No two families are exactly the same. It thus follows that no one family tradition is universal. That was certainly the case when Reddit asked users to share their strangest family traditions. Where there are family get-togethers, there’s fire, and also weird kissing rituals. Read on for 42 shocking stories about family traditions folks thought were normal… until it was too late.
1. Nothing Like A Morning Cleanse
My mom throws water on our first day of school. Like, we would walk through the door on the first day of school, and she would throw water from a cup into the lawn. She's Yugoslavian, and it's apparently a tradition from her youth. It supposedly symbolizes "cleansing you from your past". I thought it was normal until my older brother pointed out when he graduated high school that no one else does this.
I wrote that she still does this because I'm in grad school. I don't live with my parents, but my mom apparently still does it at the beginning of September even if I'm not there. I love my mom.
2. A Warm Welcome Anywhere
Toilet cozies (basically, clothing for your toilet.) I grew up with them and had to change the toilet every time I cleaned our hall bathroom.
In college, I was shopping with a friend about to buy my own toilet cozies, when my friend said, "Ew! WHY would you put that on your toilet? Won't it just collect germs and bacteria?!"
I thought about it for a moment and was genuinely mortified.
3. First Is The Worst
I have a twin sister who was born two minutes before me. She calls me every year two minutes before I was born, at like 8:09 in the morning.
When we turned 21, she came and woke me up, and legally chugged a cold one two minutes before I was born.
4. It Ain’t Easy Being Green
Every New Year, my dad buys a cabbage. It’s sort of like a this 'good luck' ritual for him to dance around the house with it and peel pieces off and place them on things for good luck. We'd all take turns dancing with it. I remember talking to a friend in elementary school about dancing with the cabbage for New Year’s and them thinking it was extremely odd.
5. Gone Fishing
My sister married a Norwegian man and moved to Oslo. We visited her last year. During the stay, her husband's family threw a birthday party for him. They tied a string to the presents and hid them under the bed. The end of the string was tied to his foot. He had to sit on the bed and kick his foot while everyone chanted "fish!"
Clearly, we were lost, and my sister explained it's a Norwegian custom. Her mother-in-law laughed and said in English for our benefit "No it's not! We're just a weird family!" My sister was shocked. "Are you kidding me?! We've done this for every birthday since I've been here!" Sometimes people are just crazy.
6. Run For Fun
Every day when we came home from school, my sister and I had to run a lap around our neighborhood. I had no idea other kids never did this and it exclusively was used to get my sister and me to burn energy, so my mom didn't have to play with us as much outside.
7. What're The Holidays Without Some Protein?
I'm a first-generation Polish immigrant. Trying to explain to your friend why there’s a Christmas carp in the bath was eye-opening.
8. A Kiss Called Wanda
My grandfather is part-Canadian and when we visit relatives in Nova Scotia, they make us kiss a trout.
9. Gobble Gobble At Four Angles
The Thanksgiving Turkey Box. We kids would decorate a big cardboard box, and my mom or grandmother—or the Great Turkey, for all I know—filled it up with little treats for the family. After dinner, everyone got their Thanksgiving gift. Usually, the kids got their chocolate advent calendar and a coloring book or something similar, adults got chocolates or a knick-knack. Never met another Turkey Box family.
10. A Real Man Always Comes Seasoned
Not so much a tradition, but my dad really has this thing for cayenne and a container of it would always be on the table. He would put a little bit on almost everything. I also really like it and do the same thing but apparently having a cayenne shaker on your table is weird. I found out when I was at a friend’s and asked for it and they were very confused and went and got it off the spice rack.
11. Our Own Private Feed
The family newsletter.
My uncle ran a family newsletter, people wrote in and contributed articles, recipes, etc. He snail mailed a copy to the extended family—we’re a very large family—every month.
The only other person I ever met that had a family newsletter is my wife.
12. All The Better To Fall Asleep In
On Christmas Eve, the Sandman brings us new pajamas. When we go to bed, there is a wrapped package on our bed containing pajamas, a robe, or slippers. On Christmas morning, everyone is wearing their new pajamas.
13. Zap To The Future
We call the TV remote a "zapper". To this day I haven't met anyone that does the same.
14. Alternative Hymns
We listen to “[Darn] It Feels Good To Be a Gangsta” by Geto Boys on Thanksgiving instead of saying grace. My dad likes it, I have no idea when this tradition started.
15. Sleeping Beauties
Pretending to be asleep. Whenever a family member or guest arrives at our home, everyone, no matter what they're doing, will be fast asleep snoring obnoxiously.
16. Make That Duolingo Count
We sing happy birthday in Polish.
We do not speak Polish.
17. Indoor Picnic
Whenever my family orders pizza for dinner, we lay out a blanket in the family room and eat on the floor. My parents did that before they were married, and we still do it 20 years later.
18. Art In Life, Life In Art
Every Groundhog Day, we go and get small gifts for each other for a dollar or less. Then we eat flapjacks and watch Groundhog Day.
For as long as I can remember my mom has buttered my nose on my birthday. I have no idea where this tradition originated. She's also been so kind as to carry this over to my significant others. I’ve gotten wise to her and the sneaky way she tries to carry butter in her hand without me noticing, but then she gets me tipsy and I let my guard down and BAM! Butter nose.
Basically, my mom is a huge dork.
20. Always Aim Higher
We would jump at midnight on New Year’s to get taller. The irony being I am a 5'6” tall (on a good day) guy, my mom is a 4'10" tall woman, dad and brother are 5'8” and 5'9” tall or so. Clearly, this tradition does not work.
21. Don’t Hop On Pop
My Dad is narcoleptic. Every year when he inevitably passes out at the table during Thanksgiving dinner my sisters & I play our favorite game, called "What can we balance on Dad's head?"
So far, our most impressive item is a coffee mug. I'm fairly proud of that one.
22. Roast In Every Sense Of The Word
We have a family roast every Sunday, but it is much more than just the food we eat. Generally, it ends up much like a celebrity roast where one member of the family gets ridiculed and has hilarious (embellished) stories told about them for then hour while everyone else laughs.
It's always in good humor and my mum is usually on the receiving end every second week, but when I can’t go, the week feels like it's missing something without the joyous 6 PM Sunday banter.
23. The Sacrificial (And High-Fat) Lamb
For Easter dinner, my aunt and uncle would always buy a stick of butter molded into the shape of a lamb. Before we ate, it was my job to chop its head off.
24. The Family Coat Of Arms
My husband's family exchanges weapons every year for Christmas. Knives, swords, guns: if it's deadly, it'll end up as a gift.
My first Christmas with them, I was terrified. I'd only been dating him for about six months and he was opening up a giant box of knives in front of me. And so was his brother. And they were passing the knives around the room like it wasn't dangerous.
I got used to it after a few years. The joke became that I wasn't one of them until I got something sharp and dangerous for Christmas.
This last Christmas was my first as an official member of the family. They made me open the very first gift, which was a sweet little assisted open pocket knife. My very first weapon.
It was their way of welcoming me into the family.
25. Dads Do Take Sick Days
My dad pretends to be sick and we all just go along with it and cancel our plans.
26. You Gotta Pay The Troll Toll
When I was in high school, we had a kitchen troll. It was a tiny troll figurine that we would hide in the kitchen. If you found it, you had to hide it again. We got pretty creative.
27. Having A Gas
Whenever anyone in the family is sad (me, my mother, or my sister), my dad will drop whatever he is doing and take us for a drive. He'll drive for as long as it takes for us to feel better. Doesn't matter if he's in a deep sleep, working, or eating dinner. He'll drop it without a second's thought.
28. A Thread Through Time
When a boy becomes a man, he can wear grandpa's jacket.
29. All About “You”
We skip 99.9% of the “Birthday Song” at parties and get right to the best part, "YOUUUUUUUU!" No joke. Mom lights the candle, everyone holds their arms out toward the birthday boy/girl and we all sing "YOUUU" and then the candle gets blown out.
I thought it was corny at first, but it cuts to the point, saves shy singers any embarrassment, and we get to the cake sooner.
30. Our Own Private Getaway
My sister and I were never close growing up but we both shared a common goal, which was to open a Christmas present early. For the record, I think she was about 10 years old and I was about 8. We made up a fake holiday on December 17.
It was to celebrate the people who make socks in the winter to keep our feet warm. We made a few fake holiday cards, we wrote a song, and we did some stupid dance with it to convince our parents to let us open a present before Christmas in honor of our new "holiday". They said they were so impressed that we worked so hard together as a team just to open a gift that they decided to let us. We celebrated this stupid holiday every year with an early present. My family still gets my sister and I presents every year for this, and we are almost 30.
31. An Elephant Never Invests
We have lucky elephant statues throughout the house. Each one has a dollar bill wrapped around the upwards facing trunk. My grandmother insists that this is a Puerto Rican tradition that brings prosperity and good luck. However, the elephant cannot face the windows or doors because it signifies money leaving the home.
32. You Can Count On Silence
We always have a massive argument at Christmas and don’t speak for six months.
33. Sandwiched In The Annals Of History
We end phone calls and emails with the phrase "Ham and jam". Dad's a military historian.
Operation Deadstick was the British glider-borne assault of the Orne and Caen canal bridges, more commonly known as “Pegasus Bridge". During the real operation, the Commander was issued with two codewords to be radioed back to England to report the outcome.
The capture of the Caen canal bridge (Pegasus) was codenamed “Ham” and the Orne canal bridge (Horsa) was codenamed “Jam". When both bridges were captured the message was sent back to England—“Ham and Jam”.
Every conversation is the preservation of small but important bridges between us.
34. Step Into These Treats
Yes! My family has its own holiday called Squirrel of the Night. It's celebrated yearly on March 9. If you leave your shoes outside your bedroom door the night before the Squirrel of the Night will come and fill them with nuts and candy. This is allegedly to thank my mother for her service to Sciuridae-kind because she rescued a chipmunk once when she was little. We've celebrated yearly since I was a baby.
I'm pretty sure my parents came up with the idea one day while stoned.
35. Can You Ever Be Too Blessed?
We say “God bless you” to any bodily noise, not just a sneeze. I've done this to my friends too and they just look at me like I have two heads.
36. Little Dancers
We have this little hula girl statuette that gets passed around the family at Christmas.
Every year someone has the little hula girl and is tasked with stashing it somewhere in another person's house/luggage for them to discover it. They then have to keep it on display in their home for the entire year until they can stick someone else with it.
The only catch is that no one ever talks about it, and nobody has any idea when it started.
37. War For Your Eardrums
My family listens to Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds album on Christmas morning.
Usually, my dad and I are first up, so we play it really loudly to wake my brothers up.
It's my favorite bit of Christmas.
38. Famous Last Words
My kids are grown, and we live in different parts of the country.
Whenever one of us gets on a plane, we call each other and say, "I regret nothing".
Creepy, but fun.
39. Beast Wars
A little over a decade ago my mother found an old high school art project while packing up boxes in preparation to leave my childhood home. This piece of "art" was terrible. It was a hand-sculpted toothbrush holder. Basically, a large green cup, but with the top of it being a huge wide-open mouth, with big nasty teeth and a tongue spilling out well over the side of it. It was colored and fired in a kiln. It will now be solely referred to as "The Beast".
My mother is very nostalgic and hates to throw things of this nature away. So she gave it to my sister, who was already married and moved out. This is where the fun begins. My sister (Emily) denies it was her that made something that ugly and says it was my brother. My mom tells her to give it to him then. But, when Emily tries to give the wretched spawn that is the Beast to my brother (Merrick) he also denies fathering such an abomination.
This escalates quickly, very quickly into a full-on war. Emily and Merrick spend the next ten years finding new and creative ways to sneak the object into each others’ homes and hide it. Because if the other person doesn't even know it is in their house, it clearly will not be in yours. But if you have hidden it on the other, you are always wondering, "Have they found it yet?!" or "Is it in my house?"
Finally, it all ends when my Merrick comes to me asking for help. You see, I was doing some construction work in my sister’s house. He looks at me with intensity and camaraderie that only a brotherhood can produce, "Hide it somewhere she will NEVER find it!". I just nod reassuringly and take the Beast home with me.
The next month I am making and installing custom cabinetry in my sister’s master closet. And I get the idea. There is a larger piece that I made to go floor to ceiling, to hold all her jewelry and a mirror with a chest of drawers below it. I cut a hole in the wall, wedge The Beast between two framing studs and seal its tomb as I glued, screwed and nailed that sucker into the wall. I took pictures of the entire act, as per Merrick's request, and he slowly started leaving hints to my sister that she might want to take a look around her house for it.
Finally, at Christmas, Merrick made a hand-drawn sketch of the Beast with the words "You are not alone" wrapped it up and gave it to her on Christmas morning. Emily spent a year looking for it, the next Christmas he gave her the pictures of it being sealed into the very framework of her house. It was beautiful. Game over... or is it...
Fast forward to last year, my mother walks up to me at Christmas time, the entire family in the living room. She says, "Close your eyes and hold out your hands," I comply. She places something in my hand, the texture is very familiar, but the shape is foreign. "Open your eyes"., she says. I look down. In my hands is another piece of handcrafted "art" colored and kilned, and it is actually, somehow, uglier than The Beast".
WHAT IS THIS!" I yell. She smiles and just says, "Flip it over".. I do, and on the back engraved into the very clay that formed it, is my name, age, and the date it was made. There was a moment of silence in the house, and everyone knew. The years of peace and comfort had come to an end. The nights of being able to lay your head on your pillow and know you were alone, and your family was safe from It, oh but a distant memory.
A new war had begun...
40. John McCry
My mom and dad split when I was 4 years old. When they finalized the divorce, it was a week before Christmas when I was 8. My dad got custody and after Christmas dinner and stuff, he put me and my sister to bed.
An hour or so later I could hear my dad crying. I went out to hug him. He was watching Die Hard on TV. I sat and watched with him. So now every year, we watch Die Hard together.
41. Kevin McCallister Is All Grown Up And Had Kids, I See
We were never under the impression that others did this, but I have to share it as I think it was a wonderful thing my parents did.
Imagine your younger years. Santa Claus is alive and well, and all you can think about is what toy you're getting for Christmas.
My parents had a deal with Santa.
He'd give us good presents, but we had to earn them even if we had been good. How did we earn them? My parents would booby-trap the house. Nothing lethal or harmful, of course. But we had to make it through them without awakening our parents—we never succeeded. From trip wires to scarecrows in hallways; nuts on the floor to make you slip, doors tied together—even the circuit breakers were turned off so there were no lights. My parents went all-out. About two weeks before Christmas, all the flashlights and bladed objects—scissors, pocketknives, etc.—mysteriously disappeared from the house.
The best one was the one year I was in the lead—I had three siblings—and was nearly to the den where the presents awaited.
I spotted a tripwire across the doorway. Thinking myself clever, I moved in and snipped it with the scissors I had stashed earlier that month. This...was a mistake. I look up just in time to see an old Halloween decoration flying straight at my face—a big, hairy spider. Oh, how I screamed. To this day, my dad won't let me forget it. I woke the whole house up, my dad was rolling on the floor with laughter, and I was traumatized for life.
42. Use Your Head
Every Easter egg me or my sister have ever eaten has been broken open on our heads. I only found out this was strange when I went to university and three of my flatmates stared at me as I placed a chocolate egg on the table, then slammed my forehead into it.
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