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Wonderful and Wacky Holiday Traditions

Traditions and customs, be they cultural, deeply personal or even wacky, are what make the holidays so meaningful and memorable. They are the glue that unifies community and family in every city, town and neighborhood around the world. 

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in its many forms has been celebrated around the world since ancient times, primarily to honor the harvest. But only the U.S. and Canada (second Monday of October) celebrate it as a national holiday every year. Canadians humorously refer to our holiday as Yanksgiving.

The celebration in Plymouth Colony in 1621, a one-time event that has come to be regarded as the First Thanksgiving, celebrated a bountiful harvest after the Pilgrims survived their first winter in America. There were 50 Pilgrims in attendance and 90 Wampanoag Indians. According to historians, there is only one written account of the event, which lasted three days. And you thought getting ready for one Thanksgiving dinner was hard.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863. But it wasn’t until 1941 that Congress declared Thanksgiving as a recurring national holiday on the fourth Thursday in November, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Christmas

KFC for Christmas? In Japan, on December 24, people flock in droves across the country to Kentucky Fried Chicken for their Christmas dinner. “Christmas in Kentucky” is the result of the company’s highly successful marketing campaign that began when some tourists couldn’t find turkey for dinner—there are no turkeys in Japan—and ended up in KFC. It’s become such a crazed tradition that orders must be placed months in advance. Today, a bucket of Christmas chicken, cake and champagne goes for $40—if you can get one. Seriously. 

In North America, Santa flies in a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer, but he rides a kangaroo in Australia, paddles a canoe in Hawaii, rides a horse in the Netherlands, and travels by donkey in Switzerland.

In Italy, Santa plays second fiddle to the wise old soot-covered witch, Befana. On the eve before Epiphany, she arrives on her broomstick and flies down chimneys to leave gifts and candy for children who have been good, or a lump of coal if they haven’t. It’s the custom to leave her a small glass of wine and a snack.

On Christmas Eve in Caracas, Venezuela, it’s the custom to roller-skate to church and the streets are closed to traffic for the rolling crowds.

New Year's Eve

In Spain, going for a run in red underwear is the thing to do on New Year’s Eve, which people hope will bring love the following year. Then at midnight, they eat 12 grapes, one at each stroke of the clock for good luck. 

In the U.S., watching the ball drop in Times Square as we count down to midnight is a kind of tradition. But did you know that New York’s first public New Year’s Eve celebration in 1904 was to honor the opening of the headquarters of the New York Times, thus the name Times Square? The original 700-pound iron-and-wood globe evolved over the years into today’s massive geodesic sphere 12 feet in diameter, and weighing 11,875 pounds. It’s covered with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles that create millions of colors and patterns in a brilliant kaleidoscope as it descends to midnight.