14 of the most unusual holiday traditions from around the world

16 Dec 2018 7 min read

Because we operate internationally, Parcelforce Worldwide are all about celebrating weird and wonderful traditions around the world. From hiding brooms to burning snowmen, these brilliant holiday customs are a great excuse to do something different, give and receive presents and just spend time together.

1. Lion and Dragon Dances – Chinese New Year

In this colourful, pantomime spectacle, groups of acrobats and dancers dress up as lions and dragons and take to the streets accompanied by cymbals and drums. For the last 10 years, Singapore has taken this tradition up a level with the annual International Lion Dance Competition. The event is part of the build-up to the New Year’s celebration as teams from across Asia (including Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan) combine acrobatics, martial arts and drumming. In full costume, performers scale poles and leap between them in death-defying feats. Not for the faint-hearted.

2. The Christmas Log – Catalonia, Spain

Tió de Nadal is a Christmas character found in homes in the Catalonia region of Spain. The Christmas Log is an ordinary log with a cartoonish face that is pampered under a blanket leading up to Christmas. This happiest of logs is fed every night with the hope that it will drop gifts of sweets and nuts out of its hollow insides on Christmas day. But how do children encourage the log to drop its presents? They place the happy character partly into a fire and beat it with sticks. Charming.

3. Burning Snowmen – Zurich, Switzerland

Sechseläuten is a traditional holiday to mark the end of winter and coming of Spring in Zurich, Switzerland. As soon as the flowers begin to bloom, a snowman (known as the Böögg) is burned on the stake in a tradition dating back to the 16th century. As the Böögg is often filled with explosives, the event generally goes with a bang. If the explosion happens within the first 6 to 10 minutes of being set alight, it is said that the summer will be dry and sunny. If the explosion occurs after 10 to 15 minutes, the forecast will be a wet summer. If you ever catch the event, be sure to stand well back and beware of flying carrots.

4. Throwing Buckets of Water – Cuba

At midnight on Saint Sylvester’s Day (that’s New Year’s Eve to you and me) Cuban families throw a bucket of water out of the door. As with other holiday cleaning traditions, the idea is to wash away all bad things as the new year approaches. It’s also a tradition that is thought to bring good luck – unless you’re innocently walking by the house when the ritual takes place.

5. Christmas Spider Webs – Ukraine

While you may think that tinsel or shiny baubles are fitting Christmas tree decorations, spider webs are what cover many Christmas trees in the Ukraine. The unusual decorations come from the tale of a poor family who grew their tree from a pinecone. Because of their poverty, the family had nothing to adorn their tree with. Luckily some friendly spiders were on hand to spin a silken web which magically turned into silver and gold threads. Spiders on Christmas trees. Festive for some, nightmarish for others.

6. Fireworks Wars – Vrontados, Greece

One of the noisiest celebrations of all, Rouketopolemos happens in the town of Vrontados on the Greek island of Chios before the clock strikes midnight on Orthodox Easter Sunday. Two rival hilltop church congregations fire off tens of thousands of homemade fireworks to try and hit each other’s bell towers. The event is thought to date back to Ottoman times. Fireworks? Homemade? Take cover.

7. Hat Wearing for Single People – France

On the 25th November, unmarried 25-year-old women (known as Catherinettes) wear ornate green and yellow hats which they are supposed to keep on their heads all day. The hats are made by friends or colleagues and include items which represent their jobs and hobbies. The tradition means that these fabulously fashionable Catherinettes are supposed to spend the day praying for a husband but, especially these days, it might just be a great excuse to wear a novelty hat.

8. Night of the Radishes – Oaxaca, Mexico

While you might not associate the humble radish with Christmas, for over a century the Night of the Radishes – on the 23rd December – has become a festive institution in the Mexican city of Oaxaca. Rather than a Halloween pumpkin, Mexican artisans carve their oversized radishes into animals, nativity scenes and even little buildings to decorate market stalls in the town plaza. Queues to see these novelty vegetables can stretch for miles around.

9. Yule Lads – Iceland

From 12th to the 23rd December Icelandic children leave a shoe on their windowsill. As they sleep each night, magical Yule Lads take it in turns to climb down from the mountains to leave gifts in the shoes of the well-behaved. Naughty children wake up to find a potato. Traditionally, grim stories of what the Yule Lads would do to naughty children were the norm, but these days punishment is confined to shoe vegetables.

10. Morris Dancing – England

While dancing during festivities is part of the fun for most cultures, few places do it like England. The Morris Men dress up in flower-covered hats, colourful ribbons and bells and perform a synchronised routine which involves hitting together colourful sticks. The traditional folk dance takes place during Easter, May Day and Whitsuntide and is thought to have ancient druidic origins as a celebration of spring.

11. Marzanna - Poland

The first day of spring is celebrated in Poland in theatrical fashion. The Marzanna is a doll made of straw and given make up and a fetching straw wig. The doll is then paraded through the streets in front of a cheering crowd before being thrown into a lake or river. Dating back to the 16th century, Marzanna is supposed to symbolise the throwing away of winter and is not to be touched once it has entered the water – so local lifeguards look the other way.

12. Kite Flying – Bermuda

Forget chocolate eggs and the Goonies – in Bermuda people hit the beach with their homemade kites when Easter rolls around. The reason for this Good Friday spectacle is supposedly because a British school teacher flew a kite to explain Christ’s ascension to heaven. Since then, the beaches of Bermuda are a colourful riot of fluttering kites. While they also like hot cross buns, Bermudians are just as partial to some salted cod fishcakes.

13. Broom Hiding – Norway

In a move likely to leave Harry Potter grounded, it’s a Christmas Eve custom in Norway to take all brooms and hide them away. In a tradition with Pagan origins, Christmas Eve is seen as a day when evil spirits and witches come out to play. The hiding of brooms is supposed to keep them out of trouble. Another tradition is for men to take out their guns and fire into the air. This in not a tradition we would recommend – and not just because it could spell danger for low-flying witches.

14. House Cleaning – China

Most of us wouldn’t rank house cleaning as something we’d look forward to during the holiday, but on the days leading up to Chinese New Year, it’s an established custom. In an attempt to wipe away the previous year’s bad luck, floors are swept, windows are scrubbed and furniture is dusted. Fortunately, there is time for some holiday relaxation as on New Year’s Day dusting is avoided so that good fortune won’t be swept away. Unfortunately, that excuse won’t get you out of cleaning on the other days of the year. Like many of these traditions, Chinese New Year is all about good fortune and prosperity, so perhaps it’s time to increase your own. According to HM Revenue and Customs, exports to China are worth about £18 billion to the UK economy.

Parcelforce Worldwide can help you export to China. We use Express Mail Service, a network of 180 postal services working together to deliver a super fast cross border service. The largest delivery network worldwide, EMS connects over 190 countries and territories. Find out how you can easily integrate your chosen eCommerce account with your Parcelforce.com details here.

But even if you’re just looking to send parcels to family and friends in China or elsewhere, Parcelforce Worldwide are here to help.

For more information, check out our Worldwide Directory.


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