Bizarre and Unusual Christmas Traditions From Every State

pickle ornament in a tree

Some Christmas traditions will always be in fashion. The traditional Christmas Day lunch, the opening of presents, and the gathering of family and friends are all part of the festive season.

Across the USA, however, there are some more bizarre traditions in certain states. Here is a list of the most unusual Christmas pastimes around the country.

Alabama: Elfapalooza

Alabama, Elfapalooza
Image Credit: Visit Mobile.

The city of Mobile, Alabama, discovered a rather unusual milestone in the Guinness World Records. In the unlikely location of Bangkok, in 2014, the largest gathering of Santa’s elves was measured at 1,762. Mobile aimed to beat that mark with a crowd of their own but have so far fallen short. Come on, Alabama, we need some more volunteers for the Elf Service.

Alaska: Christmas Lights in September

Alaska Christmas Lights
Image Credit: Dee Carpenter Originals/Shutterstock.

When you’re traveling through Alaska, don’t be surprised to see festive lights in the months leading up to the holiday season. While not every resident will fall in with this tradition, many put those lights up in September in case it’s minus 30 degrees three months later.

Arizona: The Tumbleweed Tree

Arizona The Tumbleweed Tree
Image Credit: Peter Bronski, Own, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

The Copper State is no fan of the traditional pine Christmas tree. Right in the heart of Chandler City, a giant tumbleweed tree is constructed at the start of the festive season. Complete with Christmas lights and a star on top, it’s a stunning, if unusual, sight.

Arkansas: Tuck Into Possum Pie

Possum Pie
Image Credit: Steven Jones/Old South Restaurant.

There will be many unusual Christmas dishes as we work through this roundup. As for Arkansas, don’t let the name fool you. No possums were harmed in the making of this dish. Possum pie is a sweet dessert made from cream cheese, chocolate, whipped cream, and a butter-pecan crust. While it's eaten all year round, it’s hugely popular during the holidays.

California: Boat Parades

California Christmas Boat Parade
Image Credit: Jay Gao/Shutterstock.

The city of San Francisco has an annual festival of lights, which includes a display on the water. During the boat parade, up to 100 vessels take to Fisherman’s Wharf, and each is decorated with many stunning Christmas lights.

Colorado: Santa Ski

Colorado Santa Ski
Image Credit: Studio Romantic/Shutterstock.

In Crested Butte, hundreds of Santas take to the slopes in the largest event of its kind. Whether Santa Ski has a great deal of competition is still being determined. If you want to take part, a day pass costs around $23, and you can buy your very own Santa suit for just $20.

Connecticut: Spooky Tours

Connecticut Mystic Seaport Museum
Image Credit: Mystic Seaport Museum.

In Connecticut, the residents are refusing to leave Halloween behind. In Mystic Seaport, an interactive play takes place, followed by a spooky, lantern-lit tour of the museum.

Delaware: Milk for Tomte

Tomte, Gnome, elf, Christmas
Image Credit: NICERINC.

Many of these unusual traditions have spread from other parts of the world, and in Delaware, the local Swedish community has carried over one of their favorite pastimes. The mischievous imp called ‘Tomte’ will leave presents for good children but would like a nice glass of milk in return. Expect to see many Delaware doorsteps flush with milk on Christmas Eve.

Florida: Christmas in Christmas

Christmas tree, gifts, wrapped, presents, ornaments, decorations, lights
Image Credit: Alhill42 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

If you live in the town of Christmas, you don’t have to wait until the holidays in order to celebrate. It’s the festive season all year round in this Florida area, with its permanent lights and an evergreen tree that is decorated for 12 months of the year.

Georgia: The Pink Pig Train

The Pink Pig
Image Credit: Pink Pig/Alan Peck.

You may not see flying pigs, but Atlanta does present one of the more unusual holiday traditions. Macy’s department store in Lenox Square, Atlanta, is the place to be to witness the Pink Pig Train and a porcine parade that began back in 1953.

Hawaii: Festive Luau

Christmas in Hawaii
Image Credit: Hawaii Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.

How do you celebrate Christmas in a sun-kissed tropical paradise? With a luau, of course. Over in Hawaii, the festive traditions include a whole roast pig and unique festive garlands. Christmas carols remind us that it’s the holiday season and not the height of summer.

Idaho: Listen to a Tuba Christmas Song

Idaho Christmas tuba concert
Image Credit: Boise State University.

An orchestra solely consisting of tubas sounds uniquely Idaho. The state capital building is the destination for this strange concert, where a multitude of these brass instruments will belt out your favorite Christmas tunes.

Illinois: Decorate Your Car

Christmas car, Santa, gifts
Image Credit: Frienda.

Citizens of Illinois like to go over the top with their festive decorations. Not content with lighting up their homes, they love to add holiday charm to their cars, too. With antlers by each front window and a red nose on the grill, a vehicle is instantly transformed into Rudolph.

Indiana: Christmas at the Zoo

Indianapolis Zoo
Image Credit: Indianapolis Zoo.

A day at the zoo is always entertaining, but it’s even more special during the holiday season. At the Indianapolis Zoo, Christmas celebrations have been held for 50 years, including carols, Santa’s workshop, and the chance to see polar bears and other animals that feel at home in the cold weather.

Iowa: The Christmas Pickle

Christmas Pickle ornament
Image Credit: Favor Parts.

Not only do Iowans celebrate this unusual holiday tradition, but residents here have fully embraced it. The origins are based in Germany, and it involves hanging a pickle decoration on the Christmas tree. Whoever finds it gets to open the first present.

Kansas: Drive-Thru Pancakes

st lucia day festival lindsborg kansas
Image Credit: Kansas Tourism.

The drive-thru pancake breakfast is part of a wider festival, but it sounded so delicious that it deserved its own mention. The festival in question is St. Lucia Day, widely celebrated in Lindsborg, the Swedish capital of Kansas. The eldest daughter in each family dresses as the martyr Saint Lucia and serves traditional Swedish dishes.

Kentucky: Santa Swims With Sharks

newport aquarium scuba santa
Image Credit: Newport Aquarium.

Santa Claus gets up to all sorts of tricks during the holiday season, but he’d rather be tending his reindeer than facing up to these fearsome creatures. At the Newport Aquarium in northern Kentucky, Scuba Santa descends into the shark tank while visitors take pictures and hope he’s safe to return next year.

Louisiana: Bonfires for Santa

Louisiana Bonfires for Santa
Image Credit: Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Santa Claus has a little help when delivering presents in Louisiana. By the levees of the Mississippi River, a series of tree-shaped bonfires are lit on Christmas Eve to light up the way. Hundreds of fires may make some residents uncomfortable, but this is a long-standing Cajun tradition.

Maine: Seafood Chowder

Maine Seafood Chowder
Image Credit: Grey Havens Inn.

Maine is another state that goes against tradition regarding Christmas dinner. A feast would only be complete with a rich seafood chowder, including lobster and crab. Why shouldn’t a state mark the holiday season by celebrating some of its best local produce?

Maryland: The Crab Trap Christmas Tree

Maryland The Crab Trap Christmas Tree
Image Credit: Susan Bell, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Not to be outdone by Arizona’s tumbleweed Christmas tree, Maryland has its own version made out of crab traps. Many of these structures can be found around the Eastern Shore, and while they look bare in the day, the trees are stunning at night when the Christmas lights kick in.

Massachusetts: Outdo the Neighbors With Your Decorations

Massachusetts Christmas lights
Image Credit: Anthony92931 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

In many states, city squares are the focal point for Christmas trees and decorations, but that’s not the case in Massachusetts. Here, you are more likely to see over-the-top displays in locations such as Amherst, Springfield, and Saugus. Driving around neighborhoods to witness these spectacles is all part of the Massachusetts holiday experience.

Michigan: Christmas Every Day of the Year

Christmas, Michigan
Image Credit: KiwiDeaPi, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Michigan also boasts a town called Christmas, but this location makes an effort to celebrate the occasion all year round. The holiday season is the best time to visit, but if you’re ever in need of some festive cheer, head to Christmas, Michigan, and enjoy Santa and Mrs. Claus, together with their elves and reindeer, which are scattered throughout the town.

Minnesota: Load up on Lutefisk

Image Credit: Fanfo/Shutterstock.

This dish originates from Scandinavia, and Lutefisk is an acquired taste. Lutefisk is made by soaking air-dried cod in a lye solution before washing it in cold water. Minnesotans who have managed to avoid this all year round may have yet to escape from Lutefisk at Christmas.

Mississippi: Nautical Decorations

Nautical Christmas Decorations
Image Credit: Needzo/Valery Madelyn.

Seafood is celebrated in many ways across Mississippi, and that’s why you may see a festive octopus lining up alongside more traditional decorations. Anything goes here as far as Christmas decor is concerned, so look out for colorful crabs, lobsters, and even a holiday-themed Uncle Sam.

Missouri: A Victorian Christmas at Saint Charles

Missouri Victorian Christmas at Saint Charles
Image Credit: Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Visitors can travel back in time to experience a Victorian Christmas in the charming Missouri town of Saint Charles. A 19th-century Santa appears and highlights a host of bygone traditions, including roast chestnuts, horse-drawn carriages, and all the characters from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Montana: Ice Climbing

Montana Bozeman Ice Climbing
Image Credit: Forest Service Northern Region, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

If you want to spend Christmas discovering the limits of your athletic endurance, Montana is the place to be. Every year, an ice climbing festival heads to Bozeman, with top climbers tackling the Bridger Mountain Range. I would be delighted to watch and admire their skills before returning to the Christmas couch.

Nebraska: Decorate Buffalo Bill's House

Nebraska Decorate Buffalo Bill’s House
Image Credit: Visit North Platte.

The mansion owned by William Frederick Cody, otherwise known as Buffalo Bill, is a popular year-round attraction in North Platte, Nebraska. It was the most prominent house around these parts in the 19th century, and it now hosts a regular Nebraskan tradition. Every Christmas, people can adopt rooms in the Cody House and decorate them in their own festive style.

Nevada: More Swimming Santas

Silverton casino underwater santa
Image Credit: The Aquarium at Silverton Casino.

Kentucky isn’t the only state to boast an underwater Santa Claus. At the Mermaid Aquarium in Silverton, another guy in a red suit adds his scuba gear to entertain visitors. The only difference is the Nevada Santa prefers to avoid the shark tank.

New Hampshire: Inn to Inn Cookie Tour

Christmas cookies
Image Credit: sweetfixNYC, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Several states in the U.S. undertake a lengthy beer crawl of city taverns but in New Hampshire, the fare is a little more wholesome. At inns across the region, homemade cookies are served and anyone can come along to enjoy them. As for the beverages, hot chocolate is the favored option.

New Jersey: Feast of the Seven Fishes

Parmesan Crusted Flounder with Meyer lemon & Capers Picatta sauce, served family style
Image Credit: GW Fins, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

What are you having for Christmas lunch? Maybe you’ll carry over a tradition from Thanksgiving and opt for more turkey. How about some octopus and eel? If you live in the state of New Jersey, you might follow this Christmas Eve tradition, where seven different types of fish are consumed.

New Mexico: Red Pepper Decorations

New Mexico Red Pepper Decorations
Image Credit: Calsidyrose, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

New Mexico is another state that is rightly proud of its local produce. Citizens’ love of red peppers is evident each Christmas as they turn them into colorful wreaths and decorations. Known as Ristras, the peppers are dried and hung on buildings around New Mexico, with locals believing they bring health and good fortune.

New York: SantaCon

New York SantaCon
Image Credit: Phil Whitehouse, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

SantaCon spreads over many states, but New York City boasts the best example. It’s claimed that the tradition began with Danish performance art before finding a home in the U.S. It initially involved a host of pranks but has since evolved into a giant bar crawl. All you need to join is a Santa suit and the necessary bar funds.

North Carolina: A Rappelling Santa

santa Chimney Rock
Image Credit: Explore Asheville.

Santa Claus wouldn’t be able to function without chimneys. Over in North Carolina, he rappels down the most enormous chimney of them all — Chimney Rock. Every year in Asheville, Santa descends the 315-foot granite outcropping before joining the locals for hot chocolate and cookies.

North Dakota: Cowboy Show

North Dakota cowboy Christmas
Image Credit: Medora Chamber of Commerce.

While cowboys may have been a feature of the Peace Garden State, nothing about them suggests Christmas. That’s why a cowboy show in North Dakota is one of the more unusual themes of a U.S. holiday. Medora is the location for an old-fashioned cowboy Christmas, with all the festive traditions of times past.

Ohio: Take a Trip to Castle Noel

Castle Noel, Ohio
Image Credit: Tony Edwards/Castle Noel.

The aptly named Castle Noel is the setting for Ohio’s most spectacular Christmas extravaganza. It claims to be America’s largest indoor Christmas entertainment attraction, and it plays host to thousands of square feet of lights and other spectacular decorations.

Oklahoma: Celebrations at Fort Reno

fort reno oklahoma Christmas
Image Credit: Historic Fort Reno.

The focal point for Christmas festivities in Oklahoma is the old settlement at Fort Reno. The highlight is a tradition brought over by German immigrants where cannons are fired to warn off evil spirits.

Oregon: The Singing Christmas Tree

Oregon Portland's Singing Christmas Tree
Image Credit: Portland's Singing Christmas Tree.

A tradition that began with a small gathering over sixty years ago has blossomed into an extravaganza. Portland is the destination for The Singing Christmas Tree event, which features a choir and well-known local performers.

Pennsylvania: The Putz

Pennsylvania Putz
Image Credit: Glencairn Museum.

A nativity scene with a twist can be found in Dutch Country, Pennsylvania. Taken from European tradition, the Putz is expanded to include additional characters and features, while the town of Bethlehem is the perfect place to begin the Putz Trail.

Rhode Island: The Big Blue Bug

Rhode Island The Big Blue Bug
Image Credit: Elisabeth Peebles/Big Blue Bug Solutions.

The big blue bug is a tourist attraction in its own right. The giant mascot is a highlight of the drive across Highway 95, but it’s especially striking at Christmas time. With bright lights and reindeer antlers, the tiny state of Rhode Island makes a big statement with this unusual Christmas decoration.

South Carolina: Christmas in 1860

Edmonston-Alston House
Image Credit: Edmonston-Alston House.

Every year, the Edmonston-Alston House in Charleston opens its doors to show visitors what Christmas would have been like in pre-Civil War times. It’s a fascinating look at how holidays would have been celebrated in a more turbulent era.

South Dakota: The Living Tree

South Dakota Aberdeen Living Christmas Tree
Image Credit: Aberdeen Living Christmas Tree.

The Living Tree is part of a spectacular show in Aberdeen each year. Come along to hear carols and other Christmas favorites performed by a choir seated in a pyramid shape to resemble a classic festive tree.

Tennessee: Free Hams

Image Credit: Boars Head.

Local musicians, The Nashville Bluegrass Band have introduced an odd tradition at The Gulch. They perform at the Station Inn every Christmas and after performing their iconic number “Ham Beats All the Meat,” one lucky audience member receives a free ham.

Texas: Chop Down Your Own Tree

Christmas tree
Image Credit: Happy Hirtzel/Shutterstock.

Many Christmas tree farms will sell you a pre-cut tree, but where’s the fun in that? In several states, residents head out to chop their own festive trees, but Texans have turned this into a significant tradition. In many homes across the state, the family will grab an axe and travel to cut their tree right after Thanksgiving lunch.

Utah: A Rare Chance to Hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Image Credit: Laurel Fan, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

For much of the year, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir takes their show on the road, but at Christmas, they return home. Whatever your beliefs, theirs is a spectacular performance with stunning voices, and Utah is your destination for great festive entertainment.

Vermont: Climb Aboard the Elf Express

The Manchester Lions Santa Express
Image Credit: The Manchester Lions Santa Express.

For two days in December, residents and visitors to Vermont can enjoy an enchanting ride through the Green Mountains in the south. The Manchester Lions Santa Express, complete with a friendly elf, departs from the R.K. Miles Depot Station.

Virginia: Selfies with a Camel

Christmas camel
Image Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

Christmas in Virginia is about celebrating one of the state’s most famous wild residents. In 1787, George Washington introduced a camel to his home in Mount Vernon, and a Christmas camel makes the pilgrimage in the present day. Stop by and enjoy a selfie.

Washington, DC: Remembering the Fallen 

Wreaths Across America
Image Credit: City of Marietta, GA, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Christmas can be a difficult time for some as we remember those we have lost. For that reason, Wreaths Across America can be applauded for their work over the holiday period. Wreaths are laid in various locations across the U.S., but there is a big focus in Arlington National Cemetery, Washington D.C., where 1,200 graves are adorned.

West Virginia: A Bit of Everything

Image Credit: Shepherdstown Visitor Center.

West Virginia may have been given advance notice of this review, as they have incorporated a mix of everything into their Christmas celebrations. The festivities get underway early, right after Thanksgiving, with a massive parade in Shepherdstown. Horse-drawn carriages and roasted chestnuts follow in a month of activities, which include open-air performances of famous festive favorites.

Wisconsin: Cannibal Sandwiches

Wisconsin Cannibal Sandwiches
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The state of Wisconsin has several unique Christmas traditions, but this needs further investigation. Don’t worry; a cannibal sandwich contains no humans but features raw meat, usually beef, on rye bread. The Wisconsin Department of Health is still appalled, and its annual tradition is to remind residents not to eat them.

Wyoming: Savage Christmas

Christmas, tree, ornaments
Image Credit: Pasko Maksim/Shutterstock.

The holiday season is a conventional one for most residents of Wyoming. We’ll therefore have to bring the celebrations forward to August 25 and a bizarre tradition known as Savage Christmas. Based in Yellowstone Park, temperatures soar and ice cream is the dish of the day, for an event that is thought to date back to the 1930s.

Sources: Insider, Country Living, BestLife, Fodor's Travel.

Author: Matt Harris

Title: Writer

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