1. KFC Christmas (Japan)
While Christmas isn’t really celebrated in Japan, a December 25 tradition centers around Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 1974, KFC unveiled a Christmas meal for visiting foreigners who wanted something that resembled a traditional holiday dinner. Locals have since embraced this Christmas dinner, and KFC now suggests that customers place their holiday order two months in advance.
2. Befana (Italy)
Similar to Santa Claus, this old woman delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). She’s portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney.
3. The Throwing of the Shoe (Czech Republic)
In one Christmas custom to determine whether or not young women will be married in the coming year, they throw a shoe over their shoulders towards the door. If it lands with the toe pointing towards the door, she’ll soon be married.
4. The Mari Lwyd (Wales)
This Welsh midwinter luck-bringing ritual takes place between Christmas and New Year’s. Participants accompany a person disguised as a horse and travel from house to house, singing at each door in the hopes of being rewarded with food and drink.
5. Tió de Nadal (Spain)
This Catalan tradition centers around a hollow log with a smiling face. Children beat the log with sticks, causing it to drop the candies, nuts, and dried figs that parents have hidden below it.
6. Stir-Up Sunday (United Kingdom)
Families gather in their kitchen to bake and enjoy Christmas pudding, and parents teach their children how to mix ingredients for the pudding. Everyone gets a turn to mix, speaking a wish into the pudding as they do so.
7. Krampus (Austria and Hungary)
The anti-Santa, this beast-like creature punishes children during the Yule season who have misbehaved. If a child had been particularly naughty, he carries them in his sack and carries them to his lair.
8. Yule Goat (Scandinavia)
Starting in 1966, this giant figure made of straw is erected each year. The first one went up in flames at the stroke of midnight, and subsequent yule goats continue to be set ablaze by vandals (despite fireproofing efforts).
9. Broom Hiding (Norway)
Long ago, Norwegians believed that witches came out on Christmas Eve to steal their brooms. So once the family has their big dinner and opens all of their presents, they hide the brooms.
10. White Elephant (USA)
This gift exchange (usually involving six or more people) has many variations, but often involves participants re-gifting presents. The gifts are shuffled throughout the group in a competitive series of steals, trades, and exchanges. The name “white elephant” refers to a gift whose upkeep exceeds its usefulness.