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

Greenland

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.

Iceland

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?

USA

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."

Holland

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.

Indonesia

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.

Iraq

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.

Philippines

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.

Venezuela

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.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing / Sales Co-ordinator - OTE £25,000+

    £10000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of staffing and r...

    Recruitment Genius: Kitchen Porter

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the four inns of Court is seeking...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie

    £20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the four inns of Court i...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

    £20000 - £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpdesk / 1st L...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?