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12 Lesser-Known European Traditions That Will Intrigue You

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Europe, the second-smallest continent, boasts a rich history and diverse culture across its 44 countries. However, every European country has quirky customs that people from other countries find strange. Here is the roundup of 12 unusual European traditions that Americans have never heard.

1. Water Plunge Monday (Hungary)

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Vízbevető, Shower Monday, or Water Plunge Monday, is a peculiar Easter tradition in Hungary. The young men and women dress up in their folk costumes for this day. The boys throw buckets of water on the girls on the streets.

The girls then present the boys with decorated eggs, home-baked cookies, or alcohol shots on the same or the next day. You decide if this is fun or unfair.

2. Wife-Carrying Championship (Finland)

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In this unique sport, Finnish men carry their female partners and race through different obstacles in the fastest time to fight for victory. They can carry their wives in different ways – the traditional piggyback, Estonian style (the female hangs upside-down with her legs around the husband’s shoulders and holds onto his waist), or fireman’s style (over the shoulder).

The international competition is held in the small town of Sonkajaervi in Finland and draws couples worldwide. The next event will take place in July 2024 if you and your partner want to travel to Finland to watch or participate.

3. The Fests of Saint John (Portugal)

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Porto City and many other towns in Portugal celebrate this annual street festival with enthusiasm on the night of June 23 every year. The streets become vibrant and joyful as the citizens indulge in food, wine, entertainment, and fireworks.

What makes this tradition unusual? People carry a plastic hammer and lightly pound the heads of passers-by. They also wave garlic in people’s faces.

4. Blackening The Bride And Groom (Scotland)

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Blackening is a bizarre pre-wedding ritual among the Scottish. The family and friends ‘kidnap’ the bride, groom, or both, usually in the back of a truck. They douse them in a mix of dirty things such as mud, cow dung, flour, and even adhesive substances.

The idea behind this tradition is that if a couple can withstand this humiliation, they can bravely face the challenges in their marriage.

5. Leaving Babies Outside For A Nap (Nordic Countries)

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Parents in Denmark, Norway, and other Nordic countries leave their babies outside in strollers in sub-zero temperatures for a nap in fresh air. They cover the baby adequately, lock the wheels and wedges of the stroller, and put a thermometer or a monitor near the baby for protection.

Katie Palmer, a sleep consultant, says that babies who nap outside sleep longer and better and are exposed to fewer germs than indoors.

6. Bathtub Regatta (Belgium)

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The Belgian city of Dinant has been hosting the Bathtub Regatta on August 15 every year since 1982. People decorate their bathtubs artistically and attempt to stay afloat on the waters of River Meuse. The bathtub must be motorless which makes the event more enjoyable to watch.

The event witnesses crowds of thousands, and they don’t mind getting drenched when the participants fall overboard and splash the water everywhere.

7. Cheese Rolling (England)

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The local village of Brockworth in England celebrates the ‘Cheese Rolling’ festival in May every year. The competitors chase a Double Gloucester cheese weighing 3-4 kg down an incredibly steep Cooper Hill amidst the cheers and whistles from spectators.

Despite being a dangerous sport and having seen a few accidents, this tradition doesn’t deter the participants from tumbling head-over-heels down the hill to win the cheese as the prize.

8. Pot Smashing (Greece)

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The people of the Greek island of Corfu smash large ornate clay pots, usually filled with water, for their Easter celebrations. It is also known as the Botides tradition. People gather in the red-ribboned balconies of their homes and hurl these pots down on the street in the center of town.

The locals believe that this tradition wards off evil spirits. The spectators are known to carry a few pieces of smashed pots back home as good luck charm.

9. El Caganer (Spain)

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This Christmas tradition in Catalonia, Spain, is as atypical as possible. People hide a Christmas figurine called ‘Caganer’ in the nativity scenes to invite good luck and fertility. ‘Caganer’ literarily means ‘defecator.’ As the name reflects, the miniature model depicts a farmer with his trousers down and buttocks exposed in a squatting position over his poop.

The traditional figurine is dressed in black trousers, a white shirt, and a red cap. However, the local markets now get flooded with cheekier and creative ‘Caganer’ figurines in the form of Santa Claus, animals, comic characters, and celebrities.

10. Þorrablót (Iceland)

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Icelanders celebrate the old Norse month of ‘Þorri’ (late January to late February) with a midwinter feast known as Þorrablót (pronounced as thorrablot). This feast comprises the strangest foods, such as rams’ testicles, fermented sharks, blood pudding, boiled sheep heads, whale blubber, etc.

It is hard to believe, but Icelanders relish this feast as a part of their culture.

11. Christmas Spider Webs (Ukraine)

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Spider webs appear deviously on Halloween in the United States, but they favor Christmas time in Ukraine. The Ukrainians consider spider webs as good luck charms and hang them as Christmas ornaments. They don’t even remove the cobwebs during their holiday cleaning.

Italy also has a Halloween-Christmas mix tradition on similar lines. The children in Italy hardly look forward to visits from Santa Claus. Instead, they await gifts from the Christmas witch, La Befana, on Epiphany, January 6.

12. The Polar Bear Plunge (Netherlands)

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Can you imagine diving into icy waters during the winter season? Well, thousands of Dutch people do this every year on New Year’s Day. They come together to jump into the cold seawater at the count of ten.

While this tradition is widespread across the Netherlands, the beach resort town of Scheveningen gets the maximum crowd.