Demon Hunting, Dinners In Graveyards And Other Lost Xmas Traditions

Discover some unique holiday traditions from the past and the present that you might want to give a go!

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, filled with family, friends, laughter, parties and good food. As the days get colder and the nights draw in, we all look forward to the celebrations and, of course, the approach of a new year. Everyone has their own holiday traditions, from decorating Christmas trees to hanging lights, giving gifts and watching cheesy films. Many of these have been cherished and passed down through generations of our families, reminding us of the rich history of both Christmas and the winter solstice.

With countless traditions around the world, it’s unsurprising that many of them have been lost and forgotten over time, including some rather unusual ones. Here are some of the most amusing and wacky traditions we could find. We think they deserve to be brought back to the forefront of our merrymaking! 

Eating in a Graveyard

Illustration by Leo Hartas

Tradition: Koročun
Region: Eastern Europe  
Originated: Pre-Christian era

While the holiday season is full of joy and merrymaking, it is also a time of year where we look back and think about our loved ones who are no longer with us. For Koročun, the Russian name for Koliada, it is tradition to honour your ancestors by visiting their graves and lighting a bonfire in the cemetery to keep them warm during the longest night of the year. It is hoped that by worshipping your ancestors, it will encourage them to promise a rebirth, with the bonfires also serving to encourage the summer and the light to return to the Earth once again. To stop your ancestors from going hungry, it is also customary to hold a feast to make sure that they’re all well fed, while playing different songs and games for some fun family entertainment. You might even want to go carolling on your way back home!

Eating a 12-Course (Vegetarian) Dinner 

Image source: wiki/

Tradition: Koliada 
Region: Eastern Europe 
Originated: Pre-Christian era

We all know that Christmas is a time of indulgence, with a mouth-watering roast turkey dinner complete with all the trimmings, Christmas puddings, mince pies, chocolates and sweet treats galore. However, this is nothing compared to the feast held during Koliada, the Slavic winter solstice festival. Named after the pagan goddess of the winter sun, Koliada is celebrated on Christmas Eve, which in accordance with the Julian calendar is on 6 January in Slavic countries. The feast consists of 12 – that’s right, 12! – courses to represent the apostles, and all of the dishes are vegetarian, including fish, bread, pickled food and kutya, a traditional sweet wheat berry pudding. The house is decorated during Koliada and the meal begins once the children of the family discover the first star in the night sky. A time for loved ones to gather together, an extra place is usually set either for family members who have passed away or for Christ himself. 

Keeping Demons Away with Evergreens  

Illustration by Leo Hartas

Tradition: Evergreens 
Region: Northern Europe 
Originated: Pre-Christian era

Decorating our homes with evergreen plants such as holly, ivy and mistletoe is a pagan tradition that has remained a mainstay of our Christmas celebrations to this day. Evergreens were a symbol of eternal life during the cold and dark winter months, and it was believed they provided luck and protected your home from the evil spirits and demons that wreaked havoc over the winter solstice. But sometimes decorating the home wasn’t enough, and it was actually necessary to walk around your home, equipped with your evergreen of choice, to scare away any of the devilish fiends who were still lurking around. So the next time you think you have sneaky spirit attempting to cause chaos during your festivities, grab yourself a branch of holly and chase them away! 

Banner image source: wiki/ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum

Read the full list of 12 historic Winter Festival Traditions (including the Lord of Misrule, straw suits and a giant goat effigy) in All About History 85, available now.