7 Unique Christmas Traditions Around the World

Beware of Krampus and the Christmas cat!

There's no definitive way to celebrate Christmas. To some, it's pretty much a secular holiday dedicated to gorging on good food, giving special attention to friends and family, or rebelling against capitalism by refusing to partake in commercialized rituals. Depending on one's culture, Christmas holds different meanings and offers an opportunity to honor unique pasts, mythologies, and traditions. From a global perspective, Christmas is open to anyone who wants to indulge in bright lights, gift-giving, and the 800-year-old mythos of St. Nicholas, who was beloved for distributing presents on his feast day, December 6, as far back as 1200 A.D.

That spirit of conviviality and brotherhood has been translated into diverse traditions, from Santa arriving by boat to speaking Spanish and traveling with "six to eight black men." In Central America, they celebrate with fireworks and festive marches; in Scandinavia, they keep ancient Pagan traditions alive. To celebrate the Yuletide this year, take a tour of the world's unique Christmas traditions.

1. Philippines - Ligligan Parul (or Giant Lantern Festival)

Rappler

San Fernando is considered the "Christmas Capital of the Philippines." Every year, the city hosts a massive lantern festival with each parol (lantern) symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem. They've been celebrating the festival since 1931, when electricity was first introduced to the city. The colorful and intricately designed lanterns are made from steel, cardboard, foil, and over 5,000 light bulbs. The light signifies hope for the future.

2. Sweden - Yule Goat

Christmas Traditions around the world VintageNews

As a symbol of Christmas, the Yule Goat is believed to be a holdover from ancient Pagan celebrations of the Norse god Thor, who in some myths flies through the sky on a chariot drawn by two goats. In Sweden, people traditionally construct small goat ornaments for their trees, while some communities create one giant structure in the center of the city. The city of Gävle, for instance, has been erecting a giant straw goat every December since 1966. Unfortunately, it's sometimes burned down by vandals, but that hasn't stopped Christmas lovers from building the statue on each year's day of advent (late November or early December). They call it the Gävle Goat, and it's over 42 feet high, 23 feet wide, and weighs 3.6 tons; if you can't make it to Sweden, you can even watch a livestream of it!

3. Japan - "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" (Kentucky for Christmas!)

Christmas in Japan

Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan (after all, less than 1% of citizens identify as Christian). Still, for the past few decades Japanese culture has embraced secular Christmas, with some thinking of Christmas Eve as a more commonly celebrated day of romance which is spent exchanging gifts with your partner. In fact, some have compared it to America's celebration of Valentine's Day! Still, Christmas trees and strings of lights adorn cities as festive decorations. More than anything, the most common Christmas Day ritual is to enjoy KFC! It's the busiest day of year for KFC restaurants in Japan, largely thanks to a phenomenally successful campaign in 1974 to market Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" or "Kentucky for Christmas!" The custom is so popular that some families order their KFC meals months in advance.

4. Iceland - 13 Yule Lads

Iceland

In Icelandic folklore, the 13 sons of Gryla, a type of "ogress" who is "part troll and part animal," are mischievous pranksters who visit children's homes on Christmas. Depending on how good the child has been that year, they leave candies and small gifts in children's shoes, which are left on their window sills before going to bed. If a child has been bad, their shoes are filled with rotten potatoes. Apparently, there's also a giant Christmas Cat who stalks around the city and will eat anyone who doesn't follow the custom of receiving a new piece of clothing for Christmas.

5. Finland - Animal Christmas!

WhyChristmas

In Finland, the largest Christmas celebration takes place on Christmas Eve. The evening includes a familiar visit from Santa Claus, who kindly knocks on the door and gives gifts to all the children who have been good that year. Families often end the night with a refreshing sauna. More wholesome, however, is the tradition of giving animals their own Christmas, which consists of giving them treats and special attention to celebrate the holiday.

6. Austria - Beware of Krampus

Krampus Run Getty Images / Sean Gallup

The antithesis of the benevolent Santa, Krampus is the demon-like Christmas creature who kidnaps children if they've been bad, putting them in his sack and whisking them off to his lair. Based on the German word krampen, meaning "claw," Krampus is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. But the folklore inspires a festive tradition in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic: "Krampuslaufampuslauf—a Krampus Run of sorts, when people are chased through the streets by the 'devils'"–usually drunken men dressed in costume. Merry Christmas!

7. The Netherlands - "Six to Eight Black Men"

David Sedaris - Six To Eight Black Men youtu.be

When writer David Sedaris traveled to The Netherlands, he enjoyed the people, the language, and culture, but he struggled to wrap his head around the large discrepancies between how Americans celebrate Christmas and Dutch holiday traditions. The major celebration is held on St. Nicholas' Eve, December 5. Sinterklaas (which is where English-speakers get the name "Santa Claus" from) lives in Spain 11 months out of the year, but in December he travels by steamboat to The Netherlands to visit as many Dutch children as possible. He travels with Zwarte Pieten ("Black Peters"), an indeterminate number of assistants who've been called "servants" in the past; but, as Sedaris notes, that's a politically fraught term to use in recent years, so they're now seen as "just good friends." On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes out overnight for Sinterklaas to fill with sweets and presents–but if they've misbehaved, the tradition says, Sinterklaas throws them into his sack (and maybe kicks them around a bit) before taking them back to Spain for an entire year, so they can learn to behave.

Sedaris_Six to Eight Black Men.pdf

Subscribe now

Related Posts

It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.


Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).


Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!

Travel

So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—Workaway.info.

Workaway Workaway


Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).

Workaway WoIsango.com

You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway


Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker