Who says Christmas has to be conventional? Pudding races, turkey parades and encounters with birch rod-lashing Alpine devils should all be on your calendar this festive season. Read on to unwrap some of the world's craziest Christmas and New Year events.
Turkey Festival, France
If you need more inspiration for plucking, stuffing and roasting than a Delia cookbook can provide, make your way to the Fête de la Dinde (Turkey Festival) in Licques (www.licques-volailles.fr), a petit village in the Trois Pays region of Nord-Pas de Calais. Held from 14 to 16 December, this is a festival with all the trimmings – turkey dinners, markets, tastings, you name it. On Sunday, locals gather to watch Christmas dinner gobble past in the turkey parade. The region's finest birds shake a tail feather through the streets to the jaunty melodies of brass bands. Licquoise liqueur served piping hot from a cauldron gets everyone into the festive groove.
Singing Christmas Tree, Switzerland
Think you've seen one tree, you've seen them all? Not like this one you haven't. Zürich's Singing Christmas Tree (singingchristmastree.ch) on Werdmühleplatz is actually a podium as big as a house. Look closer and you'll see that what appear to be giant red candles are in actual fact choir singers clad in red beanies and scarves. Choirs take their place on the twinkling tree to belt out carols and gospel classics at 5.30pm daily until 23 December.
Horned, hairy and for kiddies pretty scary, Krampus rocks up at nightfall in towns throughout the Austrian Alps in December. He's known as Perchten over the mountains in neighbouring Bavaria. In Alpine folklore, Krampus is the antithesis of good ol' St Nick. He's a nasty piece of work who punishes misbehaving children by whipping them with birch rods, scaring them senseless and occasionally stuffing them into sacks and tossing them into the nearest icy river. There's less of the whipping and drowning nowadays, but seeing 60 odd Krampusse clad in shaggy goat skins and ghoulish masks on a cold winter's eve is still frightful. Track down these devils in disguise by listening for the clattering of bells and the screams.
Sunburnt Christmas at Bondi, Australia
'Tis the season to team skimpy bikinis and skin-tight bathers with Santa hats – at least if you are one of 4,000 high-spirited revellers at the Sunburnt Christmas (sunburntchristmas.com.au) fest on Sydney's Bondi Beach on 25 December. In fact, it's tradition. Slather yourself in high factor sun cream and join the surfer dudes and backpackers for beach barbecues, DJs pumping out tunes on three stages, and festive dips in the Pacific that are, like, totally awesome.
Nieuwjaarsduik, the Netherlands
Not all seasonal dips are as balmy as Bondi – what could be more, erm, refreshing than a New Year's Day dip in the North Sea? Whether you think they are brave or stark raving bonkers, you can't help but admire the 10,000 Dutch who strip down to their bathers on 1 January for the shivering Nieuwjaarsduik at the Hague's seaside resort of Scheveningen. Join them if you dare to plunge into the briny blue – not forgetting your orange bobble hat, of course.
Great Christmas Pudding Race, England
Imagine trying to balance a Christmas pudding on a paper plate while running. Got it? Right, now picture yourself wearing an XXL Santa costume while racing with said pudding over inflatable obstacles and down bouncy slides, with someone spraying whipped cream in your direction every so often. Once again teams of six are doing battle for the prized pudding trophy in the name of Cancer Research at the Great Christmas Pudding Race (www.xmaspuddingrace.org.uk) in London's Covent Garden on 7 December. Similar races are held in Brighton and Lyme Regis.
Are you wearing red underwear, señoras y señores? Because you should be if you want the New Year to be a lucky one, say 47 million Spanish nationals. Just bear in mind that for the lucky boxers or bra to work its magic, it needs to be a gift from a loved one. Few cities can throw a fiesta like Madrid and Nochevieja (New Year's Eve) here is a cracker. Make sure you have 12 grapes ready to gobble (the de-pipped Aledo variety is ideal) as the Real Casa de Correos clock strikes midnight. In true Madrileño style, party all night and then head over to Chocolatería San Ginés (www.chocolateriasangines.com) for hot chocolate and churros to sweeten your hangover.
It might sound as though we're telling porkies, but the snow-globe-pretty ski resort of Klosters in the Swiss Alps celebrates New Year's Day with a pig race. It's a step up from the usual Swiss custom of giving marzipan pigs as luck-bringing gifts. Some 2000 folk turn out on Bahnhofstrasse to watch the trotters in action at the Hotschrennen (www.davos.ch/events). The chosen 10 are no ordinary pigs – they've been carefully trained to ignore the edible temptations and negotiate the obstacles placed in their path. The first to cross the line is crowned the Glückschwein (lucky pig) and becomes the mascot of Klosters for the year ahead.
Reindeer Race, Norway
The bite of snow, the thunder of hooves and skijoring Run, Rudolph, Run style can only mean Tromsø's Reindeer Racing Championships (www.msm.no), taking place on 9 February 2014. Sure, Christmas will be long gone by then, but up here in the icy wilderness of the Arctic Circle it feels eternally festive. Wrap up warm for subzero temps and join the Sami people to cheer and whoop as reindeer pull skiers by at speeds of up to 60km/hr.
Reindeer thundering through the icy spray at the championships in Tromsø, Norway. Image c/o Yngve Olsen/Visit Norway.