Local actors playing mischievous Yule Lads assemble at the geothermal lagoon by Iceland’s Lake Myvatn, December 8, 2018.
(CNN) — You know this part already: The holidays are different this year. In order to protect loved ones from a deadly virus, families around the world are avoiding gatherings, sometimes canceling beloved events altogether.
It’s hard. But this off-kilter season is also the chance to try something new, and this list is a multicultural invitation to mix things up.
Whether you’re soaking in a traditional Japanese New Year’s bath or dancing through the house to the rhythm of Bahamian Junkanoo music, try these activities to inject some sparkle into the long winter nights ahead.
Iceland: A visit from the Yule Lads
Lurking amid Iceland’s azure lagoons and steaming volcanoes are a long list of (possibly) mythological creatures, which range from tiny elves to enormous sea monsters.
And for 13 days before Christmas, tradition holds that a mischievous pack of troll-like figures known as the Yule Lads visit local children. According to lore, a different lad visits every night to reward — or punish — kids by leaving something behind in an empty shoe.
United Kingdom: Watch sunset over Stonehenge
People watch the sunrise at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, to mark the winter solstice and witness the sunrise after the longest night of the year.
Ben Birchall/Press Association/AP
Bahamas: Dance all night
Costumed dancers celebrate the New Year with the Junkanoo Parade on Bay Street in Nassau, the Bahamas, January 1.
Dancing troupes of up to 1,000 people flaunt colorful costumes and headdresses as they perform in parades that don’t even start until 2 a.m. The festivities continue well into the next day, with prizes awarded for the best dance moves and most spectacular outfits.
From the abundant wildlife to one of the world’s rare pink sand beaches, here’s why the island nation is a great spot to visit.
While the origins of Junkanoo are debated, many Bahamanians trace the celebration back to the era when enslaved people used “days off” between Christmas and the New Year for roving parties.
Italy: Feast your way into the New Year
A rousing blend of fireworks, bonfires, dancing and food rings in the New Year in Italy, where December 31 is celebrated as the feast day of San Silvestro. (The medieval saint died on December 31, 335 A.D.)
In Italy, cotechino con lenticchie, or slow-cooked pork sausage and lentils, is the classic New Year’s Eve dish to celebrate the feast day of San Silvestro.
Food-loving Italians mark the occasion with a delicious meal, but there are special requirements for a New Year’s Eve dinner. The main course should include both lentils and pork: Lentils represent wealth, while pork symbolizes life’s richness.
Bring it home: Put on a pair of red underwear — Italian tradition holds that they’ll bring good luck — and whip up a batch of cotechino con lenticchie.
Japan: Hot baths, long noodles and one epic song battle
Buddhist temple bells peal across Japan on ōmisoka, or New Year’s Eve, to mark the changing year. Each bell chimes 108 times, a single note for each of the human defilements recognized in Buddhism. (Think: ingratitude, envy and greed, along with 105 other unpleasant traits).
Monks at Chion-in temple in Kyoto conduct a rehearsal on December 27, 2019, for a bell-ringing ceremony on New Year’s Eve.
Kyodo News/Getty Images
What follows all that ringing is the toshi no yu, the last bath of the year, which offers a symbolically clean start as you flip over the calendar page. Then, sit down for a steaming bowl of toshikoshi soba, a bowl of buckwheat noodles said to bring good luck and longevity in the coming year.
Austria: Meet Santa’s evil twin
Men wearing horned, wooden masks participate in the annual Krampus parade on Saint Nicholas Day December 6, 2017, in Sankt Johann im Pongau, Austria.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
United States: Don an ‘ugly Christmas sweater’
Many of the United States’ most visible holiday traditions, like Christmas trees and dreidels, arrived in the country with immigrants. This one, however, is purely homegrown.
A shopper eyes ugly Christmas sweaters at a Kohl’s ahead of Black Friday, November 27, 2019, in Las Vegas.
Israel: Dine on doughnuts
Jewish communities around the globe feast on fried foods during Hanukkah, which begins at sunset on December 10 this year.
Hanukkah doughnuts filled with jam or vanilla cream are called “sufganiyot” in Hebrew. Here they’re shown at a market in Jerusalem December 6, 2018.
Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images
It’s no coincidence: The holiday marks an ancient miracle, when a group of Jewish rebel warriors watched a day’s worth of oil stretch for more than a week. Fried foods serve as reminders of the event.