Baby penguin with all the trimmings

The map Where do you jump over a bonfire at Christmas or burn an effigy of Judas for New Year? Richard O'Malley discovers unusual festive traditions from around the world

If you're dreaming of a white Christmas, be thankful you don't live in Indonesia, where the average temperature is currently 82F/28C. Meanwhile the people of Thule, Greenland, are in for a dark Christmas - and New Year and Valentine's Day - the sun won't rise there again until March. The traditions of Christmas are as different as, well, as night and day, across the globe. Here are a few of the most unusual Yuletide celebrations


For Greenlanders, Christmas is a slimy time of year. A traditional Eskimo feast consists of little auks (penguin-like birds) which have been wrapped in sealskin, and buried for months until decomposed. Also, a game is played in which something revolting (such as a frozen egg covered in strips of wet fox fur) is passed from hand to hand under a table.


Children are visited by 13 Santa Clauses starting on 12 December. Each Santa is a descendant of the mythological figure Gryla the Ogre, and each has a mischievous characteristic associated with him. Guess what Door Slammer does when he delivers his goodies in the middle of the night?


Regional traditions vary around the States. In New York City, a huge evergreen tree is placed in the Rockefeller Center, and thousands of lights are hung on it, and even jaded Manhattanites get gooey. In Chicago, Michigan Avenue's Miracle Mile shopping district is also adorned with lights and a parade marks the beginning of the season. In Washington, the President flips the switch every year to light the National Christmas Tree at the White House. And in the tiny town of Christmas, Florida, millions of items of mail flow in from all over the world during December just so "Merry Christmas" greetings can be postmarked from "Christmas."


In the US, Santa Claus officially arrives by sleigh during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But that's nothing compared to Sinterklaas (the basis for the Americanised Santa) who sails into Holland by steamer. The Dutch claim that Sinterklass, or Saint Nick, lives in Madrid and that he's more than 1,600 years old. Sinterklaas dresses in the same red outfit as Santa, but is a lot thinner, and uses horses instead of Rudolph and his reindeer friends. He also drops his goodies down the chimney on the eve of his feast day, 6 December. Children leave their shoes in the fireplace and sing songs to Saint Nicholas.

Saudi Arabia

Hum a few bars of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas", and you'd better have a fast camel. This Muslim country doesn't take too kindly to attempts at celebrating Christian holidays. Anything reflecting Yuletide cheer is likely to earn you a visit from the authorities. This is one place Santa probably skips to save time.


This country has the distinction of possessing probably the world's strangest Christmas gift idea. Nothing says "Merry Christmas" in Jakarta more than a parking space. That's right, somewhere to leave the car is a valuable gift that the Muslim community gives to the Christians of the city. At Christmas, the Muslims offer some of the area surrounding the Mosque to the church as parking for worshippers, and the Christians return the favour during "Hari Raya," a Muslim celebration.


A good-luck bonfire is lit and when it burns out, everyone jumps over the ashes three times. Also, after a religious service, the bishop touches one person with "the touch of peace." That person touches the person next to them and so on down the line. Let's hope the chain makes it to Saddam's house this year.


Here, festivities begin on 16 December at 4am. The early mass ritual continues for nine days and culminates on Christmas Eve when, after some gift-giving, a feast and Midnight Mass, everyone stays up until the morning when carols are sung and more gifts are given. Celebrations continue until the first Sunday of the New Year.


It seems Judas will never live down his betrayal of Jesus. Not only did he hang himself in shame, but he is still the centre of attention in Venezuela. Christmas here consists of similar 4am rituals to the Philippines, as well as family feasts. At New Year, however, the children make a life-size doll of Judas, then at midnight they light fireworks and burn the effigy. It's seen as an "out with the old, in with the new" tradition. The adults eat one grape with every strike of the midnight hour at New Year, and then drink a glass of champagne as a toast. Which is better than eating one grape and drinking 12 glasses of champagne.

Australia and New Zealand

Christmas down under is, for many, a day at the beach. Many families take to the sand for a picnic to celebrate the holiday much of the world associates with snow and evergreen trees. One of the largest community celebrations in the world takes place at Sydney's Domain Gardens, where close to 100,000 gather to sing Christmas carols.

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