“Junkanoo” features a raucous street parade, complete with elaborate costumes, themed music and prizes. The largest parade is held in Nassau, where Junkanoo bands “rush” the streets during early morning. Versions of the festival are also found in Jamaica and Belize.
Christmas Eve, or “Julaften,” is the main event in Denmark. The Christmas feast is served at midnight and everyone gets rice pudding. A single almond is hidden in the pudding, and the person who finds it is guaranteed good luck for the next year. Danes leave a bowl of pudding for naughty elves called Nisse, who stir up mischief unless they are appeased.
There are more reindeer in Lapland than people. The Samis, who traditionally tend herds dressed in festive clothes and elfin boots, teach Christmas visitors the local skill of reindeer-lassoing. Other Lappish reindeer games include sleigh rides and safaris where you tour the countryside in a reindeer-pulled sled.
Goans celebrate the Feast of the Three Kings, marking the arrival of the Magi, each January in the region’s numerous Christian churches. Crowds congregate to watch three boys in glittering costumes chosen as kings make their way to church on white horses. It’s a great honor to be chosen, and the boys often come from the most aristocratic families.
Think of it as Nordic sashimi: Mattak is whale skin with a thin layer of blubber. It’s normally eaten raw, cut into small cubes. Mattak is first among local culinary delights–which include fermented seabird and fresh seal liver–enjoyed by Greenlanders at Christmas. Bonus: Whale skin is high in vitamin C and helped the Inuits survive the extreme climate.
The Honolulu City Lights festival kicks off with a parade that rolls to City Hall, the center of Christmas cheer. Expect a giant barefoot Santa giving a hang loose sign, along with his wife Tutu Mele, who sports a red muumuu. A big Christmas tree is lit along with thousands of other lights in the downtown area.
The celebration known as “Wigilia” derives its name from the Latin for “keeping watch.” In Poland, the Christmas meal can’t begin until the first star is seen in the evening sky–a symbol of the star of Bethlehem. Guests then begin feasting and receive special wafers that they wish on to dispel any misunderstandings over the past year. The wish is sealed with a kiss on the cheek.
Friends show up singing and playing instruments at each other’s houses during Asalto, a Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling. Everybody eats a special chicken-and-rice stew; then the party moves on to the next house and continues this way all night.
According to legend, Santa Lucia wore a wreath of candles to light her way as she delivered food to Christians hiding from persecution. Her generosity is re-enacted each year the morning of Dec. 13, when the oldest Swedish daughter in each household wakes their family with singing and saffron buns.
Christmas meets Halloween in a pre-Christian ritual in southern Wales. Tradition demands that a villager be chosen to be the “Mari llwyd.” This person travels around the town draped in white and carrying a ribbon-bedecked horse’s skull on a long pole. The Mari llwyd challenges house-holders to a poem-reciting contest and demands food and drink–or else.