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

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Joshua Tree National Park is a gigantic desert located at the crossroads between Palm Springs, the Mojave Desert, and Colorado.

Ever wanted to visit it? Here's what you need to know.

When you first visit Joshua Tree, you're going to want to make a pitstop at one of its three visitor centers—the Joshua Tree Visitors Center (in the northwest), the Cottonwood Visitor Center (in the south), the Oasis Visitor Center (in the north), or the Black Rock Campground (in the northwest, open from October through May). Be sure to call in advance before you go.

In general, it's best to visit the park in the spring or fall. A popular stop-off for hikers, rock climbers, and road-trippers, the park is a surreal and unforgettable area beloved for its unique Joshua trees and so much more.

Must-See Highlights

If you only have a short time in Joshua Tree, you'll want to see its most famous destinations. The Cholla Cactus Garden is a highlight—located 20 minutes north of the Cottonwood Visitor Center, it's a must-see, and if you can make it out for sunrise, the experience will be extra unforgettable.

Steve Sieren Steve SierenFlickr

Consider paying a visit to Parker Dam, a rare watery oasis in the middle of the desert. You might also take a trip to the Cottonwood Spring Oasis for more watery views, possibly complete with views of bighorn sheep.

History and Culture

For some history, be sure to check out the Keys Ranch, to hear the story of Bill and Frances Keys, who built a town—including a schoolhouse and ranch—in Joshua Tree for their five children. Don't miss Keys View while you're at it.

keys view Keys Viewalexvy.org

Keys View

Joshua Tree is well-known for drawing all sorts of alternative types, and it has the lore to match. Rock and roll fans often visit Cap Rock, the place where rocker Gram Parsons' body was cremated.

Cap RockJoshua Tree 3D

Natural Wonders: Trees, Stars and Rocks

Joshua Tree is one of the best places in the world to see stars. With some of the darkest skies in the world, it's a great chance for desert photography or possible UFO sightings.

Joshua Tree Night Sky Joshua Tree Night SkyShaina Blum

It's also well-known for its many rock formations. There's Split Rock, a giant boulder that appears to be literally split in two, located off Park Boulevard.

There's also Skull Rock, a rock that, naturally, resembles a fleshless human face.

Skull ROck Skull ROckProtrails

Then there's Arch Rock, which you can climb on in order to see the desert from a brand-new angle.

Arch Rock Arch Rockfollowyourdetour.com

And of course, there are the Joshua trees. In addition to the famous trees, the park has a variety of other desert plants, including the gorgeous red-plumed Ocotillo.

Ocotillo OcotilloiStock

Hiking and Adventure

Rock climbers (or anyone who wants to watch in awe) can pay a visit to the Hidden Valley Campground, a world-renowned climbing center. Hidden Valley also offers gorgeous views of Coachella Valley. Climbers also love visiting the Jumbo Rocks Campground, with its many challenging formations.

For a slightly less strenuous day, visit the beautifully descriptively named Oasis of Mara, a stretch of honey mesquite and playas that offers a short-half mile loop which will let you experience the desert's wildflowers and nature. Mara was named by the Serrano Indians, who called this location their first home in this world.

Oasis of Mara Oasis of MaraSCPR

Another popular Joshua Tree hike is the 49 Palms Oasis hike, a 3-mile trek to an oasis. The Ryan Mountain hike is also a 3-mile uphill trek that will take you around 3 hours, but it'll lead you to a dramatic 3000-foot elevation with 360 degree views.

Finally, the also-3-mile Mastodon Peak Hike will take you to views of the Salton Sea and Eagle Mountains. If driving is more your speed, the park is definitely best for four-wheel drives; if you've got one, check out the Geology Tour Road, an 18-mile stretch that offers 16 stops and plenty of access to scenery.

Camping and Lodging

Camping is a popular attraction in Joshua Tree, so be sure to reserve your campsite ahead of time.

There are 9 main campgrounds in Joshua Tree—Belle Campground, Black Rock Campground, Cottonwood Campground, Hidden Valley Campground, Indian Cove Campground, Jumbo Rocks Campground, Ryan Campground, Sheeps Pass Campground, and the White Tank Campground.

You can also try staying at a Bureau of Land Management-owned area, or backcountry camping if you're prepared to really fend for yourself—just be sure to register at one of the backcountry boards.

If you're not up for camping, check out a local motel or Airbnb—there are plenty available near the park.

Tips and Tricks

Joshua Tree National Park has no cell service, so you'll really want to plan ahead before you go. There are no restaurants or grocery stores in the park, so be sure to pack food and water.

Food & Drink

6 NYC Food Trends You Can Try at Home

From Raindrop Cakes to Ramen Burgers, these New York City food crazes are available in your kitchen.

Back when a world outside your home and the grocery store existed, New York City had a habit of getting swept up in food crazes.

Sometimes those crazes have involved a burgeoning appreciation for an established cultural tradition from around the world -- arepas, poké bowls, Korean barbecue. At other times these crazes have just involved particular purveyors taking a familiar item more seriously -- like the doughnut renaissance spurred by Doughnut Plant and Dough.

But the most alluring and often ridiculous food trends in New York City tend to involve something truly novel, eye-catching, and sometimes just weird. Fortunately, for those of us who are taking pandemic conditions seriously, there are options to bring some of the novelty of those trends home for the Instagrammable weirdness you may have been missing.

These are some of the recent New York City food trends that you can try for yourself.

Raindrop Cake

raindrop cake

Like a lot of food trends that sweep New York, the Raindrop Cake can be traced back to Japan. Created by the Kinseiken Seika company outside Tokyo, the clear, jiggly cake was originally introduced as water mochi. In 2016 a Brooklyn-based digital marketer named Darren Wong set out to introduce the strange "edible water" to New York at the Smorgasburg food festival, and the strangely beautiful dessert took off.

Now Wong sells kits with everything you need to create your own low-calorie jellyfish/breast implant confection at home. For $36 the kit includes ingredients, molds, and bamboo trays for six raindrop cakes served with brown sugar syrup and Japanese Kinako flour.

Cronuts

cronuts

Dominique Ansel Bakery

When French pastry chef Dominique Ansel introduced New York to his chimera dessert blending a croissant with a doughnut, it was an overnight sensation with lines around the block to try the flaky fried goodness. They were such a hit that a more pedestrian version of the cronut made its way to Dunkin around the country.

Since then, Ansel has unveiled a number of buzzworthy and inventive creations, like What-a-Melon ice cream, Zero-Gravity cakes, and frozen s'mores. But if you want to try the sensation that started it all, Ansel has shared his original cronut recipe.

And if it turns out that you're not quite at the level to emulate a world-renowned French pastry chef, you can always try the knock-off version with these simple biscuit dough donuts you can make in an air fryer.

Ramen Burger

ramen burger

Here's another food craze imported from Japan. The ramen burger has popular in the Fukushima region for some time, but it was first introduced to New York by chef Keizo Shimamoto's restaurant Ramen Shack in 2013.

The simple fusion of Japanese and American cuisine is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Instead of a standard white bread bun, ramen noodles are cooked to chewy perfection, pressed into a bun shape, then seared in sesame oil until the outside is crispy.

Inside that bun you can place whatever kind of burger you like, but Shimamoto's version involved a beef patty served with arugula, scallions, and a signature sauce. While your results with instant ramen are unlikely to match the quality of Shimamoto's buns, this recipe should help you get close.

Ube Ice Cream

Ube ice cream

Gemma's Bigger Bolder Baking

The purple yam known as ube is a staple of Filipino desserts. In recent years its distinctive, almost floral sweetness has grown in popularity in NYC, showing up in a variety of baked goods and in the Philippines's signature take on shaved ice -- halo-halo.

The fluffy ube mamons -- sponge cakes -- at Red Ribbon Bakeshop are a great introduction to what has made it such a popular ingredient. There is also the delicious flan-like ube halaya. But maybe the most craveable and craze-worthy uses of ube is as a flavor of ice cream.

This simple recipe calls for ube extract or powder, rather than using actual yam -- but the distinctive ube flavor still comes through in the delicious results.

Grasshoppers

Tempura grasshoppers

Food Republic

Speaking of climate change... oh, were we not talking about climate change? It's always just lingering in the background -- a portent of doom hovering over all our thoughts about the future? Cool.

Anyway, speaking of climate change, one of the most important changes our society will need to make in order to mitigate its catastrophic effects it to shift our food supply to a more sustainable model. And one of the keys to that effort will be a shift away from meat to less wasteful protein sources.

Plant-based alternatives like impossible burgers and beyond meats are a likely component of that shift, but one of the most efficient forms of protein on Earth is also one of the easiest to come by -- bugs. With that in mind, restaurants like The Black Ant have introduced insects as a fashionable part of NYC dining.

You might be thinking that's gross, but in reality...it absolutely is. Bugs are weird and gross, and the idea of eating them is not appetizing.

But chances are there's already something in your diet that would be gross if you weren't used to it -- aren't lobsters basically sea bugs anyway? So if you can find a way to get over that mental block and make those bugs appealing -- as cultures around the world have been doing throughout history -- you might be ready for the Snowpiercer dystopia that lies ahead.

With that in mind, you can buy a bucket of crunchy dried grasshoppers to start experimenting with cooking. And, while not as inventive as Black Ant's grasshopper-crusted shrimp tacos, these recipes for curried tempura grasshoppers and Oaxacan chapulines tacos sound downright edible.

Hot Cocktails

hot toddy

Okay, this is hardly a new or a specifically New York trend, but with restaurants and bars moving outdoors in the middle of winter, people have been warming themselves with hot beverages. But there's nothing to stop you from bringing that heat home to enjoy a tipsy winter night on a balcony, rooftop, or fire escape.

From hot toddies to hot buttered rum, spiked hot chocolate, and mulled wine, the possibilities are endless. A hot cocktail can be as simple as Irishing-up a cup of coffee, but we recommend getting your hands on some citrus peel and mulling spices -- cloves, cinnamon sticks, allspice, stare anise, and nutmeg -- and start experimenting with some cheap red wine or apple cider spiked with your favorite brown liquor.

Travel Tips

Best Jobs for People Who Love To Travel

If you want to travel but have a job that is currently holding you back, here are a few of our suggestions for the best jobs for people who love to travel.

For many people, traveling is an amazing experience, but traveling is not always feasible because of responsibilities to work.

One way to get around this roadblock is to get a job that will let you travel and see the world. Here are some of the best jobs for people who love to travel.

Hostelworld HostelworldHostelworld.com

Translator

A translator is a wonderful job for those who want to travel. It will bring you to many places as you work, so long as those places speak the language you can translate. The great thing about translating is the variety of work you can get by translating for specific clients or just translating for tourists in the area. You can choose what type of scene you wish to work in very easily.

Pilot

A pilot fits the definition of a job that gets to travel perfectly. Now, whether you are a private pilot or a commercial pilot, you will still get to fly all over the planet. The only major problem with this job is the requirement of flight classes. But once you get your license, you can fly freely around the world while making yourself money to fund your trips.

Travel blogger

Being a travel blogger is a temperamental job but, if done correctly, it will allow you to visit anywhere you want. Writing to fans as you travel the world can be a fun and exciting way to engage with the planet. This job can be difficult to do, though, as you must be able to write consistently and capture your audience with each post.

English teacher

This may not sound like a job that allows you to travel, but schools all around the world are always looking for more people to teach English.

In this career, you would move near the school that you would teach at and live there over the course of your time there. The interesting thing about this job is that it does not necessarily require a teaching degree, depending on the school and country in question. You also get to live in a new country for an extended period.

When it comes to the best jobs for people who love to travel, these are just a few of our suggestions. There are plenty of jobs where you can travel around the world, but these ones are far-reaching and cover a lot of different lifestyles. They might seem like pipe dreams, but hey, you never know!