1. Wales’s Mari Lwyd
Horses are really in right now, but in Wales, they’ve been in for centuries. From late December through January, if you receive a visit from the “Mari Lwyd” (or Grey Mare) and her acolytes, your year is bound to be good. What does that mean, exactly? It means you’re gonna hear some songs and engage in rhyming contests. If Mari and her handlers win, then they gain entrance to the target home or pub and bestow upon it good luck.
2. Guatemala’s La Quema del Diablo
Starting on December 7, Guatemalans do a way more awesome version of “spring cleaning,” where they take out all the trash from their homes and property, pile it into a giant heap in the street, then mount an effigy of the devil and light the whole thing on fire. It’s a cleansing ritual to rid themselves of evil spirits and negative energy, and it’s probably more thrilling than just taking some clothes to Goodwill.
3. Germany’s Polterabend
A gathering of friends and family, Polterabend is a pre-wedding ceremony where everyone eats, drinks, and also smashes porcelain (and most other things in sight). That’s right—the German pre-wedding tradition is basically a hard rock band’s hotel room. The best part is (for everyone but the bride and groom) that the bride and groom have to clean everything up together, symbolizing the difficulties they might eventually face.
4. Newfoundland’s Mummering
Think of Mummering as an extreme Halloween. The tradition takes place in December, when “Mummers” not only dress up in complicated disguises and drop by neighbors’ homes, they usually take on the unique speech patterns and gestures of their characters. While the Mummers attempt to be unrecognizable, they’re only rewarded with food and drink if the homeowners correctly identify them.
5. Iceland’s Elves
Above, place where elves probably hang out.
Iceland takes their belief in elves (or “little people”) VERY seriously. The majority of Icelanders believe in the mythical creatures, which purportedly inhabit rocks and are quite mischievous. In 2005, various roads across the country were rerouted due to accident-causing elves, which had relocated to rocks nearby.
6. Italy’s Befana
Every fifth of January (the “Eve of Epiphany”), an ugly-yet-kindly witch swoops down via broomstick and enters chimneys to reward well-behaved children with gifts. Sound familiar? Well, in Italy, the typical offering for Befana is broccoli with spiced sausage and a glass of wine—which sounds more like a way for parents to just have a quiet dinner with each other.
7. Thailand’s Monkey Buffet Festival
No, you don’t eat the monkeys—they eat YOU. Nah, just kidding. Every year Thailand offers thousands of pounds of fruit and vegetables to the local monkey population outside Bangkok. Why? Because people like monkeys and monkeys like fruit and vegetables.
8. England’s Gurning
Did you know that a “gurn” is a distorted facial expression? No? Did you know that making distorted faces has been a rural English tradition since 1267? Well, it is. And every year gurners put on a horse collar and try their hardest to make the most twisted faces they can. So. Now you know.
10. Scotland’s Blackening
Think of Scotland’s “blackening” as a real-life version of that cartoon prank where you cover someone in tar and feathers and then parade them around town. It’s actually that, except actually more disgusting because anything goes—like spoiled milk and eggs. Like Polterabend, this tradition readies the wife for potential marital problems. They couldn’t be any worse than this.