8 Unique Holiday Celebrations Around the World

8 Unique Holiday Celebrations Around the World

From decorating Christmas trees and putting up lights around your home to stuffing stockings and counting down ‘til midnight on New Year’s Eve, the holidays are a truly magical time. 

Even more special, there are many different ways to celebrate — not to mention many different holidays! Here, we’re sharing eight unique holiday celebrations around the world. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Unique Holiday Celebrations Across the World

1. St. Nicholas Day, Europe

This holiday, also called the Feast of St. Nicholas, honors the original Santa Claus, a fourth-century Greek bishop.

Observed on December 6, the holiday is remarkably similar to Christmas. While celebrations vary throughout Europe, St. Nicholas Day always centers around gift-giving, an homage to the saint’s notorious generosity. 

Children leave shoes out on St. Nicholas Eve in many countries, hoping to awaken to them filled with treats and small gifts. 

In the Czech Republic, St. Nicholas walks around greeting children for weeks, accompanied by both an angel and devil, who either give out treats or playfully taunt.

2. Icelandic Yule Lads, Iceland

Easily one of the most unique holiday celebrations around the world, Iceland’s Yule Lads are a beloved, long-standing tradition. 

The story goes that every night for 13 nights beginning December 12, one of the mythical Lads comes down from the mountains. He leaves “nice” children small gifts in their shoes and “naughty” ones potatoes! 

Think of it like the original, real-life Elf on a Shelf — only the Lads are a bit more mischievous!

This fun tradition dates back centuries and in fact, in 1746, parents were banned by law from taunting their children with threats of the Lads!

Two life-sized ogre figures, some of the 13 yule lads
Photo courtesy of jenniferboyer via Flickr

3. Three Kings Day, Spanish-speaking Countries

Three Kings Day, or El Dia De Los Reyes, is celebrated on January 6th. It commemorates the Three Wise Men’s 12-day journey to Bethlehem to see Baby Jesus and shower him with gifts.

The holiday is celebrated in many countries across the world, particularly Spanish-speaking nations such as Spain, Mexico, and the United States. 

El Dia De Los Reyes is typically celebrated with parades, by giving several small gifts, and of course, with plenty of delicious food!

At the center of the celebration is Kings Cake, Rosca de Reyes, a sweet pastry made with fruit. In many countries, a small toy is hidden inside the cake. Whoever finds it is said to have good luck in the new year.

4. Night of the Radishes, Mexico

You’ve heard of Christmas ham and duck, and certainly Christmas cookies. But what about Christmas…radishes?

In Oaxaca, Mexico, Noche de Rábanos — Night of the Radishes — is dedicated entirely to the unique vegetable. 

Every December 23, people carve radishes into elaborate, huge creations and put them on display in the town zocalo, or square. The sculptures typically depict animals, churches, and saints. There’s also live music, parades, fireworks, and plenty of street food.

Radishes are grown specifically for Noche de Rábanos and fascinatingly, they wilt so quickly once they’re cut that they can’t be sculpted much in advance.

An elaborate display of carved radishes at the Noche de Rábanos festival, a unique holiday celebration
Photo courtesy of Flickr

5. Simbang Gabi, Philippines

Fun fact: Nearly 90% of the Philippines’ population is Catholic. In fact, it’s the largest Christian community in Asia. It’s no surprise, then, that Christmas is a pretty big deal here. 

Simbang Gabi (literally translated to night mass) is a nine-day celebration leading up to Christmas. On each of the nine days, there’s a pre-dawn Catholic Mass. Importantly, most people walk to their church for services.

If you think walking to church doesn’t sound like a very festive celebration, hold that thought.

Live bands and street vendors line the routes, selling special treats like rice cakes and roasted pig, and houses go all out with Christmas lights. Now that’s a unique celebration!

6. Diwali, India

The Hindu holiday of Diwali is as big of a deal as Christmas is in Christian communities. 

Diwali is often (and appropriately!) referred to as the Festival of Lights. It celebrates figurative light over darkness and good over evil with literal light — in every form and fashion. 

The five-day fall festival has roots in ancient Sanskrit and centers around lighting homes as much as possible. People light candles and oil lamps in and outside their homes, and communities gather to watch fireworks and release paper lanterns into the sky.

In addition to all the lights, Diwali includes fervent prayer, exchanging gifts, and endless feasting, particularly of sweets called mithai, made from milk and specialty nuts.

People holding illuminated paper lanterns and more in the sky during Diwali, a unique holiday celebration in India

7. Carols by Candlelight, Australia

A beloved holiday tradition that originated in Melbourne in the 1930s, Carols by Candlelight is now observed across most of Australia. 

Carols by Candlelight involves people gathering at night in public outdoor spaces, typically beaches or parks, and caroling together by candlelight. 

There’s also one main Carols by Candlelight event, a fundraiser concert that raises money for Vision Australia. 

Keep in mind that in Australia, Christmas falls in the middle of summer. So donning Santa hats, lighting candles, and singing on beaches is a wonderful way to gather and celebrate!

8. Christmas Markets, Europe

One of the most unique holiday celebrations around the world is also one of the most festive: Europe’s Christmas markets. 

Held across the continent, some markets are quaint and others are massive, elaborate affairs. Some Christmas markets have become so iconic that people from all over the globe take vacations just to visit them!

No matter the size of the market, expect to find numerous open-air vendors, selling specialty foods and drinks such as marzipan, sausages, and mulled wine, along with ornaments, children’s items, and local artisan crafts. Some also have rides and attractions like ferris wheels or ice skating rinks!

The oldest Christmas markets were in Germany and the country still has some of the best in the world, though you’ll find excellent ones across Europe.

A Christmas market in Amsterdam

Isn’t it fun learning about unique holiday celebrations around the world? What are some of your favorite traditions? Connect with us on social media and let us know!

And while the “official” gift-giving season may be over, it’s always a good time to build up your collection of travel mementos. With The Wander Club Travel Tokens, you can collect memories of countries or cities you’ve been to. 

Better yet, create custom ones! How fun would it be to have “Vienna Christmas market 2022” on a token?!

However — and wherever — you’re celebrating, we wish you happy holidays and a very happy and safe new year! Cheers!

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