The most unusual Christmas tradition in every state

‘A Miracle on 34th Street’ lights display in Baltimore, Maryland. Mladen Antonov/Getty Images
  • Christmas traditions vary depending on weather, culture, or location.
  • Minnesota has a large population of Scandinavian people, so they celebrate with lutefisk, a traditional Nordic food.
  • In New Mexico, wreaths are often made up of dried chiles.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Christmas is celebrated very differently throughout the world. And in a country as large as the United States, it’s no surprise that every state adds their own individual spin to the holiday.

No matter what state you’re in, you can be guaranteed to find a special holiday celebration happening in December, whether it’s a Santa Claus race in Reno, Nevada, or a Christmas tree made of beer kegs in Rochester, New York.

Keep scrolling to see the most unique holiday celebration in every state.

In Alabama, Mobile residents try to break the world record for most elves in one place in “Elfapalooza.”

Santa’s little helpers gathered in Mobile, Alabama. Photo courtesy of LODA Art Walk

In Mobile, Alabama, thousands of people dress up in pointy ears to join one of the largest congregations of elves in the world:Elfapalooza!

Back in 2016, Elfapalooza was second to a festive congregation in Bangkok, Thailand, which holds the world record of most elves in one place, and every year Mobile tries to take their spot.

Alaskans parade a wooden star from house to house to represent the Star of Bethlehem.

A member of the Russian Orthodox Church spins the Christmas star in Anchorage, Alaska. Al Grillo/AP

The Russian Orthodox tradition of selaviq, also known as starring, is celebrated in Alaska.

In the days leading up to Russian Christmas on January 7, parishioners parade from house to house carrying a wooden star, which represents the star of Bethlehem. At each house, the size of the group increases as the residents of that house join the party.

At the end of the trek, there are food, gifts, and hymns sung to celebrate the culmination of the Three Wise Men’s journey.

Chandler, Arizona, is home to the world’s largest tumbleweed Christmas tree.

Christmas in the desert. Photo courtesy of Tomigirl22/ Instagram

One of the most popular tourist attractions during the holiday season in Arizona is the giant tumbleweed tree in Chandler, Arizona.

Workers begin to assemble this dry tannenbaum in September until it is lit for the Christmas season. The tradition of lighting a tumbleweed “tree” goes back 62 years in Chandler.

In Arkansas, people follow the Trail of Holiday Lights from one end of the state to the other.

The Lights of the Ozarks display in Fayetteville. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights

Ostentatious Christmas lights displays may have caught on in all four corners of the globe, but in Arizona, each of the state’s holiday light displays is connected on a giant “trail” that covers the whole state.

The Trail of Holiday Lights is mapped so that you can easily drive from one awe-inspiring display to another.

Santa rides the surf instead of a sleigh in California’s Laguna Niguel Surfing Santa competition.

Santa’s on winter break. Steve Bruckmann/ Shutterstock

In sunny Laguna Niguel, California, surfing is sprinkled with a little holiday spirit in December for the Surfing Santa competition.

Athletes enter this Christmastime contest wearing white beards and jolly hats. Proceeds from the event support Surfers Healing, a surf camp for children with autism.

In Colorado, Hispanic residents re-enact the nativity during Las Posadas.

Donkeys lead the way to Bethlehem in this reenactment. Photo courtesy of Tesoro Cultural Centre

Las Posadas, or “The Inns,” is a Mexican Christmas tradition, during which people of all ages gather to re-enact the story of Christmas – specifically the journey of Mary and Joseph from inn to inn searching for a place to stay before Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ.

In Colorado, the Tesoro Cultural Centre leads a procession of children dressed as Mary and Joseph, as well as shepherds and angels, to travel from house to house asking for shelter. At the end of the re-enactment, there is a celebration with hot chocolate and sweets for children.

Christmas gets spooky in Connecticut with the lantern light tours in Mystic Seaport.

A lantern-lit tour during the Christmas season. Photo courtesy of Mystic Seaport

Every December in Mystic Seaport, actors put on an interactive play that’s set around Christmas Eve.

This year, the lantern-lit tour of the Mystic Seaport museum is called “A Christmas Sea-Chantey; in prose being A Story of 1876 Greenmanville,” which features elements of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

In Delaware, children leave out milk for the mischievous Tomte spirits on Christmas Eve.

Tomte, the Swedish Santa Clause. Getty Images

For Delaware’s Swedish population, Christmas is associated with a visit from Tomte, the devilish imp who leaves gifts for good children.

According to the legend, tomten were mischievous and vengeful creatures who guarded farmsteads, but today they are regarded as benevolent Santa Claus or St. Nicholas-like figures.

Wreaths Across America lays holiday wreaths on every single grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Honouring the fallen. Photo courtesy of Macdill Air Force base.

On December 14, Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organisation, lays out holiday wreaths on thousands of graves in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., as well as 1,200 other locations across America.

The ceremony is meant to honour the fallen soldiers that have been buried in military cemeteries.

Florida heat means decorating lifeguard chairs instead of trees during the “Deck the Chairs” bash.

Floridians can still be festive even in the warm weather. Photo courtesy of Hal Padgett/ Deck the Chairs

Deck the Chairs on Jacksonville Beach, is one of the largest holiday lights celebrations in Florida.

Volunteers decorate the iconic red lifeguard chairs of the American Red Cross with elaborate holiday lights displays, combining the spirit of the holidays with the balmy warm weather of the Sunshine State.

Macy’s iconic pink pig train makes its annual holiday appearance in Atlanta, Georgia.

Macy’s iconic pink pig train. Photo courtesy of Mike Raker/ Instagram

Unless you live in Atlanta, you likely have never seen the pink pig train that comes to Macy’s Lenox Square every holiday season. The pink pig tradition began in 1953 at Rich’s downtown store, and has become a holiday mainstay for Georgia residents who recognise it as a unique staple of the holiday season.

Children can take photos with Priscilla the Pig, climb aboard, and, of course, purchase pink pig merchandise.

In Hawaii, a pig roast over an open fire is the most delicious part of Christmas dinner.

A traditional pig roast. Marta Iwanek/Toronto Star/Getty Images

In Hawaii, celebrating Christmas with a hula that ends in an epic pig roast over an open fire is a tradition that dates back to the first Christmas in Hawaii. Celebrated in 1786, a merchant ship docked off the shores of Hawaii during Christmas sent a search party ashore who hunted a pig, killed it, and roasted it.

Later, they are said to have participated in a gift swap with the island’s natives, when a local chieftain sailed out to the docked ship and gifted them with a roasted pig.

The tradition, which resembles the American Thanksgiving story, continues today with a roast pig on almost every Hawaiian table on Christmas.

In Idaho, you can take a Christmas cruise to watch the Lake Coeur d’Alene fireworks and light show.

A view of the lakeside Christmas fireworks Photo courtesy of Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises

Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Journey to the North Pole cruises are some of the most popular holiday events in Idaho.

The holiday light show on the water features floating displays of Santa, Rudolph, The Grinch, and more, as well as fireworks.

Shoppers flock to the Chicago Christkindlmarkt — the largest Christmas market in Illinois.

A bird’s eye view of the market. Photo courtesy of Christkindlmarkt of Chicago

The most famous American Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) is in Chicago. Styled after the traditional, centuries-old markets of Germany, this Christkindlmarkt features hundreds of vendors selling traditional crafts and trinkets from Germany, Austria, and local artisans.

There’s also plenty to eat and drink, like glühwein (mulled wine), hot cocoa, and giant German pretzels.

It isn’t Christmas in Indiana without a trip to the Indy Auto Show.

A Christmas-red convertible in the Indy showroom. Photo courtesy of Indy Auto Show

Held every year starting the day after Christmas, the Indianapolis Auto Show is a unique tradition that puts a hold on traditional holiday cheer in favour of shiny fast cars for lookers and buyers alike.

In December, Iowan residents get together to decorate rooms in the Salisbury House mansion.

The Common Room as decorated by White Willow Events. Photo courtesy of Salisbury House & Gardens

The Holly & Ivy is a holiday decorating tradition at the Salisbury House in Des Moines, Iowa. Community groups and organisations each adopt a room of the spacious mansion to decorate with trees, ribbons, baubles, and more.

The Salisbury House then hosts tours a few days before Christmas to show off the volunteers’ decorating skills.

In Kansas, young women dress up as Saint Lucy for the St. Lucia festival.

A young woman wearing the traditional lighted wreath of St. Lucia Day. Photo Courtesy of Visit Lindsborg

Lindsborg is widely known as the Swedish capital of Kansas, so it’s no wonder that the community throws an impressive St. Lucia Day festival every year.

On this Swedish holiday that celebrates the life of the martyr Saint Lucia, the eldest daughter of every family – wearing a white robe and crown of ivy and candles – serves traditional Swedish food to her family. Her appearance is supposed to represent light and hope during the Winter Solstice.

Fruitcake soaked in whiskey is a traditional Christmas dessert in Kentucky.

Fruitcake made with nuts and dried fruit, also known as twelfth night cake. Brent Hofacker/ Shutterstock

Fruitcake is known around the world as the laughingstock of Christmas culinary traditions. But in Kentucky, you’d be lucky to get your hands on the famous fruitcake made by monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani.

Also known asTwelfth Night cake, this fruitcake made with dried fruits, nuts, and spices, which is often soaked in bourbon (after all, this is Kentucky), is a popular Christmas delicacy.

Christmas bonfires light up the night on the Louisiana bayou.

A traditional bonfire effigy made to celebrate the holiday season. Nancie Lee/ Shutterstock

Christmas Eve bonfires on the levees are a holiday tradition synonymous with Creole culture.

Every Christmas Eve, locals burn log structures that stand up to an impressive 30 feet. Most are built as traditional teepees (like the one pictured above), but some depict shapes like houses and ships.

In Maine, no Christmas dinner is complete without seafood chowder.

A bowl of Christmas chowder. Carolyn-Parsons James

In New England, particularly in Maine, one of the most important parts of Christmas dinner is the seafood chowder, made with lobster, crab, and/or clams in a warm, creamy broth.

Get a recipe for New England Christmas chowder here.

A whole block gets decked out with lights on Maryland’s own “Miracle on 34th Street.”

The ‘Miracle of Lights’ tradition. Patrick Semansky/AP

Over two decades ago, in Baltimore, Maryland, a man living on 34th Street placed a string of Christmas lights in the tree in his front yard. Soon, his neighbours mimicked his tradition.

Now, more than 25 years later, the humble Baltimore block is transformed every year into a decorative spectacle known as the “Miracle on 34th Street.” Every house participates in the annual lighting tradition that draws visitors from all over the country.

Stockbridge is the Christmas capital of Massachusetts — as made famous by Norman Rockwell’s paintings.

A view of quaint Main Street in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Tracey_Anne/ Instagram

Not many people know that the nostalgic paintings created by the popular artist Norman Rockwell actually depicted a real place, and not just small town Americana from his imagination. That place – Norman Rockwell’s hometown – is Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Stockbridge Main Street goes all out every year in December to recreate the idyllic New England setting with parades, caroling, and holiday concerts.

Shoppers come from all over to visit Bronner’s — the world’s largest Christmas store — in Michigan.

Just one corner of this giant Christmas store. Molly Riley/Reuters

Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland claims to be the largest Christmas store in the world. Open all year round, the 320,000 square-foot store contains multiple floors of decorations, gifts, trees, and any holiday trinket you can possibly think of.

Minnesota residents always serve lutefisk on Christmas, whether they love it or hate it.

A Nordic lutefisk dinner. Fanfo/ Shutterstock

Lutefisk dinners began as a Nordic holiday tradition, and are now part of a quintessential Christmas dinner for Minnesotans across the state, regardless of their ethnic background.

Lutefisk is a dried white fish soaked in water for several days and treated with lye. The dish has a Jell-O-like consistency, and is reminiscent of gefiltefish served during Jewish Passover. It has become popular in the Twin Cities region due to the large population of immigrants from Scandinavia.

Decorated boats line the shores of Biloxi Beach for the largest Christmas boat parade in Mississippi.

A boat all decked out for the holidays. Photo courtesy of Kathy Martini Images/ Instagram

Instead of just decorating houses, Mississippi residents look forward to the decked-out boats that take part in the Biloxi Beach Water Boat Parade. Boaters decorate their vessels to the nines, and the show culminates in a stunning fireworks display.

In Missouri, kids are just as excited to meet the Fairy Princess as they are to see Santa.

The Fairy Princesses from 2015 decked out in white. Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Museum

If you live outside of Missouri, you probably have no idea who the Fairy Princess is. But for local kids, the Fairy Princess is a holiday icon. Young local women dress up in crowns and royal regalia to meet with children. Each child who meets a Fairy Princess gets a toy that comes out of a secret treasure chest.

The Fairy Princess was a tradition started by Kline’s Department Store in 1936. The Klines came up with the idea because they were Jewish and did not wish to hire a Santa Claus. Thus, the non-denominational (and sparkly) figure was born.

December in Montana is about athletic endurance during the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival.

Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival. Photo courtesy of Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival

The Montana Ice Festival may sound magical, but this annual ice climbing competition is all about athletic grit.

Held every year right around Christmas in Bozeman, Montana, the festival features daring climbing contests on the face of the Bridger Mountain Range, as well as the annual Adventure Film Festival.

Buffalo Bill’s house puts on a fantastic display in Nebraska for “Christmas at the Cody’s.”

The Cody House. Photo courtesy of the International Cody Family Association

Yes, Buffalo Bill was a real person. William Frederick Cody was well-known as a historical figure of the Wild West, but these days his mansion – the Cody House – is popular for its holiday traditions.

Local organisations “adopt” rooms of the Cody Mansion and decorate them for the holidays. Visitors can take a tour of the house and will receive hot cocoa and Christmas cookies.

In Nevada, people don their Christmas outfits for the annual Reno Santa Crawl.

Hundreds of Santas. Facebook/Reno Santa Crawl

The Reno Santa Crawl in Reno, Nevada, is one of the largest Christmas-themed pub crawls in the country. It’s also a charity fundraiser that donates proceeds to local schools.

New Hampshire inns participate in the “Inn to Inn Cookie Tour.”

Nothing better than a plate of cookies by the fire. Photo courtesy of Country Inns in the White Mountains

Inns and bed and breakfasts across New Hampshire take part in what’s become known as the “Inn to Inn Cookie Tour.”

Participants can travel to different lodging locations in the White Mountains area to sample homemade holiday cookies and hot chocolate, and mix and mingle with guests at each inn.

New Jersey’s own Storybook Land is tailor-made for celebrating Christmas.

Santa Claus’ house at Storybook Land. Stephen B./Yelp

Storybook Land has been a prime spot for New Jersey kids for over 60 years, and their Christmas Fantasy With Lights parade has been around for over 25 years.

The evening’s highlight is when Santa appears, lighting up the entire park with a wave of his magic wand.

In New Mexico, “ristras,” a type of red pepper, are hung up as decoration.

Ristras are said to bring health and good luck. Jumping Rocks/Contributor/Getty Images

They don’t have white Christmases in New Mexico, so it makes sense they’d decorate with something a little spicier, which is why dried peppers are often strung across homes, or turned into wreaths. The peppers are said to bring health and good luck.

In Rochester, New York, locals look forward to the unusual Genesee Keg Tree all year long.

The Genesee Keg Tree in 2017. John Kucko/AP courtesy of Genesee

A beer keg tree is constructed in Rochester, New York, annually, with the 6,000 2018 attendees almost doubling the amount from 2017. In the past, the tree has been made out of 430 kegs and covered in 2,000 feet of lights.

In North Carolina, Santa Claus rappels down the biggest chimney in the state every year — Chimney Rock!

Santa rappelling down Chimney Rock. Asheville/YouTube

Every year in Asheville, Santa climbs down the 315-foot Chimney Rock, and then joins in other Christmas festivities at the park – there’s hot chocolate, cookies, as well as a kind of petting zoo.

The entire town of Garrison, North Dakota, transforms into a Victorian-era village for the holiday season.

Festival-goers. Helena/Flickr

Garrison is known as the Christmas Capitol of North Dakota, and for good reason, as the entire town transforms into a Victorian-era village for the holiday season. There’s a fruit cake toss, English high tea, top hat decorating, live performances of Dickens’ works, horse-drawn carriages, and a whole lot more old-school festivities.

Residents of Ohio (and people all around the world) flock to Cleveland to remember “A Christmas Story.”

The house was restored recently to look like the film. A Christmas Story House/Facebook

Take a tour or even stay overnight at the house with the leg lamp in the window from “A Christmas Story.”

Oklahoma residents fire “Christmas guns” every year.

Hitching a ride to the ceremony. Historic Fort Reno/Facebook

Firing the “Christmas guns” at Fort Reno is a longstanding tradition. Originally a custom brought over by German immigrants, the firing of the guns (and cannons, in some cases) was thought to dispel evil spirits in preparation for Christmas.

Oregon takes caroling to a whole new level with the Singing Christmas Tree.

The Singing Christmas Tree consists of over 350 people. Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree

Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree entered its 55th season this year. The tree consists of over 350 singers, and the event, which is around two hours long, includes dancing, a nativity scene, and a light show.

In Pennsylvania, Santa Claus ditches the sleigh and rows his way across a lake.

The tree floats in the middle of Children’s Pond. Handsome Red Productions/Facebook

In Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, Santa makes a more low key entrance than flying in on a sleigh. After a tree has been lit and set afloat on Childrens’ Lake, Santa rows across it to greet all the kids waiting for him on the lit up shores.

Rhode Island’s Block Island creates a tree made from lobster traps every year.

Block Island’s lobster trap tree. Block Island/Facebook

An annual tradition on Block Island, this Christmas tree, made with around 200 lobster traps, is a little unusual, but makes sense once you think about all the lobster consumed in Rhode Island.

South Carolina celebrates its past with “Christmas 1860.”

Celebrating a Civil War-era Christmas. Edmondston-Alston House/Facebook

In 1860, Charleston, South Carolina was about to enter the Civil War. To remember that turbulent time, the Edmondston-Alston House gives visitors the opportunity to try and imagine what Christmas Day before the Civil War was like.

South Dakota has an entire town that’s a designated a National Landmark, and it goes hard for Christmas.

Deadwood. Historic Deadwood/Facebook

The entire town of Deadwood (yes, that Deadwood) is a National Landmark, and has been since 1961. It’s a true time capsule into the days of cowboys and the Gold Rush, and goes all out for Christmas with lights, decorations, and a Christmas Spectacular show.

A band in Tennessee gives away a Christmas ham to a member of the audience every year.

The Station Inn all decorated for Christmas. bob_johnsen/Instagram

The Nashville Bluegrass Band performs at the Station Inn in Nashville’s hippest neighbourhood, the Gulch, every December. And every year, the band gives away a Christmas ham to someone in the audience, after they perform the song “Ham Beats All The Meat.” If not just for the ham, go for the music and the banter.

Texans ditch the normal Christmas pine tree and decorate a pecan tree instead.

A pecan tree. Highland Parks Texas Parks and Recreation

Dallas residents have a beloved tree they call Big Pecan Tree – all capitalised. The enormous tree gets decorated every year –and has been since 1927 – and seeing it in all of its holiday glory is a local tradition.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is constantly on tour, but during the holidays they take a break and perform in their home state of Utah.

The choir has performed in Salt Lake City for over 100 years. Mormon Tabernacle Choir/Facebook

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was founded in 1847, making it one of the oldest traditions on this list. The Choir has released over 10 albums, including one this year called “Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Friends.” But the best place to see them perform is in their home state of Utah, which they do around Christmas every year.

A town in Vermont gets locals in the Christmas spirit with a scavenger hunt.

The event is part of A Very Merry Middlebury. Vermont Book Shop/Facebook

Middlebury, Vermont, gets its entire population into the holiday spirit with different events, like the “I Spy” contest. In the past, the contest involved finding 10 tiny chickens hidden in 10 store windows in downtown Middlebury. The winner of the contest got $US100 in Middlebury Money – money that can be spent at local shops and restaurants across town.

Virginia remembers the US’ first president by keeping his Christmas traditions alive.

George Washington brought a camel home one Christmas. Aladdin the Camel/Facebook

In 1787, George Washington brought a camel to his home in Mount Vernon for Christmas, and now Mount Vernon pays tribute to the tradition by having their very own Christmas camel every year. It even takes selfies.

Washington has an entire festival dedicated to tree decorating.

One of the contestants. Seattle Festival of Trees/Facebook

This year was the 40th Festival of Trees in Seattle. Trees are professionally decorated according to a theme (this year’s was “Project Welcome Home, Vietnam War Memorial”), and can be sponsored by companies or individuals. Trees are for sale, and all of the proceeds go to Seattle Children’s Hospital.

West Virginia’s Winter Festival of Lights spans 300 acres.

Winter Festival of Lights. Oglebay Resort

The Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights, which first started in 1985, is one of the biggest light shows in the country. It spans 300 acres, and has over 89 lit up attractions – from a rainbow tunnel to Peanuts characters – made with over one million lights.

The Cave of the Mounds in Wisconsin offers Sing-A-Long Caroling Tours in an unusual setting.

Carolers in the cave. Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark/Facebook

During weekends in December, Cave of the Mounds in Wisconsin offers Sing-A-Long Caroling Tours. The cave’s acoustics will make your favourite holiday songs sound otherworldly.

In Wyoming, you can actually ski with Santa.

Santa takes selfies. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort/Facebook

On Christmas morning in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, skiers can fly down the mountain with Santa.