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Festive Traditions Around the World

Recently updated on July 28th, 2023 at 11:38 am

The much anticipated holiday season is finally upon us, and while Christmas is one of the world’s most celebrated traditions, each place has its own unique way of marking the occasion. From plunging into icy waters off the coast of Ireland to fashioning a Christmas tree from toothpicks in Hawaii, these are some of the world’s more unusual Christmas customs.


Festive Traditions

Over in Ireland, one tradition that’s only for the brave is the annual leap into freezing waters off the rocky plateau of Forty Foot Rock in Sandycove. This small coastal town to the south of Dublin is a traditional bathing spot, drawing hundreds of people each year on Christmas Day for the icy plunge. With winter swimmers coming here since the 1800s, this is one tradition that’s deeply rooted in local life.

However, this isn’t the only Christmas tradition that’s unique to Ireland. Others come from the country’s Gaelic heritage, from hanging a ring of holly on the door and placing a lit candle in the window, to dressing up in costume for The Wren Boy procession, which still takes place in parts of Ireland, such as Dingle.


Festive Traditions

While Christmas in many parts of the world is a time for family to come together, in Japan it’s one for romance, perhaps inspired by the season’s twinkling lights and decorated trees. That’s not the only difference though; Christmas is also the time to enjoy KFC – yes, that’s Kentucky Fried Chicken – as well as Japan’s own version of Christmas cake, a light and airy sponge with whipped cream and strawberries.

Another unusual and nostalgic sight in Japan at this time of year is the winter illuminations. One of the most impressive is Sagamiko Illumillion in Kanagawa, where the hillside is lit by millions of coloured lights, with a lightshow and a chairlift whisking people up the hill, among other attractions.


Festive Traditions

Travelling in Spain is a gastronomic delight at any time of the year, but at Christmas there’s even more reason to indulge. In shops across the country seasonal sweets take over the counters and shelves. Among these is Turrón, a thick slab of almonds coated in a crunchy honey brittle, with some seasonal varieties containing liqueur for extra festive appeal. Cake shop, Casa Mira in Madrid has been making this sticky sweet for over a century.

Christmas in Spain is also traditionally marked with jubilation and dance. There are many Christmas fiestas that take place across the country, but perhaps the most interesting and unusual can be found in Seville, where the historic dance of Los Seises (the sixes) is performed each year on 8th December in front of the Gothic Cathedral.


Festive Traditions

For those travelling to Sweden at Christmas, the symbol of the Yule Goat is ubiquitous across the country – a Scandinavian tradition believed to originate from worship of the Norse god, Thor. In the coastal city of Gävle, a giant straw goat takes pride of place on Castle Square from the beginning of Advent, while miniature versions hang on Christmas trees all over Sweden.

For the Swedish, Christmas Eve brings a julbord (or buffet) of cold meats, cheeses and pickles, with seasonal specialities such as lutfisk dried cod, sweet pastries and mulled wine, which in Sweden is known as Glogg.


Festive Traditions

Mele Kalikimaka is the Aloha state’s way of saying Merry Christmas, but this isn’t the only Christmas custom Hawaii holds dear, combining traditional celebrations with those of Makahiki, the ancient Hawaiian New Year celebration of feasting and revelry.

Here, Santa wears a Hawaiian shirt, and on Oahu Island he can be seen at the Hawaii Kai Christmas boat parade. On Maui, islanders host Lahaina Banyan Tree Lighting with illuminations and Hawaiian Christmas carols, while Kauai hosts the Kauai Festival of Lights with carol singing and a curious Christmas tree made from 7,500 toothpicks.

Experience some of these usual Christmas traditions first-hand with Trafalgar’s trips and itineraries.

Image credits: Header image of a straw decoration in Sweden © iStock / infrontphoto. A traditional Christmas in Ireland © Flickr / William Murphy. Christmas Lights in Tokyo © Flickr / Dick Thomas Johnson. Turron in Spain © iStock / Pepe Baeza. A straw goat decoration in Sweden © iStock / Sarah Bossert. A Christmas dance in Hawaii © Flickr / Quinn Dombrowski.

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