TIME Economy

What Happens to a Country That Defaults on Its Loans?

Argentina and Iceland provide examples

In 1945, Britain borrowed $4.3 billion from the U.S. That money prevented Britain from going bankrupt after World War II.

In 2006, Britain finally paid off the last of that loan.

But when a country can’t pay off its debts, what happens? TIME explains in the above video.

TIME World

These 8 World Leaders Are Taking Major Steps Towards Gender Equality

From closing the pay gap to implementing board quotas to requiring all soldiers to take violence prevention courses, here's how 8 world leaders are embracing HeforShe

UN Women’s “He for She” initiative is in full swing, and on Thursday nine world leaders announced major steps they are taking to bring their countries to full gender equality. Each has pledged to champion HeForShe in their individual nations, and has outlined specific actions they’ll take towards ensuring equal opportunities for women.

The announcements are part of UN Women’s IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, where 10 heads of state, 10 CEOs, and 10 university presidents commit to taking tangible steps to achieve gender equality, as part of the HeForShe movement that actress Emma Watson announced at the UN last year.

Here are some of the main commitments from 8 heads of state from around the world– the final two leaders will be announced at a later date.

Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland, has vowed to decrease violence against women by 5% over the next five years, partly by requiring all soldiers in the Finnish Defense Forces to learn about aggression control and violence prevention. Since Finland has universal male conscription, that means that almost all young men in Finland will be required to complete an education program on violence against women.

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Prime Minister of Iceland, has committed to eliminating the gender pay gap in Iceland by 2022: currently, women are paid 6-18% less than men. The government will achieve this by conducting major audits of all companies in Iceland, to ensure that women are being paid fairly. Gunnlaugsson’s administration will also sponsor major reports on the status of women in media in Iceland, in order to achieve parity by 2020, and has pledged to make 1 in 5 Icelandic men commit to supporting HeforShe principals by 2016.

Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, is pushing a to make the Indonesian parliament 30% female (up from 17%.) The government plans to promote more women to senior leadership positions, mandate gender training for all government institutions, and study trends in female voting and women who run for political office. Widodo also pledges to extend national health insurance coverage to reproductive and maternal health care, and improve sexual health services around the country. He also wants to fight violence against women, by launching a nationwide survey in 2016 that could help the government make targeted interventions to help the 3-4 million Indonesian women who face violence ever year. And, providing women migrant workers with financial literacy training is just one way they help give them more independence.

Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, is unrolling major reforms to support more women in the workforce. Abe is proposing a bill that would require all public sector institutions and companies with more than 301 employees to demonstrate concrete action plans to increase the representation of women. He’s also increasing nursery school capacity, and enhancing family leave policies. Japan is also leveraging $3 billion in international aid to enhance peace and security and ending sexual violence abroad.

Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi, is committing to fully ending child marriage in Malawi. Currently, about half of girls in Malawi are married before they turn 18– the government just passed a new law to address this problem, and Mutharika commits to fully implementing this law by creating new local marriage courts and improving marriage registration. Malawi is also making major steps towards economic empowerment of women, by requiring all commercial banks to develop lending options just for women by 2016, in order to increase the number of women accessing credit by 30%.

Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, is launching a new nationwide analysis of violence against women, to make sure agencies and public institutions have the data they need to inform policy that could protect victims. Based on the data they find, Iohannis plans to create emergency shelters in every region of the country. Romania is also creating two entirely new professions — Expert in Gender Equality and Gender Equality Technician — to implement gender equality strategies, and 70% of Romanian public institutions are required to employ one by 2020.

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, is pledging to make sure women have equal access to technology and increase girls’ enrollment in tech fields. Currently, women represent only 20% of employees in the tech sector, and only 35% of women own mobile phones (compared to almost half of men.) Kagame also wants to get more girls enrolled in technical and vocational training programs by launching a national mentorship and career guidance program to encourage girls to take science and technology courses, aiming at 50% of eligible girls enrolled by 2020. Currently, only about 18% of eligible girls are enrolled. Rwanda is also rolling out an initiative to end gender-based violence, by building One Stop Centers all over the country to provide medical, legal, and psychological support to victims, part of what they call a “zero tolerance policy” towards sexual violence.

Stefan Löfvén, Prime Minister of Sweden, says Sweden already has a feminist government, but that more men need to stand up for gender equality. He promises to get more women into the workforce (64% of Swedish women are employed full time, compared to 69% of Swedish men) and close the wage gap– currently, Swedish women make only 87 cents for every dollar a man makes. Sweden has achieved a remarkable level of gender equality in government, but women are still under-represented in business and academia. The government has set a target that boards of top Swedish companies must be 40% female by 2017– if that goal isn’t met, the government will start implementing a quota.

Read more: Twitter, Vodafone and Georgetown University All Commit to Gender Equality

TIME Switzerland

This Country Has the World’s Happiest People

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Dale Reubin—Getty Images/Cultura RF View of mountains and lakeside village, Switzerland

Life expectancy, social connections, personal freedom and the economy all play a role in happiness

The happiest people in the world live in Switzerland, a new study found.

The third World Happiness Report, released by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network on Thursday, ranked 158 countries based on Gallup surveys from 2012-15 and analyzed the key factors contributing to happiness levels.

Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada were the top five happiest countries, while the West African nation of Togo was the least happy.

The report aims to provide policymakers around the world with new metrics that place a higher emphasis on subjective well-being. While income appeared to play a significant role in boosting happiness—the GDP per capita is 25 times higher in the 10 happiest countries than in the 10 least happy—it was far from the only factor. Life expectancy, social connections, personal freedom, generosity and corruption levels also helped explain the happiness scores, according to the report.

The U.S., for example, ranked 15th in the world, one below Mexico and three below Costa Rica, where per capita GDP is roughly a fifth of that in the U.S.

“This report gives evidence on how to achieve societal well-being,” Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said in a statement. “It’s not by money alone, but also by fairness, honesty, trust, and good health.”

But sharp economic changes in a country can play a role in people’s happiness, the report found. Greece, where the global recession triggered prolonged economic turmoil, saw its happiness levels fall the most since 2005-07, compared to 125 other countries where data was available.

Still, the report warned policymakers against overemphasizing income levels.

“When countries pursue GDP in a lopsided manner, forgetting about social and environmental objectives, the results can be adverse for human well-being,” the report said. “Many countries in recent years have achieved economic growth at the cost of the sharply rising inequalities of income and grave damage to the natural environment.”

TIME astronomy

See the 9 Most Breathtaking Photos of the Northern Lights

A strong geomagnetic storm enhanced the aurora borealis on Tuesday night. Watch highlights from the natural light show here.

TIME Environment

Climate Change Is Making the Land in Iceland Rise

Blue Lagoon Iceland
Getty Images Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Study is the first to demonstrate the link between climate change and rising land

Land in Iceland is rising at a pace of as much as 1.4 inches per year in certain areas as a result of climate change, according to a new study. The melting of the country’s glaciers reduces pressure on the land below and allows the surface to rise, researchers say.

“Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps,” study co-author Kathleen Compton, a University of Arizona researcher, said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, relied on data from 62 global positioning system receivers placed throughout Iceland that allowed researchers to track the land’s movement.

MORE: The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

While scientists have noticed the rise in land levels in certain areas across the globe, this study is the first to demonstrate the link between climate change and rising land, the researchers say.

“Iceland is the first place we can say accelerated uplift means accelerated ice mass loss,” said study co-author Richard Bennett, a professor at the University of Arizona.

TIME Environment

How Climate Change Leads to Volcanoes (Really)

Get used to this: The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010
Arctic-Images; Getty Images Get used to this: The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010

A new study reveals one more consequence of our messing with the environment

Correction appended Jan. 30, 2015

Give climate change credit for one thing: it’s endlessly versatile. There was a time we called it global warming, which meant what it said: the globe would get warmer. It was only later that we appreciated that a planet running a fever is just like a person running a fever, which is to say it has a whole lot of other symptoms: in this case, droughts, floods, wildfires, habitat disruption, sea level rise, species loss, crop death and more.

Now, you can add yet another problem to the climate change hit list: volcanoes. That’s the word from a new study conducted in Iceland and accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. The finding is bad news not just for one comparatively remote part of the world, but for everywhere.

Iceland has always been a natural lab for studying climate change. It may be spared some of the punishment hot, dry places like the American southwest get, but when it comes to glacier melt, few places are hit harder. About 10% of the island nation’s surface area is covered by about 300 different glaciers—and they’re losing an estimated 11 billion tons of ice per year. Not only is that damaging Icelandic habitats and contributing to the global rise in sea levels, it is also—oddly—causing the entire island to rise. And that’s where the trouble begins.

Eleven billion tons of ice weights, well, 11 billion tons; as that weight flows away, the underlying land decompresses a bit. In the new paper, investigators from the University of Arizona and the University of Iceland analyzed data from 62 GPS sensors that have been arrayed around Iceland—some since as long ago as 1995, others only since 2006 or 2009. But all of the sensors told the same story: Iceland is rising—or rebounding as geologists call it—by 1.4 in. (35 mm) per year.

That’s much faster than the investigators expected, and other studies of the Icelandic crust show that the speed began to pick up around 1980, or just the time that glacier melt accelerated, too. “Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps,” said Kathleen Compton of the University of Arizona, a geoscientist and one of the paper’s co-authors, in a statement.

In some respects that shouldn’t be a bad thing: yes, an inch and a half a year is fast on a geologic scale, but in the modern, climate-disrupted world, a rising coastline might be just what an island needs to keep up with rising sea levels. The problem is, Iceland isn’t just any island, it’s a highly geologically active one, with a lot of suppressed volcanic anger below the surface. The last thing you want to do in a situation like that is take the lid off the pot.

“As the glaciers melt, the pressure on the underlying rocks decreases,” Compton said in an e-mail to TIME. “Rocks at very high temperatures may stay in their solid phase if the pressure is high enough. As you reduce the pressure, you effectively lower the melting temperature.” The result is a softer, more molten subsurface, which increases the amount of eruptive material lying around and makes it easier for more deeply buried magma chambers to escape their confinement and blow the whole mess through the surface.

“High heat content at lower pressure creates an environment prone to melting these rising mantle rocks, which provides magma to the volcanic systems,” says Arizona geoscientist Richard Bennett, another co-author.

Perhaps anticipating the climate change deniers’ uncanny ability to put two and two together and come up with five, the researchers took pains to point out that no, it’s not the very fact that Icelandic ice sits above hot magma deposits that’s causing the glacial melting. The magma’s always been there; it’s the rising global temperature that’s new. At best, only 5% of the accelerated melting is geological in origin.

Icelandic history shows how bad things can get when the ice thins out. During the last deglaciation period 12,000 years ago—one that took much longer to unfold than the current warming phase turbocharged by humans—geologic records suggest that volcanic activity across the island increased as much as 30-fold. Contemporary humans got a nasty taste of what that’s like back in 2010 when the volcanic caldera under the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap in southern Iceland blew its top, erupting for three weeks from late March to mid-April and spreading ash across vast swaths of Europe. The continent was socked in for a week, shutting down most commercial flights.

If you enjoyed that, there’s more of the same coming. At the current pace, the researchers predict, the uplift rate in parts of Iceland will rise to 1.57 in. (40 mm) per year by the middle of the next decade, liberating more calderas and leading to one Eyjafjallajökull-scale blow every seven years. The Earth, we are learning yet again, demands respect. Mess with it and there’s no end to the problems you create.

An earlier version of this story misstated the annual rate of land rebound in the coming decade. It is 1.57 in.

TIME health

Was Iceland Really the First Nation to Legalize Abortion?

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Planet Observer / Getty Images / Universal Images Group Satellite image of Iceland

The oft-cited law was passed 80 years ago, on Jan. 28, 1935

Ask the Internet which country was the first to legalize abortion and you’re likely to find some confusing answers, many of which point in one direction: Iceland.

It’s true that, 80 years ago, on Jan. 28 of 1935, Iceland’s “Law No. 38″ declared that the mother’s health and “domestic conditions” may be taken into consideration when considering whether to permit doctors to perform an abortion. And, according to the 1977 book Abortion by Malcolm Potts, Peter Diggory and John Peel, that law stuck for decades.

However, there are a lot of caveats to that “first” label. For one thing, abortion spent centuries as neither illegal nor legal, before becoming formally legislated, which happened in the 19th century in many places. Iceland, then, was the first Western nation to create what we might now recognize as a common modern abortion legalization policy, with a set of conditions making the procedure not impossible but not entirely unregulated.

Some other nations that passed abortion laws before Iceland’s (like Mexico, for example) also included conditions, like rape, under which it would be permitted. And, as Robertson’s Book of Firsts clarifies, the Soviet Union had actually legalized abortion, on demand, more than a decade earlier. The difference was that (a) the Soviet law didn’t last, as that nation underwent a series of regime changes, and (b) the conditions for legality were different. Though abortion was later strictly limited in Russia, legalization was apparently no small thing when it was first introduced.

As TIME reported on Feb. 17, 1936:

A not entirely enthusiastic participant last week was Dictator Joseph Stalin at the celebration by massed Communist delegations from all over Russia of the tenth anniversary of the founding in Moscow of the Union of the Militant Godless. This unprecedented Jubilee of Godlessness could only be compared to that celebrated by Bolsheviks in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Legalization in Russia of Abortion.

TIME Food & Drink

Conservationists Revolted by Icelandic Brewer’s Whale Testicle Beer

Environmental Groups Challenge Navy's Use Of Sonar In West Coast Training Exercises
David McNew—Getty Images A fin whale spouts off the southern California coast on January 29, 2012 near Long Beach, California.

They probably aren't the only ones

Environmentalists have urged beer drinkers to resist the temptation to drink a new flavor of beer from Iceland, spiced with hints of smoked whale testicle.

“This is a calculated move,” read a statement from Whale and Dolphin Conservation society, “not only to dishonour a beautiful and endangered creature by using its most intimate of body parts as a marketing tool, but also sends a clear ‘two fingers’ to the conservation community and those who love and respect whales.”

Brewery co-owner Dabjartur Arilíusson told Beverage Daily that the testicles from the fin whale, an endangered species according to the World Wildlife Fund, were legally obtained from local fisheries, which were granted whaling rights this year following a two year moratorium.

Arilíusson also framed the brew as an homage to the country’s culinary past. “We work the testicle by the old traditional way” Arilíusson said, adding that each testicle was smoked with dried sheep manure.

Read more at Beverage Daily.

TIME Travel

Europe’s 13 Best Winter Getaways

Pamporovo, Bulgaria
chicretreats.com Villa Gella, Pamporovo, Bulgaria

High design and haute cuisine meet crackling fires and snow-covered vistas in these European winter destinations

Europeans have dreamt up many definitions of cozy. Denmark has hygge, a concept that evokes “coziness when relaxing with good friends.” Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have gemütlich, which translates to “comfortably homey.” And Bulgaria has its уют, which means “snug.”

In other words, when the temperature drops, there’s a special appeal to hightailing it to Europe, where the art form of coziness has been perfected over the course of a few thousand winters. From the Ardennes to the Alps, woodsy retreats with crackling fireplaces, steamy thermal baths with pine-scented steam rooms, and wood-paneled inns where bubbling pots of fondue and shots of schnapps have long warmed locals and propelled many travelers to cross an ocean for a taste.

Still, the concept of a European winter getaway is changing. Seaside towns and off-season resort areas are seeing an uptick of visitors who come for digital detoxes and crowd-free retreats that can cost a quarter as much as a ski weekend. Sagres, in Portugal, for instance, is experiencing an increase in visitors, namely golfers seeking a bit of cool January sun and surfers coming for the winter swells. Croatia’s Istrian coast, meanwhile, attracts flocks of Zagreb creative types thanks to the significant off-season savings at its seaside and design-forward hotels.

Find out why there’s no winter like a European winter—especially in these towns.

Åre, Sweden

With its snow-covered peaks, café-lined town square, and red-hot après-ski scene, this mountain resort in northern Sweden is the Aspen of Scandinavia. There are more than 100 powdery ski runs, or you can navigate the slopes by snowmobile or dogsled: Explore Åre and Camp Åre are two top outfitters that can arrange tours. After dark, a lively crowd congregates over pints of Swedish Brekeriet beer at Hotel Fjällgården, where DJs keep the place thumping late into the night. For a quiet evening, curl up with a mug of glogg in one of the candlelit nooks at Thyras Salong, in the Tott Hotel. A five-minute walk away, chef Markus Aujalays runs Fjällpuben, a cozy restaurant with a farmhouse feel that serves dishes like tender elk carpaccio with currants and pickled beets. You’ll find several sophisticated hotels in town, but for a true northern adventure, consider spending a night at Igloo Åre, where the beds are made of packed snow covered in plush sleeping bags and reindeer skins, and private guides lead early morning snowshoe hikes. If the thought of ice blocks leaves you cold, there’s the new wood- and-glass Copperhill Mountain Lodge by American architect Peter Bohlin, a high-design ski-in, ski-out chalet with huge stone fireplaces, furnishings by the likes of Tom Dixon and Patricia Urquiola, and spa “tee-pees” that pay homage to the region’s indigenous Sami tribe. Book a Samezen massage, which uses warm stones and plant extracts, then take in the mountain views from a hot-spring-fed pool. —Ingrid K. Williams

Vals, Switzerland

You don’t come to this tiny village in the Swiss Alps to ski. Instead of perfectly groomed pistes, you’ll find a wonderland for design buffs. Built from sparkling gray blocks of Vals quartzite, Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor’s austerely beautiful Therme Vals houses a warren of steamy hammams and flower-strewn pools. Last fall, the on-site hotel was rebranded as the 7132 Hotel, with furniture by Fritz Hansen and Eero Saarinen, a restaurant that serves dishes like Öra salmon with beets and spinach, and new rooftop suites designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. If your taste tends toward fewer hard surfaces and right angles, the four-room Brücke 49 embodies the distinctive Danish ethos of hygge, or coziness, but with some Midcentury-inspired flair: Finn Juhl chairs, 1960s Le Klint lamps, Vola showers, and William Morris wallpaper. Do as the locals do and earn your fondue with a 45-minute hike from the hotel along farm roads to Restaurant Ganni, an 18th-century timber mountain lodge. After a pot of silky cheese spiked with ginger, porcini, or traditional kirsch, throw back avieille prune (cask-aged plum brandy) digestif to fortify you for the walk back down. —Adam H. Graham

Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Jutting west into the North Atlantic Ocean, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is Iceland at its most stunning: moss-blanketed lava fields, misty fjords surrounded by craggy cliffs, and a towering volcano crowned with a glacier that dates back to the Ice Age. Do it as a road trip, starting with a night at the fire-engine-red Hotel Egilsen, in the tiny fishing town of Stykkisholmur. The inn’s 10 cozy rooms have a New England vibe, decorated as they are in light blues and greens, and original sketches of local landmarks by Icelandic artist Tolli line the walls. Across the street, Narfeyrarstofa, with its doilies and lace curtains, may look like someone’s grandmother’s house, but the restaurant serves the best lamb stew in town. It’s about an 80-mile drive around the tip of the peninsula—past waterfalls and golden beaches—to Hotel Búðir, the region’s game-changing property. The 17th-century trading post turned 28-room lodge is a destination in itself, with views of the Snæfell glacier or bay from every window, sitting areas with deep leather sofas and scores of old National Geographics to flip through, and a lobby bar with one of the country’s largest whiskey collections. If you’re looking to knock the northern lights off your bucket list, you’re in luck: an overnight concierge will wake you up for the show. —Brooke Porter Katz

The Cotswolds, Cheltenham

Once a popular spa getaway for well-heeled Londoners, Cheltenham fell out of favor with the rise of its trendier neighbors Daylesford and Chipping Norton. But with the opening of No. 38 The Park, the historic town in the northern Cotswolds is back in the spotlight. The brainchild of Sam and Georgie Pearman, the Regency building has 13 bedrooms, elegantly done with reclaimed-wood tables, freestanding Victorian bathtubs, and David Hockney prints. For dinner, make your way to sister property No. 131, where locals gather in a buzzy, low-lit dining room for regionally sourced dishes. Beyond the hotel, there’s plenty to explore, including the housewares and antiques shops in the neighborhoods of Montpelier and Suffolk. Don’t miss Guild at 51, full of handmade textiles and silverwork. Or tour the recently renovated Wilson, an art space showcasing both British Arts and Crafts and emerging artists. For lunch, Purslane serves a standout Cornish pollack with wood-roasted celeriac and chanterelles; come nighttime, it’s all about Daffodil, an Art Deco–style restaurant and bar known for its martinis and live jazz. —Sarah Miller

Courchevel, France

Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, is not known for taking foolish risks. So when he decided to give the hotel business a try with the ultra-luxe Cheval Blanc Courchevel, he set his sights on Courchevel’s most glamorous zip code, Le Jardin Alpin. Its north-facing slopes are among the best, its network of ski lifts the most efficient, and its habitués the most monied in all of Europe. With Arnault’s imprimatur and designer Sybille de Margerie’s bright, futuristic interiors, the property was a big- enough deal to lure chef Yannick Alléno from Paris’s Michelin three- starred Le Meurice to open Le 1947, where traditional French dishes get a modern spin. Just up the mountain,L’Apogée Courchevel bears the dual stamp of Parisian designers India Mahdavi and Joseph Dirand. The 55 timbered rooms and suites are surprisingly casual, decorated in a burgundy, green, and gingham palette, while the two chalets have log fires, perfect for curling up beside after a long day on the mountain. Courchevel’s equally polished town center is lined with high-end boutiques, including Isabel Marant and Ski Dior, and the bakery Maison Braissand is an essential stop for its buttery pain au chocolat. —Alexandra Marshall

Read the full list HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

TIME

The Quirky Ways 7 Other Countries Celebrate Christmas

JAPAN-JAL-KFC
KAZUHIRO NOGI—AFP/Getty Images Japan Airlines President Yoshiharu Ueki (2nd L) and Masao Watanabe (2nd R), President of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan pose with a statue of Colonel Sanders (C) wearing a Santa Claus costume during a photo session after a press conference to announce their new "AIR Kentucky Fried Chicken" in-flight fried chicken service, in Tokyo on November 28, 2012.

Italy's Epiphany witch, Iceland's "Yule cat" and why Japan eats KFC at Christmas

If you’ve ever considered it odd that U.S. Christmas traditions revolve around indoor trees (real and plastic) and a plump, bearded man sliding down chimneys… you’re not wrong.

In fact, our conception of Santa Claus can largely be attributed to a single 1828 poem, Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which enshrined the nation’s image of Santa–with his “little round belly” and a beard “as white as the snow–and propagated the idea of him coming through chimneys to deliver gifts in stockings, now common knowledge to children across the country. It’s just one of the ways our Christmas traditions can be traced to quirks of history.

But odd and seemingly arbitrary Christmas traditions are not only the purview of the United States. Around the world, in countries that are majority Christian and countries that are majority not, unique practices emerge as the holiday approaches.

Here’s a look at some of the notable and sometimes bizarre Christmas time traditions around the world.

Japan

The vast majority of Japan is not Christian, but one Christmas tradition persists: a trip to KFC. Since a “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign was launched in Japan in 1974, the American chain has become a popular Christmas Eve hotspot. The campaign worked so well that sales that night typically outpace those of the rest of the year. Some people even order their bucket of fried chicken ahead, to beat the Christmas crowds.

Sweden

In the Swedish town of Gävle, it is traditional to construct a 30-foot tall giant straw “Yule Goat” — a Christmas symbol in Sweden for centuries. And it’s tradition for some meddling kids (actually, unidentified criminal arsonists) to try to burn it down. According to the Gävle tourist board, the goat has been burned down 25 times since its construction became an annual tradition in 1966. So far this year, the Gävle goat is safely standing, as you can see on this webcam. You can also follow him on Twitter.

India

Christians comprise roughly 2 percent of the Indian population, or 24 million people. But Christmas trees in the warm climate are in short supply, so in lieu of the evergreen conifer many Indian families will adorn banana or mango trees with ornaments. In Christian communities, which are mostly in southern India, people put oil-lamps of clay on their flat roof-tops to celebrate the season.

Ukraine

Americans would recognize the Christmas trees decorated in Ukraine, as they’re similar to the traditional, Western fir tree, but Ukrainians will sometimes decorate them with an unlikely ornament: spider webs. The tradition stems from a Ukrainian folk tale, about a widow whose family was so poor they had no money to decorate their tree. Instead, a spider span a web around it on Christmas Eve — and when the first light of day hit it on Christmas morning, it turned into a beautiful web of gold and silver.

Iceland

Beware the Yule Cat! This traditional Christmas fiend is said to terrorize the Icelandic countryside, particularly targeting those who don’t receive new clothes for Christmas. But the frightening festive feline is just one of Iceland’s “Christmas fiends”, who include Grýla, a three-headed ogress with goat-horns. The creature’s sons, the “Yule Lads”, hand out Christmas gifts to children who have been good (and rotten vegetables to those who have been bad).

Italy

Only in Italy do the witches bring gifts to children. That’s La Befana, a broom-flying, kindly witch who effectively takes over from Santa–in Italy, “Babbo Natale”—about two weeks after Christmas on Epiphany to deliver gifts to the good, and ash to the bad. Though the witch has her roots in the pre-Christian pagan tradition, she features in some tellings of the Christmas story in Italy — as an old woman who refuses to give the Wise Men directions to Bethlehem because she is too busy cleaning, and is forced to ride a broomstick for eternity as a result. The town of Le Marche, in northwestern Italy, celebrates her coming every January.

Czech Republic

Save the ham. In the Czech Republic, carp is the mainstay of a Christmas dinner. The tradition of eating carp on Christian holidays dates back as far as the 11th century, when Bohemian monasteries would construct fishponds for the express use of farming the fish. Until recently, Czech families would buy a live carp in the weeks before Christmas and keep it in a bathtub, before slaughtering it on Christmas Eve ready for the following day’s meal. Many Czechs still take part in the festive superstition of saving a dried (and cleaned) scale from the Christmas fish in their wallets for luck over the coming year.

READ NEXT Here’s Where to Watch Your Favorite Christmas Movies

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