Sure, you could throw a plain old holiday party, but wouldn’t it be more fun to incorporate some strange traditions from all over the world? Why not give your guests a unique holiday party experience—something they’ll be talking about until well after New Year’s? Whether you want your entire party to be weird and wacky, or whether you just want to augment your more traditional party with a few new elements, we have twelve of the weirdest, coolest holiday traditions for you and your party guests to take part in.
1. Ugly sweaters – While some people might participate in this tradition unknowingly, it’s much more fun to make wearing an ugly holiday sweater a mandatory part of the party. You might have some guests that will have quite a few sweaters to choose from!
2. Krampus – Is good old Saint Nick too tame for you and your guests? Krampus is kind of like Santa Claus’s evil twin. Instead of just doling out coal to everyone on his naughty list, he actually doles out real punishment. If someone is really bad, he kidnaps them and eats them—so maybe that shouldn’t be part of your tradition, but you can opt for some Krampus decorations instead of Santa.
3. KFC – What do the Japanese do for Christmas? Not much, since only a very small fraction of the country is Christian and even mainstream Christian holidays like Christmas haven’t really found a foothold in Japan. Many Japanese do, however, indulge in KFC on the 25th of December—this kitschy tradition was started by KFC as a way to give foreign visitors in Japan a more “traditional American” meal on Christmas.
4. Mari Lwyd – If this tradition sounds weird, welcome to Wales. In this tradition, a group of five or six revelers put a horse skull on a stick and decorate it. They then parade the Grey Mare (Mari Lwyd) around the neighborhood or through the pub district, engaging home and pub owners in rhyming games. If they win the rhyming game, they are admitted to the house or pub, where the owner provides them with drinks and a meal.
5. Visit Your Ancestors – In many countries, Christmas is a time to celebrate with family. In countries like Finland, this is taken to the next level. Many families will gather in cemeteries on Christmas Eve, sing some songs, light lanterns and candles, and spend some time reminiscing about their family members who have gone on before. This tradition began as a way to commemorate those who died in the First World War.
6. La Quema del Diablo – Christmas and New Year’s are often seen as days of renewal, and that is the point of this Guatemalan tradition. Starting in early December, Guatemalans clean out their homes, get rid of garbage and other items they no longer want, place them into a large pile and set them ablaze. This symbolically banishes the mess of the year and the devil from their lives, in preparation for the Christmas season.
7. Flores de Noche Buena – In Mexico, the poinsettia is the flower of choice during Christmas time. The story goes that a brother and sister left some branches as a gift for baby Jesus, because they had nothing else to offer. Though the other children mocked them, the branches grew poinsettias—a miracle and a sign of approval for the children’s gift. Called Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night), in Mexico, they were renamed in America.
8. Yule Lads – From the 12th of December to the 23rd of December, children in Iceland leave one of their shoes in a windowsill in their home, hoping that the Yule Lads (thirteen in total), will leave them a present. If they have been good, they are given money or chocolate. If they’ve been bad, they are given a potato.
9. Hogmanay – While Christmas still gets plenty of attention in Scotland, it’s Hogmanay (New Year’s), that really shines. Christmas is a family-centric holiday, but New Years is where the party’s at. It celebrates the birth of the new year with bon fires and the ever-important first footer, who should bring gifts to the home that he visits. Dark haired men are luckiest. Blond women are the unluckiest. That first-footer should bring coins (even if they’re chocolate), bread, and whiskey for the family.
10. Spider Web Tree – In the Ukraine, many trees will be covered with spider webs instead of tinsel. Why? Because the old babushkas tell the story of a family too poor to afford a tree, who grew one instead out of a pinecone. Though they had a tree, they still did not have enough money to buy decoration for it. One morning, the family woke to see that a spider had spun beautiful gold and silver webs for the tree.
11. Befana – What if a witch brought presents to your party guests, instead of a jolly old elf? In Italy, it isn’t Santa Claus that brings the toys and other goodies, it’s Befana, a witch who rides around on her broomstick, delivering toys to good little children. This usually happens well after Christmas, on the 6th of January. Just like Santa, she fills stockings with treats and leaves presents around the tree.
12. Mummering – If you’ve ever spent a Christmas in Newfoundland, you might have heard of this tradition, which consists of your party guests dressing up in elaborate costumes intended to obscure their identity. The host of the party has to guess who each person is, and only then are they admitted to the home and given drink and a meal. Most people here in Philly are more familiar with the parade.