The holiday season doesn’t have to be all about Santa and the elves. Other cultures decorate their trees with spider webs, welcome a festive horse into their home, and even dine on the delicacy of KFC to celebrate the holidays

You may look for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, but what if you had 13 Santas? Holiday traditions from around the world include floral abundance, door-to-door witches, and more. We think your kids will especially get a kick out of the tradition of Mari Lwyd—the horse mascot who visits you in the winter season. Take a look at this fun holiday tradition and you might even be inspired to introduce one to your family this season.

Stevepb via Pixabay

Flores de Noche Buena—Mexico

In Mexico, poinsettias aren't just pretty flowers for the holidays. Instead, the bright petals play an important role in the holiday story about a young peasant girl, who, after setting out for a Christmas celebration with no gift to give, sees (with the help of a heavenly visitor) her humble gift of collected grasses and weeds magically transformed into 'Flores de Noche Buena,' bringing her to understand the true meaning of giving from the heart.

Soyal—Southwestern US

In Hopi culture, the Soyal Solstice Ceremony held in December is a time to pray to Father Sun for the renewal of light and welcoming back of the sun. It is a time to purify and to wish for good health and prosperity for one’s family and friends and the kachinas—spirit beings who guard over the Hopi—often bring gifts for children. The start of the celebration begins sixteen days before the solstice when one of the chief kachinas makes an appearance and dances and sings. Families make prayer sticks to bless their friends, neighbors, family, animals, and plants alike. Children are sometimes given replicas of the kachinas to learn about them; they represent animals, plants, and other aspects of nature.



The Yule Lads—Iceland


In the beautiful snow-covered hills of Iceland, there isn’t just one Santa, there are thirteen. Yes, you read that right. Thirteen Yule Lads cause mischief and decide who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. These sons of the evil troll woman, Grýla, arrive in the thirteen days leading up to Christmas Eve, and each has a mischievous specialty including stealing meat, sausages, and candles. They also give small gifts, chocolate, and other sweets to the good girls and boys and raw potatoes to the naughty ones.

Kiwi Christmas Tree—New Zealand

We love our classic evergreen trees, but for the Kiwis in New Zealand, it’s all about the pohutukawa tree. This beautiful tree has deep roots in New Zealand’s culture, with several songs, poems, and other cultural items capturing its significance. It is also part of Maori culture and is considered a bridge to the afterlife.

Marilyn Page via Unsplash


The yuletide season is a bit more like a carnival with these Latvian party animals, except the purpose of this riot of color and good times is to drive out the evil spirits from the home. The Mummers are hilarious jokers who love dressing up and traveling around in full costume as everything from bears to gypsies and even zombies. With their help, you’ll have a prosperous new year.


Mari Lwyd—Wales

Wikimedia Commons

Mari Lwyd is a rare and special character. The name means Holy Mary, but it refers to the horse mascot that is carried door-to-door by singing groups in Wales during the holiday season. Traditional carolers usually stay beyond the threshold of your door, but, in Wales, they're trying to join the party. They sing small pieces of music as a way of asking to be let into each house and will banter back and forth with the family before being welcomed inside to enjoy sweet cakes and ale.


Wikimedia Commons

Spider Webs in Christmas Trees—Ukraine

Celebrating Christmas in Ukraine started with a classic Christmas miracle. A penniless family decided to grow a Christmas tree from a pinecone. The excited kiddos spent months planning the perfect decorations for their special tree, but their parents didn’t have enough money to buy the extra decor. On Christmas morning, the family discovered that a group of helpful spiders had spun delicate webs through the tree’s branches. As the light hit the beautiful silk threads, they magically turned to silver and gold. Today, decorating Christmas trees with spiderwebs is a way to usher in good luck for the coming year.


Wikimedia Commons

La Befana—Italy

In Italy, Santa is small potatoes compared to the arrival of an old woman on a broomstick named La Befana. She visits children on January 6th, to deliver gifts to the good little girls and boys and lumps of coal (or lumps of black sugar) to the naughty ones. According to legend, La Befana was invited to travel with the Three Wise Men to celebrate the birth of Jesus. She was busy cleaning her house, so she decided not to go. When she realized her mistake, she began searching high and low for the child and still wanders the earth to this day.

KFC Christmas—Japan

When you think of Christmas dinner, turkey or ham are probably your go-to dishes. Well in Japan, the ultimate feast is none other than KFC. The Colonel’s delectable Christmas Chicken started as a promotion in 1974, and the company has seen its sales peak every Christmas Eve since. So if you happen to be in Japan for the holiday, make sure to pop into KFC for finger-lickin' goodness. But, make sure to get there early because there's going to be a line.



Junkanoo—The Bahamas


The Bahamas brings a whole new meaning to the term “Christmas Party” with Junkanoo. This riot of music and vibrant colors was originally developed by enslaved people, who were given three days off for the Christmas holiday. They celebrated with music, masks, and killer dance moves. Today, this festival includes massive dance troupes of up to 1,000 people, elaborate costumes, and gorgeous music created with goatskin drums, cowbells, whistles, and horns.

St. Lucia Day—Sweden

Nordic countries have long celebrated the Winter Solstice, and in modern times, on December 13, Christians in Sweden, Norway, and parts of Finland celebrate St. Lucia Day with a traditional festival of lights. In each town, a representative for St. Lucia is chosen to lead a large procession through the town with all of the young girls dressed in white with wreaths of candles around their heads. The tradition continues at home, where the eldest daughter dresses in a white outfit and serves coffee and yummy biscuits to the family.

Additional reporting by Amber Guetebier

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