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)


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


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!


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

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Distillery tours went on hiatus in 2020, but there are high hopes for 2021. While bourbon leaps immediately to mind when thoughts turn to distillery tours, interest in other spirits and how they're made is increasing. Here are a few of the best tours to thrill tequila lovers.

Tequila Herradura

Ride in style on the Herradura Express, a distillery sponsored train ride that runs from Guadalajara to the town of Amatitán for a distillery tour and tastings, followed by lunch featuring live entertainment. The train then takes visitors back to Guadalajara by evening. Herradura is housed in the last tequila-producing Hacienda in the world, Hacienda San Jose del Refugio. Casa Herradura will be closed for visits and tours until Mexican health officials declare the coronavirus emergency over.

La Rojeña

Producer of Jose Cuervo, La Rojeña has a train of its own called the Jose Cuervo Express (currently on hiatus due to COVID-19) to bring visitors to the oldest distillery in the town of Tequila. Jose Cuervo offers distillery tours, tastings, and tours of the agave fields. Mundo Cuervo (Cuervo world) also has its own hotel, Solar de las Animas. Check for COVID-19 hours and restrictions before booking.

Casa Sauza

Founded in 1873, Casa Sauza offers four levels of tours including a visit to the La Perseverancia distillery, a visit to the Quinta Sauza estate, and for those willing to spend more, barrel tastings and a barbeque or a three-course meal. Casa Sauza is on hiatus until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, but should go on the distillery tour bucket list.

La Cofradia

The only tequila distillery with a hotel inside, La Cofradia offers many experiences in addition to distillery tours. Choose a hike through natural trails, biking, or horseback riding through the agave fields. Rooms made of giant tequila barrels sit among the agave plants for a unique stay. Visiting La Cofradia is sure to be a tour that thrills tequila lovers. Contact the hotel directly for information about lockdown closures.

A distillery tour offers education about tequila's history and manufacture. Bone up on your tequila terms and tips for choosing quality tequila before you go, so you'll understand what you're tasting.

We don't know how to feel about winter this year. Sure, nobody likes the cold and dreary months, but there's something special about the Holiday season that just seems to be missing. Maybe the thought of staying inside and cozying up to a nice book isn't very enticing given the last few months. The joyful winter wonderland that we usually associate with winter seems to be missing.

That's why our editors decided to take it upon themselves and spread some delight with seasonal meals, courtesy of HelloFresh. For those who don't know what HelloFresh is, it's a meal-kit delivery service with dozens of easy-to-prepare recipes to choose from. Simply select which meals you want as well as how many servings and a neatly organized cardboard box will arrive at your doorstep within the week. Nobody wants to go out in the Winter anyway, and with HelloFresh, you don't have to!

To celebrate the arrival of the coldest season, we decided to highlight some of our favorite (and heartiest) recipes from HelloFresh that are perfect for the Holiday season. Here are five wholesome and balanced meals that will warm you up in no time.

Veggie Loaded Kale & Risoni Soup

A hearty and warm soup is a Winter staple and this veggie loaded kale and risoni soup from HelloFresh absolutely hits it out of the park. All anybody wants during the colder months is to feel cozy and nurtured--just like the flavorful bowl of nutrients. Warm and creamy risoni compliments the seasonal veggies perfectly and the side of garlic bread is a sure-fire cure for any winter blues. With 22 meals to pick from each week, this one is sure to be a household favorite.

Cheesy Red Pesto Chicken Melts

Everyone is familiar with classic green pesto, but have you ever tried red pesto? Red pesto offers way more complexity and oomph than its green counterpart. It is incredibly bright with rich notes of umami, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh basil and garlic. This rendition also features hits of chargrilled capsicum for a little extra zest. You get the exact amount of each ingredient and seasoning, as well as super detailed recipe cards, that make meal prep a breeze. Spread it over a glistening chicken bread and sprinkle with cheese for delectable chicken melts.

Winter Risotto

Risotto is a great winter warmer. It's packed full of veggies so your body will light up like fire, but it's also silky, sumptuous and a real crowd pleaser. HelloFresh's Winter Risotto features a heart helping of kale that pairs perfectly with nutty Parmesan and crunchy walnuts for a robust taste. Did we mention that it also comes with fennel seeds sprinkled throughout? This unique seasoning adds a distinctive, yet delicious flavor to this classic winter staple. We know these meals are pretty hardy, which is why we love having the option to pause our subscription or cancel a week when need be.

Cheat's Italian Pork & Veggie Bolognese

A bolognese that only takes 30 minutes to make? Sign us up! This one is chock full of all the rich flavors of a classic Italian sauce. In fact, we're getting some serious Italian grandmother vibes with this recipe. Silky baby Spanish and grated carrots melt into a hearty meat sauce, offering a mouth-watering meal for anyone looking for a little zest. It's delivery quality, but much more affordable, plus you get to cook it yourself!

Smokey Mild Chorizo & Bean Chilli

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Gone are the days of trekking through the frigid cold just for a few groceries. Sign-up for HelloFresh today and get your ingredients delivered right to your doorstep. Time to start cozying up the right way, with a delicious meal and a nice cup of hot cocoa.

Update: Our friends at HelloFresh are extending a special Black Friday offer to our readers. Follow this link to get $90 off across 4 boxes including free shipping!

Travel Tips

8 of the Best Donut Spots In the United States

Celebrate National Donut Day with our favorite treats across the country.

November 5th marks one of 2020's two National Donut Days.

Occurring in both June and November, National Donut Day allows fans of those delectable yeasty treats to embrace their sweet tooth. But like any niche food group, people often take their donuts very, very seriously, and there are countless places to get your fix.

Below, we've rounded up some of the best donut spots across the country. From coast to coast, these bakeries are sure to impress even the pickiest donut-heads.

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop – Modesto, CA

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop

If you ever find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's worth taking a short trek out east towards Modesto for some of California's best donuts. Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop has remained family owned since its opening over 30 years ago, providing both tried-and-true classic donuts as well as experimental flavors and holiday specials. Even their 24-hour service doesn't diminish the line that trails out the door most mornings.

Dough — New York, NY

Dough \u2014 New York, NY

Donuts might not be the first circular, doughy treat you think of when it comes to New York City. If you've had your fair share of bagels, the Big Apple also boasts some spectacular donuts at Dough, a go-to spot for both tourists and locals alike. Here, you'll find a host of Latin American-inspired flavors that are hard to come by anywhere else; their Dulce de Leche flavor is a customer favorite, while the tangy Hibiscus donut is just as good for Instagramming as it is for eating.

Blackbird Doughnuts — Boston, MA

Blackbird Doughnuts \u2014 Boston, MA

Boston's Blackbird Doughnuts is a no-frills donut spot specializing in both brioche "raised" donuts and old-fashioned cake donuts. With a small menu of year-round donuts and a rotating cast of seasonal flavors, Blackbird keeps it simple and classic. Why mess around?

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop — Brooklyn, NY

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop \u2014 Brooklyn, NY

For over 60 years, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop has been calling the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint home. Since then, the bakery has remained a popular spot for both regulars and new visitors passing through the area. Here, you won't find uber-trendy decor or gimmicky recipes, just damn good donuts that prove the power of long-standing local businesses.

Pip’s Original — Portland, OR

Pip\u2019s Original \u2014 Portland, OR

In both their mobile catering van and brick-and-mortar locations, Pip's Original is a staple for small, sweet treats in Portland. They're known for their tiny donuts that come in inventive seasonal flavors like marionberry-lavender and mango ghost pepper. But even if you opt for one of the more traditional flavors, Pip's Original proves good things can come in small packages.

Round Rock Donuts — Round Rock, TX

Round Rock Donuts \u2014 Round Rock, TX

Founded in 1926, Round Rock Donuts—located just north of Austin—are impossible to miss. These donuts' distinct yellow-orange color, caused by fresh eggs in the original recipe, make them stand out among the crowd. While this classic outpost can easily churn out hundreds of dozens of donuts a day, they also offer Texas-Sized Donuts, which are just as ginormous as you'd imagine. Round Rock Donuts are not only delicious and easily recognizable, but they're a slice of Lone Star history.

The Holy Donut — Portland, ME

The Holy Donut \u2014 Portland, ME

In Maine's Portland, you might not find tiny donuts or a decked-out catering van, but you will find a slightly healthier alternative. The Holy Donut was founded on the premise of creating tasty donuts that used all-natural ingredients to make a treat you could feel good about eating. The secret ingredient is fresh, mashed Maine potatoes, which make these donuts delectably moist without sacrificing flavor.

Donut Friend — Los Angeles, CA

Donut Friend \u2014 Los Angeles, CA

As expected of a city so focused on entertainment, Los Angeles' Donut Friend puts an edgy spin on their inventive donut flavors. Their year-round menu features donut flavors with names like Green Teagan and Sara, Fudgegazi, and Bacon-182 that are sure to delight the rock music nerds. For everyone else, the delicious donuts speak for themselves.