Czech Republic: Throwing of the shoe
Shoes are featured prominently in the Christmas traditions of several cultures, including the Czech Republic. On Christmas, girls and young women stand outside their homes and throw a shoe over their shoulders. If the shoe lands with the toe pointing toward the door, they'll be married soon. If not, they'll be single for at least another year.
In Sweden, an almond is hidden in the traditional risgrynsgröt rice pudding. If an unmarried man or woman finds the almond, they'll find true love soon after. After dinner, a bowl of pudding is placed outside for a Christmas elf who causes mischief if he isn't fed.
Guatemala: Burning the Devil
About 500,000 fires rage in the capital city of Guatemala on Dec. 7 every year. It's tradition for families to create an effigy of the devil and set it on fire that night. This tradition has become so common that the government recently asked residents to cut back on the torchings for environmental reasons.
Cuba: Las Parrandas de Remedios
Remedios is the eighth-oldest city in Cuba, and the home of Las Parrandas de Remedios, one of the region's most popular Christmas celebrations. From Dec. 16 to Dec. 26, rumba dancers, conga groups, and other revelers fill the streets alongside colorful floats for 10 days of fireworks-studded celebration.
Slovakia: Bathtub carp
There's nothing odd about eating carp for Christmas dinner in Slovakia; Central Europeans have been doing it for centuries. In Slovakia, however, custom calls for the live carp to swim in the family's bathtub for a few days before it becomes a Christmas feast. During this time, residents don't bathe and the doomed fish is named and treated as a pet.
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Finland: Candles in the cemetery
About three out of four Finnish families spend part of Christmas Eve in a cemetery. The tradition is actually not as morbid as it sounds—it's about celebration more than mourning. Families place candles at the graves of loved ones or at special memorials to honor the deceased who are buried elsewhere.
Bavaria: Mortars away
In the German region of Bavaria, Christmas is celebrated with a bang—literally. The Bavarian highlanders dress in lederhosen and other traditional clothing before firing off handheld mortars into the air.
Since most of Ethiopia's Christian community is Orthodox, the nation celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. The festivities are known collectively as Ganna, where revelers traditionally don white robes adorned with bright stripes on their way to church.
Italy: La Befana
Italian children believe a magical present-bearer comes down the chimney at night to deliver gifts to nice kids and coal to naughty ones—but it's not Santa and it's not on Christmas. Instead, kids hold their breath for Jan. 6, the day of the Epiphany, when they're visited by La Befana, the beloved Christmas witch.
Great Britain: Stir-up Sunday
Since Victorian times in Great Britain, the Sunday five weeks before Christmas has been known as Stir-up Sunday, where revelers make porridge or pudding with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples. Everyone in the family "stirs up" the porridge, reciting related passages from the Book of Common Prayer. Each family member makes a silent Christmas wish while stirring from east to west—the direction the Three Wise Men are said to have traveled.
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