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Cute, Weird, Fun: 7 Unique Christmas Traditions From Around the World


If you thought that there was only one way to celebrate Christmas, you either haven’t read this article yet, or you have read it but failed to grasp the lessons learned. If that’s the case, we forgive you and would encourage you to read this article again, preferably multiple times from multiple computers if you know what we mean. In any event, there are plenty of interesting and unique ideas that different countries incorporate into their festivities. As the title suggests, some of the traditions are cute, some are truly weird, and more than a few are downright fun. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this list of 7 countries that put their own spin on Christmas.

1. Sinterklaasavond – The Netherlands

When you think of Santa Claus, the image of a fat, jolly man in a red suit who rides a flying sleigh guided by 9 reindeer. Pretty wholesome stuff, no? But in the Netherlands, it’s a bit more…um…complicated? So basically, their version Santa (who also dresses in red and has a beard, but is noticeably slimmer), rides on a horse and arrives on December 5th (the day before St. Nicholas Day) and sticks gifts into the shoes of good Dutch children. Oh, and he’s accompanied by Zwarte Pieten, his team of Moorish “helpers” from Medieval Spain who stuff bad kids into sacks and whisk them away. It involves blackface and…well, would you look at the clock! I best hurry and move on to the next item on the list in order to meet the deadline.

2. Ganna – Ethiopia

If you’re going to play sports on Christmas, which one would you choose? Duh, ice hockey. But what if you live in a country that doesn’t get ice? We suppose you let out a disappointed sigh and conclude that street hockey will suffice. That’s precisely how they celebrate in Ethiopia. Because Ethiopian Christians are Orthodox, they celebrate Jesus’ birth on January 7th, the day they call Ganna (meaning “birth” in Greek.) The name of this hockey-type game is also called ganna, either because ganna also happens to mean “street hockey” in Greek (which would be an incredible coincidence!) or because somebody just decided, “Let’s celebrate Ganna by playing a game. But what should we call it though? How about…ganna?” And everybody else agrees that he just killed two birds with one stone.

3. Virtual Yule Log – America

The idea of lighting some logs on fire and gathering around the fireplace is a mighty cozy idea on a cold winter night. Plus, you get to set something on fire, so that’s kind of badass right there. But in America, the weirdest recent tradition is to replace the old fashion (and practical) way of doing it with footage of a yule log burning on a flatscreen TV. There are YouTube videos dedicated to this. You can just sit there for hours watching it and pretend that it makes you feel nice and toasty. It’s the American way.

4. Elf on the Shelf – All over Europe

Quick, what’s the best way to make sure your children aren’t acting like nasty little jerks during the Christmas holidays? Of course, the only acceptable answer is, “Place a little elf figurine on the bookshelf for the purposes of behavior management.” The elves know exactly what Little Billy and Sue are up to and will most certainly report back to Santa Claus if anybody acts naughty. You would think that the kids would use the strategy of “let’s just go to a different room where the elf can’t see us and cause trouble there,” but you’d be giving them too much credit.

5. Spiderwebs – Ukraine

No matter where you celebrate Christmas, there’s a good chance you decorate a tree with ornaments and whatnot. But in Ukraine, the Christmas trees stand out from the rest thanks to the sparkling spiders and cobwebs found on them. According to the Legend of the Christmas Spider, a poor widow and her children decided to grow a tree from a pine cone. But once it reached an appropriate size, it occurred to them that they lacked the means to actually decorate it. A posse of spiders took pity on them, as spiders are wont to do. So while the family slept, these eight-legged joy-bringers worked some of their webby magic and made the tree look festive for the holiday! Hooray!

6. Nisse – Denmark

In spite of what you might have heard, Santa doesn’t deliver presents to boys and girls everywhere in the world. For instance, he bypasses places like Saudi Arabia, where the locals obviously don’t celebrate Christmas. But you might be surprised to discover that he also stays away from Denmark. Why? That is the nisses’ turf. Nisses are gnome-like fellas who deliver the Christmas presents. But there’s a catch: they expect the Danish household to provide them with a generous serving of risengrød, a sweet rice porridge. Those who meet this fairly reasonable demand receive good luck in the new year. But if you fail, the gnome won’t hesitate to troll you.

7. Jolabokaflod – Iceland

If you don’t speak Icelandic, Jolabokaflod is just a series of random keystrokes. However, if you are familiar with this language, you are nodding and stoically saying, “Yep. I understand what that means.” Rather than force you to sign up for Icelandic lessons in order to decipher this mystery, we will just go ahead and make your life easier. It means “Christmas Book Flood.” This might sound like a tragic consequence of global warming, but rest assured, it’s far more innocuous and boring than that. Simply put: On the night before Christmas, family members exchange new books with one another and spend the rest of the evening reading in silence. Eerie, Icelandic silence.