A luminaria is a small paper bag weighted down with sand and illuminated with a candle inside. On Christmas Eve in New Mexico they’re arranged into stunning displays and dotted along pathways and outside houses to help guide Santa Claus. The result is kind of like the lantern scene in Tangled, but on the ground.
2. The Christmas Book Flood in Iceland
Iceland publishes more books per capita than any country in the world, and books are a hugely popular Christmas gift. Usually they give the books to each other on Christmas Eve, so they can spend the rest of the night reading (preferably with hot chocolate).
3. Christmas sauna-ing in Finland
A lot of Finnish families have their own saunas, and it’s believed that a sauna “elf” lives inside each one to protect the sauna (and make sure people behave themselves – the elf is always watching). And every Christmas Eve, people have a long, very naked steam. Be careful to not go in after sunset though, as the sauna will be filled with the spirits of dead ancestors.
4. Broom-hiding in Norway
Better hide your brooms on Christmas Eve, or witches might steal them. At least, that’s how it’s done in Norway, when all the brooms in the house are locked away from any thieving Christmas Eve sorcerers that might be lurking. Christmas Eve in Norway sounds amazing.
5. Christmas skating in Venezuela
On Christmas Eve in Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, children tie a string to their big toe and leave it hanging out a window. Why? So when people roller skate (yes, really) to early morning mass on Christmas Day they can tug the strings, waking up the children so they’re able to watch this amazing Christmas spectacle.
6. Christmas cakes in Japan
Ordered months in advance, Japanese Christmas cakes are sponge cakes made with whipped cream, chocolate, and strawberries on top. They’re eaten on Christmas Eve, and in December you’ll find them on just about every street corner and in every bakery.
7. River bonfires in Louisiana
Massive bonfires are lit in southern Louisiana on Christmas Eve, so the lights can guide Santa Claus along the river to people’s houses.
8. Wigilia in Poland
Wigilia is Poland’s traditional Christmas meal, held on Christmas Eve. The name means “to watch”, and people believe that what happens during the party is a foreshadowing of the coming year.
9. The Las Parrandas festival in Remedios, Cuba
Every year on Christmas Eve, the usually peaceful town of Remedios goes mad with a huge firework festival called Las Parrandas. It’s a tradition that started 200 years ago, when priests sent altar boys into the streets to make noise, reminding everyone to come to midnight mass.
10. Graveside candles in Finland
On Christmas Eve, families in Finland will go and visit the graves of their deceased ancestors and relatives and light candles in their memory. This means that on Christmas Eve, the cemeteries in Finland are a sight to behold, lit up with a sea of lights.
11. The Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy
On Christmas Eve, Italian families gather for a feast of different fish and seafood dishes (seven of them, in fact. Who’d have guessed). The tradition comes from the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat and dairy on holy days – so fish is eaten instead.
12. Christmas goat-burning in Gävle, Sweden
In 1966, a 13ft goat made of straw was erected in the Swedish town of Gavle (don’t ask us why, we don’t know). On Christmas Eve, 1966, the goat was burned down. Not to be defeated, the town continued building the goat every year, and every year on Christmas Eve, there’s an attempted burning. So far, the arsonists have succeeded 25 times. To be clear, if you’re caught burning the goat down, you will be put in jail.
So you know, if you’re ever in Gävle on Christmas Eve, leave the goat alone.
13. Banketletters in the Netherlands
Celebrations take place earlier in December in the Netherlands than elsewhere. The night before St Nicholas’s Day, 6 December, everyone gathers and eats banketletter biscuits shaped with the initials of people at the party.
14. Christmas shoes in France
In France, as well as in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and many other countries, children leave their shoes out either by the fireplace or the window to be filled with sweets and presents from St Nick.
15. Posset in England
This isn’t a widely held tradition any more, but should totally be brought back. Posset is a drink made from hot milk, spices, lemon, and sugar (basically, it’s British eggnog) and was traditionally drunk on Christmas Eve. A coin was usually added to the posset pot, and if you were the one that found it in your drink, it was a sign of good luck.
16. Ghostly leftovers in Bulgaria
On Christmas Eve in Bulgaria, traditionally there’s a big vegetarian dinner with an odd number of guests and an odd number of dishes. The leftovers are then left out overnight for the ghosts of ancestors when they come visiting before Christmas Day. You know, in case they get peckish.
17. Nisse’s rice pudding in Denmark
The Nisse (or Tomte in Sweden) is an easily offended Christmas sprite who demands rice pudding as a Christmas Eve offering. A bowl left outside the door the night before Christmas will prevent him from playing all sorts of tricks, like putting things upside down or tying your cows’ tails together.
18. Nativities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Christmas in DR Congo is less commercial and more of a religious festival. Christmas Eve is hugely important, and churches hold big musical evenings with up to six choirs and long, detailed nativity plays.
19. Tió de Nadal in Catalonia, Spain
In Catalonia, a hollow Tio de Nadal log is brought into the house and fed every night. Then, on Christmas Eve, the children hit the log with sticks while singing a song that includes the lyrics, “If you don’t poo well, I’ll hit you with a stick! Poo log!” The log then poos out presents for them. Ah, Catalonia. Don’t ever change.