Festivals and events

12 Non-Traditional Christmas Celebrations

Bored by markets and carolers? Here are a dozen alternative ways to have yourself a merry, non-traditional Christmas

Celebrate a demon in Austria

There’s a cute traditional Christmas market throughout December in Klagenfurt, a ridiculously pretty alpine town in Austria. It’s here, too, that the largest celebration of Krampus – a horned, terrifying-looking demon that haunts Central Europe each winter and kidnaps naughty children – takes place. Sadly you’ve likely missed Krampuslauf, a riotous parade of hundreds of demons, often running wild and drinking up a storm, which takes place each November. There’s always next year.

Get drunk with Santa in LA

We all know Santa likes a tipple – and there’s plenty of liquid refreshment to be had on LA’s Santa Monica Pub Crawl each December. Around 6,000 people dressed as Mr or Mrs Claus, elves or reindeer follow set routes around town; revenue from ticket sales goes to the Westside Food Bank and there are prizes for the best costumes. Participants can sign up for the Santa Scavenger Challenge, a festive treasure hunt, to add to the fun.

Walk sausage dogs in Florida

It’s a Wiener Wonderland in Florida on New Year’s Eve when the annual Key West Dachshund Walk takes to the streets from midday. Around 200 canines join the parade, which winds its way between Whitehead and Duval streets, as pooches yap their goodbyes to the old year.

Credit: Krampus: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Run with Santa in Australia

There will be plenty of jiggling bellies as thousands of Santas take part in a particularly jolly five-kilometre fun run in early December. Money raised from the Santa Fun Run goes to children’s charity Variety and there’s entertainment with bands and DJs along the way. The locations can vary from year to year; it’s been held in Sydney and will be in both Newcastle and Darwin in 2019.

If you’re in Sydney on Christmas Day, climb Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of the few attractions open, and you might meet Father Christmas – he pops by each year, sometimes with Mrs Christmas in tow.

Celebrate new year twice in the Arctic

Welcome the New Year twice in an hour in Juoksengi, a village in the Arctic Circle on the border of Finland and Sweden. Wrap up warm: festivities take place on the frozen Torne river, with drinks served in ice glasses. Two midnight firework displays set the sky alight when the clock strikes 12 an hour apart, because of the time difference between the two countries.

Drink fiery punch in Germany

Like mulled wine? In Nuremberg, Germany, a three-metre-high cauldron holding a massive 9,000 litres bubbles away from late November to 31 December filled with feuerzangenbowle (‘fire tongs punch’) – a potent mix of red wine, spices, lemon, orange peel and lots of rum. Sugar loaves are burnt over the mixture so caramelised sugar drops into the mix, too. Find it on the edge of the Christmas market.

Watch a street version of The Nutcracker in the US

Tchaikovsky’s festive ballet score gets street tough with The Hip Hop Nutcracker. The action moves to New Year’s Eve and the palace of sugarplums becomes the Land of Sweets, a 1980s Brooklyn nightclub, complete with hip-hop DJs and an electric violinist. A mouse-ear wearing gang replaces the mouse army – expect more breakdancing windmills than pirouettes. Catch performances throughout December in cities across the US.

Credits: Radish carving: Paul Taylor/Getty Images. Snow sculpture: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

Get ice, ice cold in Harbin

Slide down a 100 metre luge replica of the Great Wall of China, wander through an icy sculptural likeness of Beijing’s Summer Palace or swim in a pool dug into the frozen Songhua River at a festive winter wonderland at the Snow Sculpture Festival and Ice and Snow World in Harbin, China. It’s open from mid-late December until the end of February (exact dates depend on the weather), and there are carnivals and parties for Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year (and an outdoor swimming tournament in early January).

Celebrate radishes in Mexico

For over 120 years, 23 December has meant one thing in the colourful Mexican city of Oaxaca: radishes. Elaborate sculptures of anything from intricate nativity scenes and saints to fantasy animals are carved from oversized specimens of the peppery root vegetable – and a competition is held in the central square. After the Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) the fun continues on 24 December with parades of bright floats and giant papier-mâché figures designed by different churches.

Live like a Local in Swedish Lapland

You might not spot Santa but you will experience indigenous Arctic life at the Sápmi Nature camp in Gällivare, Swedish Lapland, which opened in 2016. Accommodation is in traditional wood-heated lávvu tents and activities range from reindeer herding to skiing. It’s far removed from any streetlamps or light pollution, so there’s a good chance of catching the Northern Lights, too – how’s that for the perfect Christmas present?

Credits: Ba games: David Gillanders; Building: Premysl Fojtu

Play football in Scotland

Windows and doors are boarded up on Christmas and New Year’s Day in Kirkwall, on the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland, when the Ba Games – a kind of mass football match – comes to town. Two sides, the Uppies and Doonies, with 200-plus players, form a scrum that runs through the streets competing for the ‘ba’, a leather ball. The origins of the game are thought to date back centuries. If Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on a Sunday, the Ba is moved to 26 December and 2 January. There’s plenty of fun for spectators – and the winner has to invite players back to theirs for a party…

Drink beer in Belgium

Move over mulled wine – at the annual Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, Belgium, it’s all about the amber nectar. Started 20 years ago, it may not be on the scale of Oktoberfest, but 2,000 people (mostly in their Santa hats) flock to taste around 180 specially brewed, limited edition Christmas and winter beers over two very merry days in mid-December.

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