8 Unique Holiday Celebrations from Around the World

Dec­o­rat­ing a tree, shop­ping, and fire­works are all great and time-hon­ored ways to cel­e­brate the hol­i­days in Amer­i­ca, but oth­er parts of the world have their own unique take on the sea­son. We all like to be home for the hol­i­days, but if you can’t, maybe these cel­e­bra­tions will give you the inspi­ra­tion to trav­el instead. See­ing these fes­tiv­i­ties first-hand is a great reminder of the how, regard­less of where we’re from, how much this time of year means to many of us. At a min­i­mum, you may get an idea for putting your own unique spin on your own hol­i­day celebrations.

San­tarun, New­town, Wales
Occur­ing in the last week of Novem­ber or the first week in Decem­ber, the San­tarun is exact­ly as it sounds—lots of par­tic­i­pants, many dress­ing up as San­ta, run­ning in a long-dis­tance race. About 5000 peo­ple con­gre­gate to jog over 7 kilo­me­ters. The real jol­ly Old St. Nick would have a dif­fi­cult time keep­ing up with the par­tic­i­pants in this run, many who can clock times of 18 min­utes or less. The run is orga­nized by char­i­ty, mean­ing the San­tas in this run help give their own gifts to the needy, and you may even be part of the run that breaks a Guin­ness World Record. All in all you, can keep off a lit­tle hol­i­day weight, be char­i­ta­ble, and maybe even be part of history.


Hog­manay, Scot­land
Hog­manay is the cel­e­bra­tion of the last day of the year, as is cel­e­brat­ed in dis­tinc­tive Scot­tish fash­ion. While many Amer­i­cans kiss or set off fire­works at the stroke of mid­night, the Scot­tish prac­tice “first-foot­ing,” where you attempt to be the first to cross the thresh­old of a friend or neigh­bor to grant them good luck gifts for the new year. While New York drops a lit-up ball to com­mem­o­rate the New Year, the town of Stone­haven, Aberdeen­shire lights balls on fire and swing them around their heads like mad men. That’s right, par­tic­i­pants fills balls of chick­en wire with flam­ma­ble mate­r­i­al and parade around the city, whip­ping them about before cast­ing them into the har­bor. Try this in Amer­i­ca and you may be spend­ing the New Year in jail, but in Scot­land this is greet­ed with large crowds, pipe bands, and in case there weren’t enough pyrotech­nics already, a fire­works display.


Réveil­lon, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
How’s New Years on the beach sound? That’s how it’s cel­e­brat­ed in the Brazil­ian cap­i­tal, where mil­lions con­gre­gate on the sands of Copaca­bana to watch the cal­en­dar roll over. The crowds typ­i­cal­ly dress in white and bring with them lilies to sac­ri­fice to Yeman­ja, God­dess of the Sea, who grants them three wish­es in return. Live per­for­mances enter­tain rev­el­ers until mid­night, when large barges set of fire­works for the enter­tain­ment of those on shore. Par­ty goers will then often move on to Ipane­ma Beach, where fes­tiv­i­ties can con­tin­ue until the ear­ly morn­ing. And as most world trav­el­ers can tell you, Brazil­ians def­i­nite­ly know how to party.


Que­ma del Dia­blo, Guatemala
Chris­tians in Amer­i­ca and sev­er­al oth­er coun­tries cel­e­brate Christ­mas as Jesus’s birth­day, and com­mem­o­rate his role as con­quer­ing Satan to save the souls of all mankind. Guatemalan Chris­tians also express Jesus and Mary’s tri­umph over the dev­il by lit­er­al­ly burn­ing him. Every Decem­ber 7, at a pre­cise time, fam­i­lies build bon­fires out­sides their homes and burn effi­gies of Satan. The tra­di­tion is a way of cleans­ing their home of demons and serves as a lead-in to the Feast of the Immac­u­late Con­cep­tion and the hol­i­day sea­son in gen­er­al. You have to admit, once you’ve seen the dev­il on fire, Thanks­giv­ing parades and Black Fri­day seem down­right tame by comparison.


Three Kings Day, Mex­i­co
Three Kings Day com­mem­o­rates the end of the “Twelve Days of Christ­mas,” which go from Christ­mas evening to the Epiphany on Jan­u­ary 6. As the name sug­gests, the hol­i­day is based on the bib­li­cal sto­ry of the Magi, or Three Kings, who saw a bright star the night Christ was born which led them to Beth­le­hem. Mex­i­cans will often give gifts on Día de los Reyes in addi­tion to Christ­mas. Anoth­er tra­di­tion is the bak­ing of Rosca, a ring of sweet­bread in which a small baby Jesus fig­ure is baked into the bread. The one who finds this fig­urine becomes to host for anoth­er party—Candelaria in Feb­ru­ary. From giv­ing gifts out after Christ­mas to set­ting the stage for anoth­er cel­e­bra­tion, no one knows how to keep the par­ty going like Mexico.


Sun­burnt Christ­mas, Bon­di Beach, Syd­ney, Aus­tralia
Love Christ­mas but hate the cold? Why not cel­e­brate in on the beach, and one of the world’s most famous beach­es at that—Bondi Beach in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia. The event occurs on Christ­mas Day but is cel­e­brat­ed like a sum­mer­time beach music fes­ti­val, with two dozen artists play­ing on 3 stages. Par­ty­go­ers, most of them young, will assem­ble wear­ing tra­di­tion­al beach garb but often with a San­ta hat added on. Some will even paint on San­ta suits over their swimwear. These seems like the kind of place San­ta him­self would want to blow off steam after a suc­cess­ful night of deliv­er­ing presents.


Santa’s Home­town, Savukos­ki, Fin­land
What bet­ter place to cel­e­brate Christ­mas than where San­ta him­self is from? Savuko­rs­ki is known as the the home of Father Christ­mas (Joulupuk­ki in Finnish), where he makes his gifts in a hid­den work­shop. Because of this, Finnish chil­dren are excit­ed that they will be the first to receive gifts from their fel­low coun­try­man. While many chil­dren (attempt to) sleep while they await Santa’s arrival, Father Christ­mas in Fin­land skips the chim­ney and in facts comes direct­ly to their doors in a sleigh pulled by rein­deer. While they wait, fam­i­lies will have a tra­di­tion­al din­ner of ham or pork roast, casse­role, or fish, with “glogg,” a fla­vored wine, as a drink. If you lit­er­al­ly can’t wait for Christ­mas and want your presents before every­one else, Savukos­ki may be the place for you.


Giant Lantern Fes­ti­val, City of San Fer­nan­do, Phillip­ines
A lot of us dec­o­rate our hous­es with bright lights for the hol­i­days, but no one can real­ly illu­mi­nate a city like the Fil­ipinos. Held on the Sat­ur­day before Christ­mas Eve, the Giant Lantern Fes­ti­val is com­pe­ti­tion of huge dec­o­ra­tive lanterns called parol. The lanterns can be as big as 40 feet in diam­e­ter and illu­mi­nat­ed by over 4000 dif­fer­ent light bulbs. They are often star-shaped to rep­re­sent the star that led the three wise men to Jesus. Each par­tic­i­pant in the con­test presents their lantern, which often have a light dis­play coor­di­nat­ed to change along with a song, before a win­ner is cho­sen by the fes­ti­val orga­niz­ers. The cel­e­bra­tion has become so pop­u­lar and syn­ony­mous with the hol­i­day, San Fer­nan­do is now known as “The Christ­mas Cap­i­tal of the Phillipines.”


By Sea­mus McAfee