40 of the Most Interesting Trees Around the World

Northern Ireland's Dark Hedges
Northern Ireland's Dark Hedges
AndySG/iStock via Getty Images

Whether they bleed crimson sap or uncannily resemble human features, these 40 trees aren't your average oaks and elms.

1. Tree shaped like a hand

The stubby, leafless branches of an olive tree, outstretched and resembling a palm. A man has his palm outstretched next to it.
Ramzi Haidar, Getty Images

In 2009, a man from the southern Lebanese village of Hasbaya brought his 85-year-old olive tree to Beirut to be displayed. He believed its resemblance to an outstretched palm was miraculous and felt it should be shared with the public.

2. "World Famous Tree House"

Black and white image of two men standing in front of an enormous tree, with a door with a sign over it that says "See the inside no charge" and a hanging sign that proclaims "Fraternal Monarch."
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Recognized by Ripley's Believe It or Not! in the 1930s as "the tallest one-room house in the world," this redwood along northern California's Redwood Highway was hollowed out by a fire some 300 years ago. But it's still alive and thriving, and although no one lives there now, the inside is home to some small mechanical toys. Despite the Ripley's recognition, it doesn't appear that anyone actually lived in the house, though a road construction crew stayed there for a week in the 1920s when building the road. If you're in the area and want to see another interesting spot, check out the nearby Living Chimney Tree, which is similar (minus the mechanical diversions).

3. Chapel Oak

A towering oak tree with a spiral staircase and two chapels carved into it.
Ji-Elle, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As the oldest known tree in France, Le Chêne Chapelle ("The Chapel Oak") in the village of Allouville-Bellefosse has been around for at least 800 years, and some say it dates all the way back to the reign of Charlemagne. Though lightning struck the tree and rendered its center hollow during the 1600s, the tree managed to survive. A local abbot decided to make use of the hollow by erecting a shrine to the Virgin Mary inside; a second chapel and a staircase were later added. Sadly, the Chapel Oak isn't doing so well these days: Parts of the tree, including its 33-foot trunk, have died, and shingles cover the trunk where the bark is missing.

4. Ray Bradbury's Halloween Tree at Disneyland

In 1972, Ray Bradbury wrote the critically acclaimed novel The Halloween Tree. In 2007, the tree was brought to life at Disneyland as part of its annual Halloween celebrations. The placement is fitting: Bradbury has long been a part of Disney history, from narrating Epcot’s Spaceship Earth ride to writing the screenplay for the Disney films Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.

The oak, located outside of the Golden Horseshoe Saloon, is festooned with lights and adorned with hand-painted pumpkins.

5. Dragon Blood Tree

A large, mushroom-cloud shaped tree with reddish, vein-like branches.
Khaled Fazaa, Getty Images

The dragon blood tree, native to Yemen, doesn't just look cool from the outside—it also "bleeds" red sap. Because of its crimson color, it's been speculated that the dragon's blood sap was used to give Stradivarius violins their distinct hue.

6. Rainbow Eucalyptus

It's easy to see why this tree has such a colorful name, but how it gets its bright streaks is not as easy to explain. The ever-changing colors are due to the evolving bark of the eucalyptus. As the bark grows, it exfoliates thin layers of tissue, and as the layers peel off, the fresh, lime green bark underneath is revealed. As the exposed bark ages, it changes to dark green, then blue-purple, then pink-orange. The final stage before exfoliation starts again is a brownish-maroon hue, so the rainbow colors are really just different natural stages of bark development.

7. Angel Oak

The old and historic Angel Oak Tree near Johns Island in South Carolina
Michael Ver Sprill, Getty Images

At 65 feet tall and 28 feet in circumference, this massive oak tree on Johns Island near Charleston, South Carolina, provides shade to an area of about 17,000 square feet. Oak trees usually grow up instead of out, but since this one is somewhere between 400 and 500 years old, it has had plenty of time to do both. The Angel Oak gets its name from former owners Justus and Martha Waight Tucker Angel, but the tree is now owned by the City of Charleston.

8. The Hangman's Elm

The oldest living tree in Manhattan may also be the most notorious. Located in the northwest corner of Washington Square Park, the elm stands at nearly 110 feet tall and is estimated to be 330 years old. Though there are no public records to support it, the tree is said to have been used for hundreds of public hangings, from Revolutionary War traitors to prisoners from the nearby Newgate State Prison.

9. Bike in a Tree

A tree embedded in the bark of a tree.
Sean O'Neill, Flickr // CC BY-ND-2.0

There's a sad story that goes along with this bike that has been overtaken by a tree with an appetite: it's said that a young boy who lived on Vashon Island, Washington, left his bike leaning against the trunk in 1914, then went off to war and never came back to retrieve it. Fortunately, that story is made-up. The real story, according to resident Helen Puz, isn't quite so heartstring-tugging.

In 1954, Puz's 8-year-old son Don inherited a girl's bike. He wasn't too happy about riding it, so when the bike somehow got "misplaced," Don didn't look too hard for it. Fast-forward 40 years, when Puz read an article in the local paper about a bike that had been lifted five feet off the ground by a tree that grew up around it. She checked it out, and realized that Don's long-lost bike had been found.

10. Crooked Trees in Poland

The 400 50-foot pine trees near Gryfino, Poland, which are believed to have been planted in the early 1930s, bend sharply at the trunk in a manner that has scientists baffled. If the structure was the result of a genetic mutation, the trees would curve in places other than the base. And if the cause was environmental—say, snow weighing down the trunks as they were newly formed—then surrounding trees of the same type and age should have been similarly affected. One hypothesis is that local farmers manipulated the trees to curve for furniture purposes, but were prevented from harvesting them when World War II broke out.

11. The Sunland Baobab

A group of people stand in a line in front of a very wide baobab tree
South African Tourism, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

With a circumference of 154 feet, the Sunland Baobab in Modjadjiskloof, South Africa, was once famous for being the widest Baobab in the world. Carbon-dated at around 1700 years old, the tree began to hollow out at around 1000 years old—which made it perfect for a small bar inside. Sadly, a large branch representing about one-third of the tree split off in 2016, causing a lot of damage and permanently closing the bar inside.

12. Thimmamma Marrimanu

It’s said that this 200-year-old Banyan tree in Andhra Pradesh, India, is named for a widow named Thimmamma who threw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre in 1433. Her sacrifice caused one of the poles to grow into the giant tree it is today, covering five acres of land and putting down 4000 prop roots. Today, couples pray at the tree for fertility, and anyone who removes its leaves is said to be cursed.

13. Strangler Fig

Strangler fig growing up the trunk of a tall host tree to reach the light above the rainforest canopy
KarenHBlack/iStock via Getty Images

The lattice on the tree above may be beautiful, but it's also deadly: the intricate pattern is actually the strangler fig slowly squeezing the life out of the tree it envelops. The fig tree grows when a bird or other animal drops its sticky seed in the branches of another tree. The seed is able to thrive on the tree's surface, and as it grows, its long roots reach down the host tree and, eventually, into the ground. The strangler fig can be found in tropical and subtropical zones, and is a frequent sight in southern Florida and the Keys.

14. Monkey Puzzle Tree

A photo of the monkey puzzle tree
Krasimir Kanchev/iStock via Getty Images

The national tree of Chile is certainly a distinctive one. Though the Araucaria araucana is more pyramid-shaped when it's young, it becomes rather top-heavy as it ages—and it can really age. Monkey puzzle trees can live to be up to 2000 years old and reach heights of about 164 feet. As a conifer, it produces edible cones called piñones. Now, about that unusual name: Legend has it that in the 1850s, when the trees were becoming popular as decorative plantings in English gardens, noted lawyer Charles Austin looked at one and remarked, "It would puzzle a monkey to climb that."

15. The Boab Prison Tree

A stout, thick tree with a skinny, vertical knothole in the middle. It's surrounded by a fence.
Martin Kraft, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

There's a dark legend surrounding this unique boab tree in Western Australia: It's said that the tree's human-sized knothole made it the perfect prison cell during the 1890s, when prisoners were on their way to Derby for sentencing. Although the tree is on the State Heritage Register as "prison boab tree" and the signage around the tree acknowledges this supposed history, there doesn't appear to be much evidence for the tree being used as a cage.

16. Buddha in a Tree

A head from a Buddha statue entwined in tree roots.
ironypoisoning, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

No one is quite sure how this Buddha head got so perfectly entwined in the roots of this tree at the Wat Mahathat temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand, but there are plenty of theories. The statue was likely decapitated in 1767, when the Burmese army invaded and destroyed the ancient temple. The temple was abandoned until the 1950s, when restoration work began, and that's when the statue head was discovered. One theory is that the perfect juxtaposition happened to occur naturally when the statue piece fell within the tree roots just right. Another is that a thief placed it there to hide it in the 1900s, which is when part of the temple collapsed because of treasure hunters.

However it happened, the head is there to stay—a guard is now stationed nearby to make sure that no souvenir-hunting tourists gets too grabby.

17. Wonderboom

The Wonderboom, or “Tree of Wonder,” is a 1000-year-old fig tree in Pretoria, South Africa. The tree is certainly impressive in size, standing 82 feet tall and boasting 13 trunks, but it also looms large in legend, too. Local lore says that an ancient chief buried at the base of the tree is what made it grow so extraordinarily large. As massive as the tree is now, it was once even bigger; in 1870, it was damaged in a fire started by a hunting party.

18. Árbol de tule

At more than 32 feet in diameter and about 114 in height, the Árbol del Tule in the town of Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico, is considered to be the broadest tree in the world. In fact, the Montezuma cypress is so stout that scientists once thought it was actually a few trees that had somehow merged together, but modern testing has revealed that the 1500-year-old tree really is just a single trunk.

19. Cypress Tree Tunnel

Cypress Tree Tunnel at Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Manel Vinuesa/iStock via Getty Images

Planted sometime around 1930, this Monterey cypress tunnel at Point Reyes National Seashore, a park reserve in Marin County, California, marks a historic wireless transmission site that still stands today.

20. The Circus Trees

In 1947, a Swedish-American farmer named Axel Erlandson turned his tree-shaping hobby into a tourist attraction. Erlandson, who had a knack for creating living art with trees and plants, was constantly experimenting with grafting trees together and encouraging multiple trunks to grow into one. When he had 60 to 70 fairly mature examples of artfully twisted trunks and branches, he dug them up and relocated them near Santa Cruz, California. The attraction garnered some attention from Ripley's Believe It or Not! and LIFE magazine, and in 1963, Erlandson sold his grove of "Circus Trees." Sadly, he passed away in 1964 without telling anyone how he shaped the trees. "I talk to them," he was fond of telling anyone who asked.

Though they've passed from owner to owner through the years, these days, the trees are a main attraction at the Gilroy Gardens theme park.

21. Dark Hedges

They're just beech trees, but the gnarled, foreboding tunnel they form has turned them into one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. The trees—about 150 of them—were planted 200 years ago by the Stuart family, who wanted to create an intimidating entrance to their home. Known as "the Dark Hedges," the cluster of trees have made a handful of appearances in TV shows and movies, incuding Game of Thrones. Hoping to keep the trees healthy for another two centuries, the Department of Infrastructure recently banned vehicles from driving on the road. That, of course, didn't stop powerful winds from uprooting one of the trees in early 2019.

22. Hyperion

The world’s tallest living tree, Hyperion looms nearly 380 feet tall in California’s Redwood National Park. That’s about 75 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, from the base of the pedestal to the tip. If it wasn’t for woodpecker damage near the top of the tree, Hyperion could have been even taller. Unless you’re in the know, you’ll probably never see Hyperion; its exact location has been kept secret to protect it from vandals.

23. Windblown Trees of New Zealand

These macrocarpa (a type of cypress) trees in New Zealand may look like they're windblown, but they retain their extreme angles even on a calm day. The strange bend is the result of saplings surviving and thriving in the windy environment. The manager of the farm where the trees live says their photogenic branches conceal a secret—the ruins of a house that sheep now use for shelter.

24. The Scream Tree

A tree trunk with 3 knotholes resembling two eyes and a mouth open in a scream.
Pleuntje, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

This tree in the Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen nature reserve near Ghent, Belgium has knotholes that makes it resemble Edvard Munch's 1893 painting The Scream.

25. The Tree of Life

Tree of Life on Kalaloch Beach, Washington
Gerardo Martinez Cons/iStock via Getty Images

Also known as the Tree Root Cave, this tree, located in Olympic National Park near Kalaloch, Washington, has managed to survive even though erosion has removed most of its support system.

26. The Lone Cypress

A lone Cypress tree stands on a rocky outpost just off the cliffside coast of Monterey, California
By Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Located on the Monterey Peninsula in California, the Monterey Cypress is said to be the most photographed tree in North America . Believed to be more than 250 years old, the single cypress tree clings to a rocky outcrop that juts out into the water. Sadly, the tree lost a major limb when it was damaged in a 2019 storm.

27. Cashew of pirangi

If you’re a fan of cashews, this tree near Natal, Brazil, is your dream come true. Covering about two acres, what feels like a forest is actually the world’s largest cashew tree. A genetic mutation caused the branches to grow out instead of up, and when the branches eventually touch the ground, they root, causing the single tree to spread outward into a cashew wonderland.

28. The Banyan Tree in Lahaina, Maui

The large knotty trunk and canopy of a banyan tree in Lahaina Maui
Hotaik Sung iStock via Getty Images

On April 24, 1873, Sheriff William Owen Smith of Lahaina planted an 8-foot Banyan tree to honor the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission there. Residents encouraged the tree’s aerial roots to grow symmetrically by hanging glass jars filled with water from the branches they wanted to descend. And under their watchful eyes, the tree now stands more than 60 feet high and has 46 major trunks. It’s now the largest Banyan tree in the U.S.

29. Methuselah Bristlecone Pine

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree in California White Mountains Inyo National Forest
hlsnow iStock via Getty Images

Named for the biblical figure that lived to be nearly 1000, the Methuselah Bristlecone Pine in the Inyo National Forest in Eastern California is almost five times as old. Thought to be around 4800 years old, Methuselah has survived extreme elevations and winds to become the second-oldest tree in the world. (Old Tjikko in Sweden is the winner at 9500 years.)

30. The Ashbrittle Yew

An ancient yew tree stands behind grave markers
By Martin Bodman, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

At up to 4000 years old, this yew tree in the village of Ashbrittle in Somerset, England, is ancient—predating even Stonehenge. The seven-trunked tree stands in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist, but maybe not for much longer. Half of the branches appear to be dead, and locals fear the yew may be battling a disease. But you don’t live to be several thousand years old without surviving a few rough patches: A tree doctor in the area says it will likely be just fine.

31. Major Oak

A large oak with dozens of limbs supported by beams.
travellinglight iStock via Getty Images

Move over, Robin Hood: the Major Oak is the real star of Sherwood Forest. The biggest oak tree in Britain, the Major Oak weighs an estimated 23 tons and has a trunk circumference of more than 36 feet and a canopy spread of 91 feet. Its popularity as a tourist attraction caused officials to add supports and fence the area off in the 1970s, so you can’t camp beneath it as Robin Hood was rumored to have done—but you can still get a pretty decent selfie.

32. Isaac Newton's Apple Tree

In 1666, as the story goes, Isaac Newton was relaxing under a tree when an apple detached from its branch and beaned Newton on the noggin, dislodging the theory of gravity from his brain. According to the U.K. National Trust, you can see the very tree that inspired Newton at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, England. Though a storm blew the tree down in 1820, the Trust says the tree remained rooted and re-grew from the base, and that tree is the one still standing at Woolsthorpe—and dendrochronology confirms that it’s the right age.

33. Cedars of god

A valley of cedar trees in Lebanon.
ahmed abdelsalam iStock via Getty Images

Cedar trees are synonymous with Lebanon. While the mountains were once thick with the ancient trees, deforestation and climate change have reduced their numbers—while the remaining copses growing higher up the mountainside to chase the cooler climates they prefer. Only 10 square miles of cedars remain in Lebanon; its most famous patch, Cedars of God, has been fenced off and preserved since 1876.

34. Buttonball tree

The locals in Sunderland, Massachusetts, claim this 113-foot American sycamore is the "widest tree east of the Mississippi." A plaque proudly proclaims that the tree “lived here at the time of the signing of our Constitution,” and it has been estimated that it’s anywhere from 350 to 400 years old.

35. General Sherman

The largest single stem tree in the world, a sequoia in California
bluejayphoto iStock via Getty Images

California’s Sequoia National Park boasts the largest tree in the world by volume. The 2300 to 2700-year-old-tree was discovered by naturalist James Wolverton in 1879; he named for Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, under whom Wolverton had served. In 2006, General Sherman’s largest branch—bigger than most tree trunks—broke off, smashing the perimeter fence and cratering the walkway below. There were no witnesses to the event, and it’s not believed that the incident is an indication of poor health in the tree.

36. Caesarsboom

The Caesarsboom in Lo, Belgium, isn’t that impressive to look at—it’s a yew tree, and it’s lovely, but it’s certainly not massive in height or girth or volume. Its one claim to fame, however, is that during his travels to Britain, Julius Caesar once tied his horse to it while he had a drink. Modern historians have no way to ascertain whether this story has any basis in fact but, as Atlas Obscura points out, the city is crossed by what was once the Roman highway.

37. Son of tree that owns itself

A photograph of the Son of Tree That Owns Itself
By Bloodofox, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

To understand the Son of Tree That Owns Itself in Athens, Georgia, you have to know the story of its “father.” Sometime between 1820 and 1832, Colonel William Henry Jackson deeded a white oak tree on his property—to itself. As the story goes, he had fond childhood memories of the tree and wanted to reward it. The tree entered local legend, even receiving an engraved plaque with its story on it. Sadly, Tree That Owns Itself fell into decline in the early 1900s after suffering natural erosion and damage from an ice storm, and toppled over on October 9, 1942. Luckily, people saw the tree’s demise coming and gathered acorns to produce saplings. Hence, Son of Tree That Owns Itself was planted on the same spot on December 4, 1946.

38. Tāne Mahuta

Giant kauri tree
The World Traveller iStock via Getty Images

Tāne Mahuta, Maorian for “Lord of the Forest,” is the largest kauri tree in New Zealand. The 148-foot-tall tree, estimated to be up to 2500 years old, is one of the last remnants of an ancient subtropical rainforest on the North Auckland Peninsula. According to Maori mythology, "Tāne is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. Tāne was the child that tore his parents' parental embrace and once done set about clothing his mother in the forest we have here today. All living creatures of the forest are regarded as Tāne's children.

39. Callixylon tree stump

Callixylon tree stump
Brad Holt // CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

The next time you find yourself on the campus of East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, take a peek at the tree stump located at the entrance. The petrified stump there belongs to a Callixylon tree, a long-extinct species with fern-like leaves. Estimated to be 250 million years old, the stump was discovered at a nearby farm and was donated to ECU after a brief scuffle with the Smithsonian.

40. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree

A sacred fig, the Sri Maha Bodhi is said to be the exact spot where Gautama Buddha, the Supreme Buddha, found enlightenment. Many trees have since been propagated from the original Bodhi tree, and several of them are now the center of worship themselves—including the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It’s said to be the oldest-living human-planted tree in existence and was propagated in 288 B.C.

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

11 Unusual Christmas Traditions Around the World

A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
R. fiend, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

We all know about the typical trappings of Christmas—Santa, the tree, eggnog and carols, turkey and ham, that fruitcake that’s made three trips around the country and counting. But what about traditions that are generally less well-known in America—the ones that might take place halfway around the world? Traditions like the Swedes watching the same Donald Duck cartoon each year, the Japanese devouring KFC, or Austria’s “bad Santa,” Krampus? Allow us to take you on a journey with the international Christmas traditions below.

1. Sweden // Watching Donald Duck on Television

Every year at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, around half of Sweden sits down to watch the 1958 Walt Disney TV special “From All of Us to All of You.” Known in Swedish as Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul, the title translates to “Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But, really, it’s usually known as Kalle Anka. Since 1959, the show has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time every December 24 on TV1, Sweden’s main public television channel. According to Slate, it’s one of the three most popular TV events each year, and lines of the cartoon’s dialogue have become common Swedish parlance.

Slate’s Jeremy Stahl, who remembers his first Christmas visiting Sweden with his soon-to-be-wife, observes, “I was taken aback not only by the datedness of the clips (and the somewhat random dubbing) but also by how seriously my adoptive Swedish family took the show. Nobody talked, except to recite favorite lines along with the characters." Stahl notes that for many Swedes, other Christmas Eve festivities revolve around watching the show—what time they eat the Christmas meal, for example—and that, although the tradition may seem strange, it also makes some sense: “For many Swedes, there is something comforting about knowing that every year there is one hour, on one day, when you sit down with everyone in your family and just be together.”

2. Venezuela // Roller Skating to Christmas Eve Mass

Roller skates on a wooden background
xavigm/iStock via Getty Images

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, it’s a long-established tradition to strap on your skates and roll on over to morning Christmas mass. According to Metro.co.uk, legend has it that children go to bed with a piece of string tied to their toes, with the other end dangling out the window. As the skaters glide by early the next morning, they give the strings a firm tug to let the children know it’s time to wake up and put on their skates. Firecrackers accompany the sound of the church bells, and when mass is finished, everyone gathers for food, music, and dance. The custom continues today.

3. Japan // Eating KFC on Christmas Eve

A KFC in Japan at Christmas
A KFC in Japan at Christmas
Robert Sanzalone, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Christmas isn't a widely celebrated holiday in Japan—a mere 1 percent of Japanese people are estimated to be Christian—and yet a bucket of KFC “Christmas Chicken” is the popular meal on December 24. According to the BBC, 3.6 million families celebrated this way in 2016.

It all began with a 1974 marketing campaign—“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii” (Kentucky for Christmas). According to Smithsonian, when a group of foreigners couldn’t find Christmas turkey and opted for KFC instead, the company saw it as a fabulous marketing opportunity and advertised its first Christmas meal—chicken and wine for the equivalent of $10, which, Smithsonian notes, was rather pricey for the mid-'70s. These days, the Christmas dinner includes cake and champagne, and costs roughly $40. Many people order their meals far in advance to avoid lines; those who forget can end up waiting for as long as two hours.

4. Ukraine // Decorating the Tree with (Fake) Spiders and Webs

A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
Marty Gabel, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to Ukrainian folklore, there was a poor family with a widowed single mother who couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. One night, as they all slept, a wonderful Christmas spider decorated the tree with a beautiful, sparkly web. The rays of the sun touched the web, turning it to silver and gold, and from that day on the family wanted for nothing. Ukrainian families decorate their trees with glittering spiders and their webs in honor of the tale.

5. Guatemala // La Quema del Diablo, “Burning the Devil”

Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Conred Guatemala, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Every December 7, beginning at 6 p.m. sharp, Guatemalans build bonfires to “burn the devil” and kick off their Christmas season. The tradition has particular significance in Guatemala City, according to National Geographic, due to its association with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which honors the city’s patron saint. The tradition evolved from simply lighting bonfires during colonial times to burning a devil figure to clear the way for a celebration of the Virgin Mary. In recent years, devil piñatas have been added to the festivities, too. These days, an estimated 500,000 bonfires burn in the course of an hour on the holiday, and fireworks explode across the smoky sky.

6. Catalonia // Caganer, the Pooping Christmas Figurine

A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
J2R/iStock via Getty Images

A regular figure in Catalonian nativity scenes, the caganer is a bare-bottomed man with his pants around his knees as he bends over to poop. He typically wears a white shirt and a barretina, a traditional Catalan hat. The caganer most likely first appeared in nativity scenes in the early 18th century; nativity scenes in the region typically represent pastoral scenes with depictions of rural life. The caganer often appears crouched behind a tree or a building in a corner of the nativity. Caganer literally means “pooper” in Catalan, and no one is certain of his significance, though one theory is that he represents good luck and the wish for a prosperous new year, since the pooping could be construed as the fertilization of the earth. Another theory is that he represents the mischief that resides in all of us. Yet another theory: he could merely represent humility and humanity. After all, everyone poops.

7. Wales // Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare”

Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare,” is the name given to the ghostly looking horse figure often brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales. Typically constructed of a horse skull, a white sheet, and adorned with colorful ribbons and bells, the Mari Lwyd is carried around Welsh towns by singing revelers who challenge their neighbors to a battle of wits through poetry. Atlas Obscura explains that despite often being associated with Christmas, Mari Lwyd is actually a pre-Christian practice, and some Welsh towns choose instead to parade their horse skulls on other days, such as Halloween or May Day. However, the Christmas season is the most popular time for Mari Lwyd, and the practice often includes wassailing, which involves the drinking of a boozy, sugared-and-spiced ale.

8. Austria and German-speaking Alpine region // Krampus, the Christmas Devil

Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day
Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day in Italy
dario_tommaseo/iStock via Getty Images

While well-behaved children in Austria and elsewhere look forward to St. Nicholas rewarding them with presents and sweets, those on the naughty list live in fear of Krampus. Part demon and part goat, Krampus is a “bad Santa” devil-like figure with origins in pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Later, Krampus became a part of Christian traditions alongside the celebrating of St. Nick. During Krampusnacht, or “Krampus night,” right before St. Nicholas Day, adults dress up as Krampus, and Krampus might also be seen on a Krampuslauf—literally a “Krampus run.” He also appears on Christmas cards throughout Austria, and enjoys a long-held place in the country’s holiday traditions, as well as in other German-speaking areas near the Alps.

9. Iceland // The Yule Cat

Iceland has its own frightening Christmas figure, the Yule cat, which lurks in the snow and waits to devour anyone who has not received new clothes to wear for Christmas. National Geographic did some digging into the origins of this tradition, and notes that in Icelandic rural societies employers often rewarded members of their households with new clothes and sheepskin shoes each year as a way to encourage everyone to work hard in the lead-up to Christmas. “To this day Icelanders still find it important to wear new clothes on Christmas Eve when the celebrations begin,” the website writes. So, basically, the Yule cat punishes the lazy by devouring them, though, as National Geographic observes, “According to some tales, the Yule Cat only eats their food and presents, not the actual people.” Whew!

10. Greenland // Whale Blubber Dinner

Although women around the world have often traditionally prepared the Christmas meal, in Greenland the men serve the women. The main dish is mattak, strips of whale blubber, as well as kiviak, flesh from auks buried in sealskin for several months and then served once it begins to decompose. Dessert is a little more familiar: Christmas porridge garnished with butter, cinnamon, and sugar.

11. Italy // Befana, the Christmas Witch

Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
corradobarattaphotos, iStock via Getty Images

Like Austria’s Krampus, Italy’s Christmas witch, Befana, is scary-looking—she has the warts and the sharp nose of the typical witch depiction—and yet every January 5 she leaves gifts and sweets for the good children. Of course, she also leaves coal for the naughty ones. According to legend, she swoops up the particularly bad children and brings them home to her child-eating husband. According to Vice, Italy honors Befana with festivals each year, complete with market stalls, raffles, games, and prizes. Children also write letters to Befana just as they do to Santa Claus.

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