Unusual Ways to Get Festive

Got anything special planned this winter? Get out and explore some weird winter traditions celebrated across the world.

Leigh University Vespers in Christmas voice. Bethlehem is situated in the Leigh Valley and has an unmissable christkindlmarkt. 

Photo by Leigh Valley via Flickr

1. Road to Bethlehem
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Recreate the original Christmas story with a trip to Bethlehem – the other one. Known as ‘Christmas City’, this town takes Yuletide seriously. The city even has its own star – an electric one that shines 81-feet high above the South Mountain.


2. Drive Thru Christmas Lights
Wheeling, West Virginia

A six-mile drive through Oglebay Park takes in one of the largest Christmas light displays in the US, covering 300 acres. Since 1985, Wheeling’s Winter Festival of Light has featured a twinkling snowflake tunnel, a polyhedron star and six-storey poinsettia wreath.


3. La Befana – The Female Santa

As well as Santa, Italian children expect the arrival of La Befana – an old woman who delivers gifts – on the 6 January. If you’re not fortunate enough to pick up a gift from La Befana, you can do so at the famous Trento Christmas Market, 2 hours’ drive from Milan.


A Cologne Christmas market stall selling baked apple rings. Photo by CGP Grey

4. Krampus Night
Vienna, Austria

Around the  5th December Austrian’s dress as Krampus, Santa’s evil demonic twin, and roam the streets looking for someone to beat with a stick. Everyone’s a bit merry, so it’s doesn’t hurt. If you’re more into the merriment, Vienna hosts some of the world’s oldest Christmas markets.


5. Christmas Pickles
Cologne, Germany

A much debated tradition/myth – many Germans are unaware of it. The idea of children finding a special ‘ornament’ on their tree was likely invented when German festive ornaments were first being sold overseas. For something more traditional, visit one of Cologne’s many Christmas markets.


6. Christmas in the Velvet Cave
Valkenburg, Holland

What could be more festive than a Christmas market in a 12th century cave? The Fluweelengrot lies beneath Valkenburg’s hilltop castle, and has been used as both an escape route and a secret chapel. Now every Christmas you’ll find a labyrinth of historic murals, as well as gift and food stalls to entice you.


The world’s largest floating Christmas tree. Photo by Leandro’s World Tour via Flickr

7. April Fools in December

The Day of the Innocent Saints (Dia de Los Santos Inocentes) is a day for tricking your friends, silly stories and pranks, much like April Fool’s day. When someone is fooled, you chant the phrase ‘Inocente, Inocente’. And don’t believe everything you read in the Spanish papers that day either…


8. The World’s Biggest Floating Xmas Tree
Rio, Brazil

The 85-metre high and 542 tonne tree has been built on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon every year since 1996. It’s slightly overshadowed by Christ the Redeemer on the mountain behind it, but its 3.1 million lights means it grabs all the attention during the festive season.


The start of Up Helly AA. Photo by CaptainOates via Flickr

9. Mummering Christmas
Nova Scotia, Canada

A tradition of Nova Scotia come end of December, Mummering sees locals dress up and knock on doors to ask: ‘Any Mummers in?’ Once invited in they sing, dance and have some Christmas Cake, before moving to the next house. Too weird? Halifax hosts the The Festival of Trees and other markets every year.


10. Up-Helly-AA
The Shetland Islands, Scotland

Like Game of Thrones, but for real. Islanders dress in Viking attire, carry torches and sail in a Viking long boat, before burning it to the ground. For the faint hearted, stay on the shore for Aberdeen’s Winter Festival, running from November.