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9 of the most intriguing Christmas-time traditions from around the world

From the log that poops out Christmas presents in Catalonia to a towering cat that eats lazy children in Iceland, here are some fascinating holiday traditions that have emerged around the globe.

log with legs, a smiley face, a hat and a blenket

The Tió de Nadal eats food scraps and poos candy and presents.

Christmas is celebrated around the world, but it looks a bit different everywhere you go. While there are some fairly universal traditions, such as decorating a tree and giving gifts, there are some traditions specific to different cultures that are both unique and intriguing.

Check these out:

1. ITALY—La Befana: The Good Witch

women in la befana costumes holding broomsticksWomen dressed up as La BefanaEleonora Gianinetto/Wikimedia Commons

In Italy, La Befana is a good witch who flies around on a broomstick on January 5th, the night before Epiphany. Children put their shoes out with a glass of wine and a piece of bread for La Befana, and fills their shoes with candy or small gifts—or chunks of coal, onions or garlic for the naughty ones

2. ICELAND—The Yule Lads

Iceland’s 13 Yule Lads are merry and mischievous troll-like figures, each with a different name and personality. They visit children one at a time during the 13 days leading up to Christmas, leaving gifts and playing tricks, including leaving rotten potatoes in the shoes of kids who don’t behave. According to the Smithsonian, the Yule Lads used to be a lot creepier, but in 1746, the country outlawed scaring children with monstrous tales about the 13 lads. (Would love to know what prompted that law!)

3. ALSO ICELAND—The Yule Cat

yule cat sculpture

Yule Cat on display in downtown Reykjavik, December 2022

ProcrastinatingHistorian/Wikimedia Commons

As if the Yule Lads weren’t enough, a towering, fearsome cat roams the Icelandic countryside around Christmastime, peeking into homes to spy on children’s presents. In Icelandic tradition, if kids get all of their chores done, they are gifted some new clothes. If the Yule Cat (aka Jólakötturinn) sees that a child wasn’t given clothes (in other words, a child was lazy), the cat proceeds to eats the child’s dinner and then moves on to eating the child. Yes, you read that right. It eats the child. Icelandic folklore doesn’t mess around.

4. PHILIPPINES—The Giant Lantern Festival

five colorful, lit up displays

Giant Lantern Festival 2012

Ramon FVelasquez/Wikimedia Commons

In the Philippines, the Giant Lantern Festival is held in San Fernando City (dubbed the Christmas capital of the Philippines) every year the week before Christmas Eve. According to Travel & Leisure, the lantern tradition is rooted in the history of Filipino Catholics building small, colorful lanterns to light up the procession to Christmas Eve mass. The giant parol lanterns for the festival, however, are huge—up to 20 feet tall—and it can take up to 10,000 light bulbs to illuminate them.

5. SPAIN (CATALONIA)—The Tió de Nadal (pooping log)

log with legs, a smiley face, a hat and a blenket

The Tió de Nadal is a Catalan Christmas tradition.

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Some cultures have a yule log. Catalonia, Spain, has the Tió de Nadal—a log with a hat, a blanket, a smiley face and a penchant for pooping out presents. Children feed the smiling log scraps of food at night and it poop out presents on Christmas Day. There's even a song kids sing to the log, imploring it to not poop out salted herring (too salty), but nougats in instead, all while hitting the log with a stick. According to Catalan tradition, the eating of the scraps and the beating with the stick leads to Tió de Nadal pooping out presents and nougat on Christmas. And apparently, no one questions it.

6. BAVARIA—The Krampus

person wearing a scary looking horned mask

Krampus costume

Anita Martinz/Wikimedia Commons

In Bavaria (which includes Austria, Germany, Switzerland and some of the surrounding area), the Krampus is a centuries-old tradition that has been revived in modern times. The Krampus is a horned, hairy, hellish creature who follows St. Nick on his rounds to punish naughty children by scaring them (or tossing them in a sack and beating them). Many cities hold Krampus festivals each year, where people parade around in Krampus costumes like the one above.

7. VENEZUELA—Roller Skating to Christmas Mass

someone skating outside in pink roller skates

Venezuelans roller skate on Christmas

Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

Most of us don't association Christmas with roller skating, but that's not the case for Venezuelans. Christmas is an all-night roller skating party, which includes singing Christmas songs and culminates with everyone rolling their way to Christmas Mass at dawn. Most interestingly, according to a Venezuelan woman's explanation in America Magazine, it's not even like Venezuelans are a big roller skating culture the rest of the year—it's just a Christmas thing.

8. JAPAN—A Finger Lickin' Good Tradition

people lined up outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken

KFCs are packed for Christmas in Japan

Photo by Stabel Webel on Unsplash

Japan doesn't have a long history with Christmas and thus no long-standing traditions associated with it. What they do have is 50 years of eating KFC for Christmas, thanks to a "Kentucky for Christmas" marketing campaign launched by the first KFC restaurant owner in Nagoya, Japan, in 1970. Somehow, it stuck and is now a beloved tradition for millions of Japanese families.

9. UKRAINE—Spider Webs on Christmas Trees

spider and spider web ornament in tree

Ukrainians celebrate spiders at Christmas.

Erika Smith/Wikimedia Commons

According to Ukrainian legend, an impoverished widow and her children grew a tree from a pinecone outside of their house, but they were too poor to decorate it for Christmas. The household spiders heard the children's sobs and spun their webs into decorations overnight. When the children awoke on Christmas morning, they cried out “Mother, mother wake up and see the tree. It is beautiful!” As the day went on and the sun's rays hit the delicate webs, they transformed into silver and gold and the widow never wanted for anything again. Today, Ukrainians decorate trees with spider webs for good luck and fortune in the new year.

Whatever your family or cultural holiday traditions are, let's celebrate the differences that make our world so interesting.

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From political science to joining the fight against cancer: How one woman found her passion

An unexpected pivot to project management expanded Krystal Brady's idea of what it means to make a positive impact.

Krystal Brady/PMI

Krystal Brady utilizes her project management skills to help advance cancer research and advocacy.

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Cancer impacts nearly everyone’s life in one way or another, and thankfully, we’re learning more about treatment and prevention every day. Individuals and organizations dedicated to fighting cancer and promising research from scientists are often front and center, but we don’t always see the people working behind the scenes to make the fight possible.

People like Krystal Brady.

While studying political science in college, Brady envisioned her future self in public office. She never dreamed she’d build a successful career in the world of oncology, helping cancer researchers, doctors and advocates continue battling cancer, but more efficiently.

Brady’s journey to oncology began with a seasonal job at a small publishing company, which helped pay for college and awakened her love for managing projects. Now, 15 years later, she’s serving as director of digital experience and strategy at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which she describes as “the perfect place to pair my love of project management and desire to make positive change in the world.”

As a project manager, Brady helps make big ideas for the improvement of diagnosing and treating cancer a reality. She is responsible for driving the critical projects that impact the lives of cancer researchers, doctors, and patients.

“I tell people that my job is part toolbox, part glue,” says Brady. “Being a project manager means being responsible for understanding the details of a project, knowing what tools or resources you need to execute the project, and facilitating the flow of that work to the best outcome possible. That means promoting communication, partnership, and ownership among the team for the project.”

At its heart, Brady’s project management work is about helping people. One of the big projects Brady is currently working on is ASCO’s digital transformation, which includes upgrading systems and applications to help streamline and personalize oncologists’ online experience so they can access the right resources more quickly. Whether you are managing humans or machines, there’s an extraordinary need for workers with the skillset to harness new technology and solve problems.

The digital transformation project also includes preparing for the use of emerging technologies such as generative AI to help them in their research and practices.

“Most importantly, it lays the groundwork for us to make a meaningful impact at the point of care, giving the oncologist and patient the absolute latest recommendations or guidelines for care for that specific patient or case, allowing the doctor to spend more time with their patients and less time on paperwork,” Brady says.

In today’s fast-changing, quickly advancing world, project management is perhaps more valuable than ever. After discovering her love for it, Brady earned her Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification through Project Management Institute (PMI)—the premier professional organization for project managers with chapters all over the world—which she says gave her an edge over other candidates when she applied for her job at ASCO.

“The knowledge I gained in preparing for the PMP exam serves me every day in my role,” Brady says. “What I did not expect and have truly come to value is the PMI network as well – finding like-minded individuals, opportunities for continuous learning, and the ability to volunteer and give back.”

PMI’s growing community – including more than 300 chapters globally – serves as a place for project managers and individuals who use project management skills to learn and grow through events, online resources, and certification programs.

While people often think of project management in the context of corporate careers, all industries and organizations need project managers, making it a great career for those who want to elevate our world through non-profits or other service-oriented fields.

“Project management makes a difference by focusing on efficiency and outcomes, making us all a little better at what we do,” says Brady. “In almost every industry, understanding how to do our work more effectively and efficiently means more value to our customers, and the world at large, at an increased pace.”

Project management is also a stable career path in high demand as shown by PMI research, which found that the global economy will need 25 million more project managers by 2030 and that the median salary for project managers in the US has grown to $120K.

If you’d like to learn more about careers in project management, PMI has resources to help you get started or prove your proficiency, including its entry-level Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification program. For those interested in pursuing a project management career to make a difference, it could be your first step.


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