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
PROMOTED VIDEO
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
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

    Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

    Investigo: Finance Business Partner

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

    Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

    £8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project