9 Winter Traditions to Warm Your Heart

News // 19.09.2023

As soon as the first yellow leaf hits the ground, it’s bye-bye to the oppressive heat of summer and hello to the cosy embrace of Autumn and Winter.

As we approach pumpkin-spiced-latte season, there are many winter traditions to look forward to here in the UK: Halloween; Bonfire Night; October 3rd (one for the mean girls out there), and a small festive holiday known as Christmas, which has a habit of getting a bit carried away and forces hospitality venues to start planning for it in July.

Outside of western Christmas traditions like Santa Claus, gingerbread houses and capitalism, the rest of the world has its fair share of bonkers rituals which take place towards the end of the calendar year. Read on for some of our favourites!

The Yule Goat, Sweden

Four-legged friends have a part to play at Christmas time all over the world. In the UK, reindeer have become synonymous with our winter traditions, despite not being native to the country – just like our national animal, a lion.

Couldn’t we have picked a cow or something?

Over in Sweden, winter brings with it the Yule Goat. Somewhat spiritual in nature, the horned animal would trot about in the lead-up to Christmas to make sure preparations weren’t being done baa-dly.

The Swedish town of Gӓvle is famous for their Gӓvlebocken, a huge straw goat which has been built every year since 1966 to start the season.

Unfortunately, one of the new winter traditions for drunk revellers is to burn it down, which happens almost every year.

giant ram made of hay christmas decoration

Shoe throwing, Czech Republic

Forget catching the bouquet at weddings – if you really want to know if you’ll get married, throw a shoe at your house!

If you’d like to take part in this Czech winter tradition, here’s what to do on Christmas Eve:

1. Stand facing away from your front door.
2. Throw a shoe over your shoulder towards the house (we recommend a lightweight shoe because, you know, windows).
3. Look at the shoe, presumably now on the floor (unless you threw it over the house, through a window, or into the mouth of a passing labrador).
4. If the heel is facing the door, you will remain single. Try again next year.
5. If the toe faces the door, success! You will now marry, if you want to.

Hide the brooms, Norway

Cleanliness is next to godliness, and the trusty broom gets a bit of a workout at the latter end of year by cleaning up pine needles, cookie crumbs and uninvited relatives.

Be careful if you’re in Norway though: local folklore dictates that witches and evil spirits are at their most active on Christmas Eve, so it’s in your best interests to hide the brooms, otherwise the witches will steal them and use them to fly around on.

As far as winter traditions go, this one declutters your home as well as deterring evil pests!

Tibb’s Eve, Newfoundland

This is one of those winter traditions which surprisingly hasn’t found its way over to our shores – though we think it should!

In Newfoundland, an island in eastern Canada, ‘Tibb’ referred to a promiscuous and loose-moraled person. Because of this, in festive plays, the character of ‘Saint Tibb’ was a comedic figure for adults in the know, becoming synonymous with a made-up time known as Tibb’s Eve.

The period of advent was a religiously sober time, with alcohol only to be consumed on the 25th at the earliest. Therefore, the inhabitants of Newfoundland found a creative excuse for drinking on the 23rd December by calling it Tibb’s Eve, or a time which doesn’t exist.

To this day, the 23rd December is a time for revelry in Newfoundland, so why not embrace this most excellent tradition with a Christmas Party? Tibb’s Eve can be any day you like, so come and party with us!

group of friends at Christmas party doing axe throwing at whistle punks

Kimjang gatherings, Korea

Kimchi is a serious business in Korea, and involves year-round planning which culminates in a tradition known as ‘Kimjang’.

Kimchi is a classic Korean foodstuff, made from preserved cabbage with spices and seasonings. It’s sweet, spicy, utterly delicious, and has an incredibly long shelf life.

Preparation starts in spring: families will procure seafood for fermenting, salt for brining, and red peppers for drying and grinding. This then culminates towards the end of the year with entire families sitting down and putting it all together, resulting in a heartwarming social event to make sure everyone has enough funky cabbage to last through the winter.

There is no set date for Kimjang, as families will wait until the opportune weather conditions for fermenting. That’s some commitment to the kimchi cause!

Caga Tió, Catalonia

Buckle up – this one’s wild.

Caga Tió is a hollowed-out log fashioned with wooden legs, a smiling face and a fetching red hat. From early December, Catalan children are told to feed the Tió and keep it warm.

This all sounds rather innocent so far, doesn’t it?

That is until we tell you that Caga Tió translates to ‘poo log’. On Christmas Eve, children hit it with sticks and sing Christmas songs to encourage the Tió to poop out presents, usually consisting of sweets and chocolate.

Combine this with other famous Catalan winter traditions known as ‘Caganers’, figurines of defecating people which they use to decorate nativity scenes, and we can confirm that we’ve found our next festive holiday destination.

stall selling wooden reindeers

The Christmas Spider, Ukraine

Before any arachnophobes run for the hills, these Ukrainian winter traditions have a touching story behind them, so take a seat and listen in.

As legend would have it, there was an old widow who lived in poverty. One day, a pinecone fell through the window and took root, so her children lovingly cared for it, ecstatic about the prospect of having a tree for Christmas.

The tree flourished, though they didn’t have enough money to decorate it.

When the children came down on Christmas morning, a spider had been busy during the night making webs all over their tree. When the morning light flickered on the webs, they turned into gold and silver, and they never lived in poverty again.

As with most legends, no one knows where the story came from, but it is still Ukrainian tradition to decorate Christmas trees with webs and pavuchky, meaning ‘little spiders’. Finding a genuine spider’s web on your tree is a sign of good luck.

Let this story be the persuasion you need to be kind to our eight-legged friends this winter, as they may just bring you fortune…

Yule Cat, Iceland

We’re unapologetic animal lovers here at Whistle Punks, so when we heard of the Yule Cat, images of a cute kitten wearing a Santa hat and riding a sleigh pulled by mice filled our hearts with festive joy.

Then again, we hadn’t read the whole story of this winter tradition. Far from being a snuggly lap cat, the Yule Cat is said to be a massive, man-eating beast which roams the hills in search of farmers who don’t complete their work on time.

Mr Biggles, nooooooo!

Polar Bear Plunge, worldwide

As temperatures drop, the thought of sitting next to an open fireplace in a cosy dressing gown with a cup of boozy hot chocolate is high on our list of winter traditions.

The polar opposite of this snugness would be throwing yourself into a sub-zero body of water, which is what thousands of people worldwide take part in every single year.

The polar bear plunge, also known as ‘Loony Dook’ in Scotland and ‘Freezin’ for a Reason’ in northern Canada, is held throughout the year depending on time zone, and involves thousands of participants leaping into the sea.

These chilly winter traditions usually take place on Christmas day, Boxing day or New Year’s Eve, and are as simple as taking an icy dip in the sea with your friends. Polar Plunges can attract thousands of people to a beach near you, and is certainly a bracing start to the winter festivities.

winter traditions, polar bear plunge

Whether you’re throwing shoes at your house, letting spiders decorate your tree or partying on a day which doesn’t exist, there’s no shortage of cultures with their own winter traditions which you can make your own.

For a Christmas Party you won’t forget, be sure to end the year in style at Whistle Punks and throw some axes with us – book now, or the Yule Cat will find you!

Words: Alex Pardey