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8 wacky holiday traditions

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

6. Gobbling grapes (Spain)

Minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve, Spaniards gather around the TV to wait for the clock tower at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid to strike 12. But unlike Americas watching the ball drop in Times Square, Spaniards have something unusual in their hands: grapes. When the clock strikes midnight, they start popping them into their mouths and furiously chewing to get the next one in by the next chime. The tradition dates back to 1909 when grape growers in Alicante, a southeastern province on the Mediterranean Sea, had a bumper crop of grapes and marketed the idea of eating 12 grapes on New Years Eve to use up the surplus. Since then, the tradition has continued as a symbol of good luck in the new year, washed down with cava (sparkling wine) or champagne.

7. Songkran (Thailand)

In Thailand, the new year is celebrated mid-April, during the hottest time of the year. And what better way to cool off than a nationwide water fight? What started out as cleansing ritual of bathing Buddhist statues and elders with jasmine-scented water as a sign of renewal and respect now involves water guns, garden hoses and buckets to dump water over other peoples’ heads. Throughout the country, Thais gather in the streets to squirt each other at Songkran festivals. In cities like Chiang Mai, Buddhist images from the local monasteries are paraded through the streets so the crowds can douse them with water.

8. Color-coded new year (Brazil)

If you want to know what a Brazilian is hoping for in the new year, pay attention to what he or she is wearing on Jan. 1. Throughout the country, people dress in certain colors to symbolize the type of luck they’re seeking. White, which most Brazilians wear, particularly in Rio, represents harmony, peace and overall good luck. Gold symbolizes wealth, silver means new things, red signifies love and green indicates hope. The tradition is rooted in Candombe (Afro-Brazilian) religious beliefs that colors attract energy.

GlobalPost correspondents contributed ideas for this report, including Paul Ames in Belgium, Gavin Blair in Japan, Miriam Elder in Russia, Seth Kugel in Brazil and Patrick Winn in Thailand.