Winter usually means the advent of so many common things that set the tone of the whole season for millions of people. Christmas trees, jolly carolers, Hanukkah menorahs, family feasts… Of course, that’s something that brings us comfort, and, as such, we happily embrace it every year. But, why settle for the beloved, universal festivities we all know and cherish time after time? The world is filled with wondrous, astonishing, and utterly interesting traditions that take place during the coldest months of the year, after all. Want to learn more about some of them? Then join us on this trip to discover the other winter holidays you didn’t know about!

Bear Festival, Romania

Among the many and colorful New Year traditions you can find in Europe, few look so wild as the Bear Festival. Especially popular in the rural regions of Romania and Moldova, it consists of an awe-inspiring march of dozens of people dancing through the streets and knocking at their neighbors’ doors while wearing real bearskins. Yeah, you read it right…these are not costumes, but authentic animal furs donned and inherited for hundreds of years. Why? Well, to ward off evil spirits, of course! The origins of this spectacular practice have been traced to a time when real bears were part of the parade. Nowadays, marchers dress as bears and tamers while playing the pan flute among other musical instruments… and even take part in post-parade hibernations to get rest after so much furry fun!

Yalda Night, Iran

Frequently considered one of the most important celebrations of the year, the Shabe Yalda (Night of the Rebirth of the Sun) is the moment when Iranian families gather together to celebrate the victory of light over darkness. You see, ancient Persians used to think that it was during the winter solstice when dark forces grew stronger, right before submitting that power to the Lord of Wisdom Ahura Mazda the next day. And with good reason. Or is it not true that, after the darkest night, days last longer? That’s why, even today, people gather to read poetry and share drinks and food that symbolize the eternal cycle of rebirth, such as pomegranates, nuts, and watermelons. These festivities are also celebrated in many other countries that formed part of the Persian Empire, like Afghanistan or Armenia.

Night of the Radishes, Mexico

Rábanos (Spanish for “radishes) are a pretty big deal in the Mexican city of Oaxaca, where every December 23rd its inhabitants take part in a surprising festival that completely revolves around this crafty vegetable. If you visit during the Night of Radishes celebration, you’ll find talented artisans carving all kinds of religious icons and Mexican folklore symbols entirely from oversized radishes. The accuracy and craftmanship behind these Nativity scenes and other edible masterpieces are absolutely stunning, so it’s no surprise that the best ones get prizes in an annual competition that has been celebrated since 1897 when the vegetable became popular at the city’s seasonal markets.

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Thorrablót, Iceland

Pitch-dark, Arctic-cold, and very long. Icelandic winters can be tough, all right. But the stark people who make a living here don’t let this bring them down. Instead, they decide to feast on winter. Like, eating the season. It’s really a thing, although not literally! But how do they do that, you might ask? By celebrating a sacrificial winter celebration of Thorri, both the fourth month of Icelandic winter and the personification of the main god of this season (hence the word “thorrablót“), with local delicacies such as boiled sheep’s heads, ram testicles, or fermented shark meat. By accomplishing this feat the first Friday after January 19th, Icelanders not only take their first step in saying winter goodbye but also prove that the harsh season cannot daunt them. The festivities are complete with plenty of songs, games, dancing, and traditional storytelling.

International Hair Freezing Competition, Canada

Everybody knows that Canadians feel at home amidst freezing temperatures and barely falter at the prospect of diving into cold waters. But this tradition coming straight from the Yukon Territory is a whole different frozen ballgame. As part of the International Hair Freezing Competition, participants submerge themselves in the waters of the Takhini Hot Springs when the outside reaches temperatures under -20 Celsius. And then, they mold their hair into the desired shape until it literally freezes in place. Although in some cases it can take hours to make it happen, the final results are in some cases truly amazing. Apart from a lot of time enjoying the hot springs, winners of each category are awarded $2,000. Now that’s food for thought in case you were thinking of booking cheap international flights for an exciting and over-the-top winter adventure!

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About The Author

Content Writer

Born in Barcelona. Raised in Madrid. New Yorker at heart. When he is not geeking out at a comic book convention or binge-watching superhero shows, this bilingual journalist loves to discover secret venues and hidden places around the world to fill his insatiable wanderlust. He also digs into ghost-busting, Bigfoot-hunting, and UFO-sighting. The truth is out there.