5 of the most unusual US Christmas traditions

Santa Con.

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Santa Con.
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Reuters/Peter Nicholis

  • Every country has its own Christmas traditions.
  • The US is no different. And there are plenty of American traditions that might baffle the rest of the world.
  • From from hiding a pickle ornament to drinking eggs, we’ve found some of the most interesting American Christmas traditions.

Every country has its own Christmas traditions: in fact, what Santa looks like around the world differs from place to place, as does what kids leave for him to find.

And while every state has its own unusual Christmas traditions, some are more unique than others.

Hiding pickle ornaments in Christmas trees.

A pickle ornament.

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A pickle ornament.
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Flickr/Laura LaRose

Many Americans have a pickle ornament for their Christmas tree. Traditionally, the ornament is supposed to be hidden somewhere on the tree, and the first child to find it receives an extra present, but it’s unclear where this tradition started. Why Christmas points to two potential origin stories.

The first legend goes that two boys were killed by an evil innkeeper, who put their bodies in a pickle barrel, but a passing Saint Nicholas was able to magically revive them. The other suggests that a German-born soldier in the American Civil War was imprisoned, and begged for one last pickle before he died. A guard took pity on him and gave him a pickle, which miraculously sustained him.

Another theory posits that the pickle ornament got its start in Germany, though few people there have heard of it. It is more likely that it was a marketing stunt invented by those importing glass decorations from Germany.

Decorating trees with popcorn.

Popcorn on the tree.

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Popcorn on the tree.
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Marie C Fields/Shutterstock

While Christmas trees as we know them are said to have originated in Germany in the 16th century, and brought to German settlements in Pennsylvania, the popcorn garland is an American thing. As Christmas trees were a relatively new idea, people had to get creative with their décor. Apparently, recently transplanted German Americans favored using fruits and nuts, thus turning to popcorn, which was ubiquitous. Per the Daily Meal, this practice was originally meant to help feed birds during harsh winters.

The rest of the world might have a hard time understanding why everyone’s favorite movie theater snack would appear on a Christmas tree.

Drinking egg yolks.

The classic rum milk punch.

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The classic rum milk punch.
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Anne Shepulova/ Shutterstock

According to The Spruce Eats, eggnog has its roots in posset, a punch with ale, raw eggs, and figs served warm. British monks drank posset all the way back in the 13th century. It eventually crossed over to America, and was renamed eggnog – its first known use dates back to 1775, according to Merriam-Webster.

Eggnog typically consists of egg yolks beaten with sugar, milk, and/or cream and your choice of alcohol. Rum, whiskey, and sherry are all acceptable options. While eggnog might not seem that strange to Americans – even George Washington had his own recipe – it’s a hard sell to the rest of the world, who might not see drinking eggs as appetizing, let alone when mixed with rum.

Getting drunk dressed as Santa.santacon new york city christmas

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

SantaCon’s roots are believed to be in ’70s Danish performance art, but it eventually crossed over to San Francisco in the ’90s, as a protest called Santarchy. A secret society called the San Francisco Suicide Club was dedicated to pranking the city and generally causing chaos for fun. One of their events, Santarchy, began with members dressing as Santa, sneaking into bars and parties, and inciting mayhem.

Over the years, it became a giant pub crawl. One of the biggest SantaCons takes place in New York City every year, and has been advertised as a charity event. According to Newsweek, the NYC SantaCon has raised over $400,000 in the last five years by asking participants for donations. The money goes to charities across the city, such City Harvest, The Secret Sandy Claus Project, and The Food Bank for New York City.

Mostly, though, it’s a drunken, debaucherously good time.

Having raging bonfires.

A Christmas bonfire.

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A Christmas bonfire.
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Christmas bonfires are a Christmas Eve tradition in Louisiana, where tree-shaped bonfires are lit up on the levees that keep the Mississippi River under control.

It’s a Cajun tradition, Cajuns being the descendants of French Canadians driven from French colonies in Canada by the British in the 18th century. The bonfires are said to help Papa Noel (Santa Claus) find his way in the dark.

Hundreds of raging fires up and down the Mississippi River might not be everyone’s idea of an idyllic Christmas Eve.

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