spin order from chaos through mindful effort. The spiders at the center connect to ancestral guiding spirits who oversee traditions.
A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Norwegians Hide Their Brooms from Witches
Of all the peculiar Christmas customs, Norway’s tradition of hiding brooms tops the charts for downright quirkiness. As December rolls around, Norwegians make sure no brooms are left sitting out lest they get stolen away by roving witches and evil spirits.
This bizarre-sounding practice stems from old Norwegian folk beliefs. Around the winter solstice, it was thought that witches, trolls and mischievous supernatural beings emerged to make mischief. One troublesome habit they had was swooping down chimneys to snatch brooms left out, then riding the brooms off into the night to continue stirring up mayhem.
To protect their brooms around the holidays, clever Norwegians developed the tradition of gathering up all brooms in the house and hiding them well out of sight. Often they get stashed in closets, sheds, attics or basements. Some conceal them under beds or in boxes. The point is keeping them completely concealed and inaccessible through Christmas and New Year’s when magical mischief was believed most likely to occur.
For superstitious Norwegians, keeping those brooms hidden is serious business. Brooms left lying around are basically witch bait any magical being wouldn’t be able to resist. Snatched brooms are said to get whisked away to far off hills or forests to join covens of witches for wild nighttime rides and celebrations. Getting one's broom stolen would bring horrible luck for the whole next year.
Today many Norwegians still firmly believe that “when the brooms disappear, the witches are on their way.” Even in modern urban settings, they dutifully hide every last broom in the house come December. Some even unscrew broom handles just to be safe. When witching hour is thought to be over come January 2nd, all the brooms can be brought back out again - to the relief of tidy Norwegians who hate having a messy house.
While increasingly viewed as folklore, the broom hiding ritual persists as an endearing cultural quirk. For Norwegians, the tradition stirs nostalgia and helps keep old traditions alive. Kids delight in the notion of surreptitious witches prowling about on the hunt for unguarded brooms. Seeing all brooms cleared from Norwegian homes and shops every December has just become part of the holiday landscape.
A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Swedes Watch Donald Duck Cartoons on Christmas Eve
Each Christmas Eve as the hours tick down to the big day, families across Sweden gather around the TV for a beloved tradition - watching Donald Duck cartoons. Broadcasting one Disney special after another, this quirky custom offers cozy comfort along with some much-needed comic relief before Christmas morning madness descends.
Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul or “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas” has aired every December 24th at 3pm sharp since 1960. Generations of Swedes have grown up watching Duckburg’s famous residents - Donald, Daisy, Uncle Scrooge, Huey, Dewey and Louie - get into comical capers in front of a crackling fire while snow gently falls outside.
These vintage Disney shorts hold a special place in Swedish holiday celebrations. As one Swede explained, amid all the bustling preparations, “you can calm down and get into the Christmas spirit.” The familiar voices and antics offer a sense of hygge, making Swedes feel that Christmas has finally arrived.
While the plots differ each year, the special always includes certain classics like the 1958 “From All of Us to All of You” with Jiminy Cricket hosting. Scrooge McDuck typically gets into miserly shenanigans, while chipper songs underscore the holiday cheer. Through all the slapstick humor, the core theme is appreciating family at Christmas time.
Many cherished childhood memories revolve around this Yuletide viewing ritual. Children snuggle in pajamas waiting eagerly as plates of gingersnaps get passed around. Meanwhile parents soak up the laidback togetherness, forgetting last-minute stresses. As one Swede reminisced, “Some of my best childhood memories are connected to this Christmas tradition.”
The appeal crosses generations. As Swedish columnist Tomas Tengby joked, this festive Disney lineup is “as important to Christmas as the ham and ginger snaps.” Even young adults now living abroad will stream the cartoons on Christmas Eve to recapture that cozy feeling. Without this event, Swedes say something integral would be missing from the holiday.
A World of Christmas Cheer: 8 Unique Holiday Traditions From Across the Globe - Italians Feast on 7 Types of Seafood for Good Luck
Of all the mouthwatering feasts at Christmastime, few can compete with the legendary Feast of Seven Fishes that Italians indulge in each Christmas Eve. This extravagant seafood spread bursting with flavors of the Mediterranean offers a tantalizing taste of Italian holiday traditions.
The Feast of Seven Fishes, also called La Vigilia or the vigil, stems from Roman Catholic custom of abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve. What began as a simple meatless meal evolved over centuries into a lavish multicourse banquet brimming with fines de fruits de mer. Families take pride in sourcing the freshest seafood for this yearly ritual.
Preparations for the legendary Vigilia feast start weeks in advance. Home cooks hunt down at least seven types of seafood, though some strive for nine, eleven or even thirteen different varieties! While recipes differ by region, standard selections include baccala (salt cod), squid, anchovies, eel, clams, octopus, mussels, sardines, calamari, shrimp, lobster and crab.
Starches such as pasta and baccala fritters provide sustenance alongside the fruits of the sea. Olive oil, garlic, herbs and white wine add Mediterranean zest. Traditional dishes range from linguine with clams and shrimp scampi to seafood salads and stuffed squid. Desserts like struffoli and crispelle provide a sweet capstone.
With so many courses and preparations, hosting the Feast of Seven Fishes is a labor of love. The copious seafood and hours in the kitchen become a point of pride. Mothers pass down recipes over generations with tricks to polish off the feast. The elaborate meal embodies Italian values of family, faith and food.
As Italians will tell you, observing the Vigilia is about more than indulging hunger. The quantity seven holds religious significance, representing completion like the seven sacraments. Fish itself symbolizes fertility and prosperity for the coming year. By abstaining from meat and feasting on sea creatures, Italians honor centuries of tradition.
Christmas Eve was once a strict fast so the feast is eaten after Christmas Mass. But these days many Italian families start indulging earlier. The holiday spirit builds as platters get passed around the table, flowing with octopus salad, buttery lobster, garlicky shrimp and more. Laughter and conversation fill the house as another Vigilia consumed in good company draws to a close.