Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world. But it's also among the most diverse and varies from country to country.
Here are a few traditions WorldViews thinks the U.S. should consider adopting — even though some might seem quite strange to Americans.
In central Europe, many towns set up cozy Christmas villages with mulled wine
Let's start in Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and other central European countries. Many towns and cities set up Christmas markets and small Christmas villages that attract visitors and locals alike. They're typically open from the beginning of December until Dec. 24.
Some of them might remind visitors of small Disneylands, with their stages, merry-go-rounds and other attractions for children. But there's usually plenty to fascinate adults, too, such as mulled wine, beer and food specialties.
Some Portuguese people open presents twice
One custom in Portugal would most likely be welcomed by children in the U.S., but maybe not so much by their parents. Some Portuguese open presents twice: First, parents give their children a selection of gifts on Christmas Eve. But the excitement is far from over: The next morning, more gifts await, ready to be opened.
If you were Finnish, you might celebrate Christmas in a sauna
Winter in Finland is dominated by the cold temperatures and thick layers of snow that cover forests and houses. For this, many Finnish have a solution: They celebrate Christmas in saunas. According to the editors of the government-sponsored Web site "Visit Finland," attending Christmas saunas is as common as attending Christmas church services. "An old wooden sauna surrounded by white snow and warm candlelight, shared with friends and family – what more could you want from your Christmas Eve?" the authors ask.
Juha Nirkko, author of a book on Finnish sauna traditions, says that they have been used as churches, pharmacies, bathing places and social rooms in the past — not only during Christmas.
In an interview with the Finnish news site YLE, Nirkko went on to say that hitting the sauna on Christmas Eve is considered cleansing, both for the mind and the body.
But don't go to the sauna drunk. Many Finnish people believe such behavior could cause anger among the dead (who are also believed to use the sauna, by the way).
Russians, Greeks and Bulgarians prefer the cold and jump into rivers and lakes
This tradition — which is particularly common in Orthodox Christian countries — might appear a bit strange to those who prefer to cozy up to the fire: Young men (and sometimes women jump into cold rivers and lakes as soon as a priest throws a cross into the water. The aim is to be the first person to reach the cross. Many participants believe that those who win the contest will be lucky in the new year.
In Canada, some dress up in Santa costumes and make their neighbors guess who they are
That's pretty much it. In Nova Scotia, in the southeast of Canada, some locals dress up as Santa Claus, then they walk to their neighbors' houses and make them guess their real identities.
TV used to stop broadcasting from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Iceland
According to the Web site WhyChristmas, Iceland used to celebrate by going off the grid — sort of. Between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., TV broadcasts would be interrupted because everyone was occupied with their evening meals anyway. Iceland, however, only has a population of about 300,000 — that's about half the size of Baltimore.
In Sweden, half the nation watches Donald Duck on Christmas Eve
Another northern country, Sweden, goes the other way, preferring excessive TV consumption on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, the country's main TV channel broadcasts a Christmas Disney special called "From All of Us to All of You" at 3 p.m. — and half of the Swedish population tunes in each year.
Slate author Jeremy Stahl described his experience witnessing the tradition, which has gained huge cultural importance: "I was prepared for surprises. I was not prepared for this ... Lines of dialogue from the cartoons have entered common Swedish parlance. ... Each time the network has attempted to cancel or alter the show, public backlash has been swift and fierce."
South Koreans like money as a present and their Santa Clauses can dress in blue
Money might not seem like a very elaborate Christmas gift, but many South Koreans prefer it over more creative presents. According to the culture and travel site Seoulistic, nobody really knows why this tradition developed. "It has become quite trendy. ... It is even mandatory to give money to the bride and groom at a traditional Korean wedding," according to the country-experts. The authors also explain that the South Korean version of Santa Claus (Santa Haraboji, which means Santa Grandfather), sometimes wears a blue suit instead of a red one.
In Germany, children collect money for charity
In the more Catholic south of Germany, it is common that children (called Sternsingers) collect money for charity by knocking on people's doors to perform songs. They are usually dressed as the three wise men.
In Argentina, lit paper decorations are sent into the sky on Christmas Eve
Having explored the lively Christmas destination of #BuenosAires this week; here's an interesting & festive 'Did You Know' fact: There is a #Christmas tradition in #Argentina to light colorful paper balloons called 'globos' that take off into the sky! #travel #travelfacts #xmas #igersBsAs #nofilter #bestoftheday #photooftheday #picoftheday
This colorful celebration lights the sky over Argentina on Christmas Eve. Many people in the South American country make their own paper decorations, sort of like balloons and equipped with lights. The so-called 'globos' are usually released into the sky shortly after midnight.