The human race certainly has a lot to celebrate, which is made apparent by the hundreds of important religious and cultural celebrations we hold each and every year. Over thousands of years, we’ve developed holiday traditions for almost every single occasion. Some of these are country-wide traditions, whilst certain rituals are restricted to family and community groups. Whilst it’s important to remember that a tradition that sounds crazy to you is completely normal to someone else, we think it’s important to make people aware of the weird and wonderful ways that humanity joins together to celebrate.
So, are you ready to dive in? Lets take a look at the craziest holiday traditions across the globe.
Skip to text version here.
Japan – KFC at Christmas
Tradition started – 1970s | Takes place – Christmas
It may sound bizarre to most of the world, where fast food chains generally close during the festive period – but since the 70s, Japanese families have enjoyed tucking into a bucket of fried chicken on Christmas day.
There are a few variations of the story about how KFC at Christmas became a thing in Japan, but in short, it became popular because of good timing and good marketing. Japan had started to adopt Western Christmas traditions in the 60s, but by the 70s, there was no widespread tradition that everyone followed. So, when KFC started its first ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ campaign, the Japanese public accepted it with open arms. As Japan isn’t home to many Christians, Christmas is more of a cultural celebration and doesn’t have any religious aspects to it.
Greece – Rocket Wars (Rouketopolemos)
Tradition started – Ottoman Era | Takes place – Easter
Rouketopolemos, translating to ‘rocket wars’, is an annual tradition that takes place in the town of Vrontados, Greece. It is traditional for Greeks to set off fireworks at midnight before Easter Sunday, but during this ‘celebration’, two rival churches in the town launch thousands of firework rockets across the town at the opposite churches bell tower.
It isn’t known exactly how this tradition came to be, but it’s believed to go back as far as the Ottoman era (around the 19th centure). Apparently, this ritual used to go ahead with real cannons, and according to lore, firing cannons and fireworks on this date was to show Turkey that Greek orthodoxy was still alive.
The day after the event, each parish counts the amounts of direct hits to the belfry, but there never ends up being a clear winner so they agree to settle the score the next year. Who knows how long this could go on for!
Bermuda – Easter Kite Flying
Tradition started – Nobody Knows | Takes place – Good Friday
Amongst tucking into Easter eggs, attending church services and sitting down for festive meals – Bermudan families celebrate Easter by flying beautiful, colourful kites which they often take weeks to craft. This is a fun tradition that everyone in Bermuda looks forward to. Unlike the kites you might be familiar with, most Bermuda kites are usually hexagonal.
Although, like many traditions, nobody is certain on the exact origins of the Easter kite flying, it is said that it began when a Sunday School teacher used a kite to visualise Jesus Christ’s ascension to heaven for their students.
Wales – The Mari Lwyd
Tradition started – Nobody knows | Takes place – After Christmas Eve, before Twelfth Night
This is a midwinter Pagan tradition that takes place in December. The Mai Lwyd translates to The Grey Mare’ and is a horse skull (or fake skull), draped with a white cloth or sack and decorated with baubles, lights, holly and ivy. The skull is carried on a pole round Welsh towns and villages, as her accompanying humans stop at houses to sing songs and chant rude rhymes at the occupants in a bid to gain entry for food and drink.
Nobody knows exactly why this tradition started, but it is said to bring luck upon each household the Mari Lwyd enters. It has similarities to Christmas carolling, but the Mari Lwyd is a mischievous entity with Celtic and Pagan roots. Horses have historically been a sacred animal, which may explain why a horse’s skull is used.
Iceland – Yule Lads
Tradition started – 17th-century | Takes place – 12th December – 6th January
The Yule Lads are 13 characters from Icelandic folklore who appear in the 13 nights leading up to Christmas and stay for 13 nights too. Each Yule Lad has a different personality, arrives on a different day, and gets up to different kinds of mischief. Þvörusleikir (Spoon-licker, for example, arrives on the 15th and is known for stealing and licking wooden spoons. Gluggagægir (Window Peeper), on the other hand, looks through windows for items to steal.
Yule Lads are part of a greater cast of Icelandic folklore characters which crop up around Christmas. They were first mentioned in the 17th-century in the Poem of Gryla. Gryla being a hideous creature who is the mother of the Yule Lads.
They have been used historically to scare children into being good, and up until a poem solidified that there were 13 of them in the 18th-century, and a poem was published in 1932 which detailed each of their personalities, the Yule Lads behaviours could range from being similar to a homicidal maniacs to mere pranksters.
Mexico – Night of the Radishes
Tradition started – 1897 | Takes place – December 23rd
The Night of the Radishes is an annual oversized radish-carving event in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Typical religious scenes are usually carved, alongside relevant cultural and political scenes. Prizes are awarded for the best radish carving in the Traditional category, and thousands of visitors flock to the city to see the radishes.
The legend says that when part of a crop of radishes which were left to grow for too long grew into peculiar shapes and sizes one year in the mid-18th century, farmers of Oaxaca decided to carve them for the annual Christmas market to attract people to their stalls. This was a hit with the crowds of shoppers, and many years later in in 1897 the city introduced a competition.
Switzerland – Burning Snowmen
Tradition started – Early 20th century | Takes place – 3rd Monday of April
Known in Switzerland as Sechseläuten, or Burning the Böögg, this is a festival to mark the end of Winter by burning an effigy of a snowman by blowing it up with explosives. It takes place annually in the city of Zurich.
The festival has roots in medieval times. Back then, it marked the celebration of changing working hours which occurred as daylight hours became longer. The name Sechseläuten translates to ‘the bells at six’, because the city bells would ring at 6pm during the summer to signify the end of the working day. Burning of a Böögg was done in the middle ages on the spring equinox to drive the winter away and welcome the spring. The burning of the Böögg, now a snowman, and the Sechseläute festival were combined in the 19th century.
Legend says that the snowman, or Böögg, can predict the weather. The faster the fire reaches the head and causes it to explode, the better the summer weather will be.
Spain – Christmas Log (Tió de Nadal)
Tradition started – Middle Ages | Takes place – 8th December to Christmas Day
The Tió de Nadal, or Christmas Log, is a hollow log which makes an appearance in Catalan households around Christmas. In modern times, the log is decorated with a cartoon-like face and a red sock hat with stick legs.
On December 8th which is the start of the Feast of The Immaculate Conception, families begin ‘feeding’ the log every night, and place a blanket over it to keep it warm. If the children of the family do a good job of looking after the log, presents will come out of it at Christmas. In households with fireplaces, children will beat the log with a stick and sing songs asking it to drop its presents.
As with most ancient traditions, the exact origins of this practice aren’t known exactly. However, it is believed that the Tió de Nadal has roots in pagan rituals which signified the togetherness of family and the community. During these times, the log would be left to burn in the fire after the presents had been expelled, and kept for the rest of the year as a good luck, or protective, symbol for the house.