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8 wacky holiday traditions

Americans aren't the only ones whose traditions are a cause for raised eyebrows.

 3. Ded Moroz (Russia)

Despite the legacy of communism, Russia does have a Santa, although he appears on New Year’s Day rather than on Christmas, which was banned during the Soviet era. Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost”) and his granddaughter Snegurochka (“Snow Maiden”) deliver presents to children on New Year’s Day, when families gather for a lavish meal and fireworks. And because this is Russia, no New Year’s Eve would be complete without an odd ritual involving alcohol. As the clock strikes midnight, Russians write their wish for the new year on a piece of paper, burn it with a candle, mix the ashes in a glass of champagne and drink it down before the last stroke of midnight to guarantee it comes true.

4. A centerpiece of hay (Poland)

From beginning to end, Christmas Eve in Poland is filled with symbolism. Dinner, which begins when the first star appears in the sky, is comprised of 12 different entrees — one for each of the apostles. Hay is placed under the tablecloth in the middle of the table to represent Jesus’ birth in a manger and an extra place is set to symbolize that no one will be turned away (like Joseph and Mary were at the inn). Children stay up until midnight because this was supposedly the hour Jesus was born and the only time during the year that barn animals (present at Jesus’ birth) are able to speak in a human voice. For good luck in the new year, many save the scales of carp, a traditional dish served during Christmas Eve dinner, and keep it in their wallet to draw money to them throughout the year.

5. Old maid cake (Japan)

What do old maids and Christmas have in common? A lot, according to the Japanese. Most Japanese are Shinto or Buddhist so Christmas in Japan is primarily a commercial event, but it has definitely taken hold. Christmas Eve is an important date night, similar to Valentine’s Day in the U.S., when restaurant reservations are hard to come by and single women are embarrassed to spend the night alone. Cake shops throughout the country try to sell their Christmas cakes by Dec. 25 so they don’t go stale. Unmarried women over age 25 are sometimes referred to as "ure nokori kurisumasu keki," or “unsold Christmas cake.” There’s also a Japanese superstition that if a family leaves its Christmas tree up after Dec. 25, it will take the single women in the household a long time to marry. That’s why no one in Japan procrastinates taking down Christmas decorations. By Dec. 26, every sign of the holiday is gone.