Explore Christmas Traditions Around the World

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Reem Mohamed

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13 December, 2017

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9 mins read

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Entertainment

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Each and every country has its own way of celebrating Christmas. Various traditions, foods, and decorations are used to signal that the beginning of the New Year is on the horizon. In the 16th century, the idea of Christmas trees was first held in Germany and eventually, other countries started to follow the traditions and cultures related to the Christmas trees and decorated them. In 1850, according to Charles Dickens, the Christmas trees were well decorated and adorned with fine-looking dolls, miniature furniture, costume jewellery, little musical instruments, toy guns, swords, candy and fruits.

Christmas traditions, while some of them are staples everywhere, a lot of them vary depending on the region you’re in. Several countries across the globe have different Christmas traditions and celebrate in ways that might come off as foreign and unique to other countries. However, that’s what makes the celebration even more special! So, grab your passport and join us as we explore all the different Christmas traditions around the world in one joyous journey!


Christmas Traditions


Christmas Traditions Around the World


Bethlehem, Palestine

Since Christmas is the annual Christian festival to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is a very important celebration in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. A parade is held through the town on Christmas Eve where you can find people dressing up like Santa giving away sweets in the main squares and decorating streets with Christmas lights, decorations, and trees. People from different parts of the world visit the Church of Nativity annually as it was built over the place where Jesus was born.


The United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, it is a family occasion where families sit together around the tree and watch each other open their presents. Some will even decorate more than one tree in the same house. Decorating the tree is usually a loving practice that every member of the family should participate in. They decorate their trees using Holly Ivies, Mistletoe, stars, plastic ornaments, beaming garlands, and blinking lights. But this is not limited to houses; most villages, towns, and cities are decorated with Christmas lights during the Christmas season. The most famous Christmas lights in the UK are, of course, in Oxford Street in London. Thousands of people go to witness the big ‘Switch on’ at the beginning of November. 

The British expression ‘White Christmas’ means that a single snowflake has been seen falling in the 24 hours of Christmas Day and this doesn’t happen a lot in the UK! Statistics show that they get an official White Christmas about every 4 or 5 years and have real snow at Christmas about 1 in 10 years, excluding Scotland. Children believe that Santa Clause brings them gifts in stockings or pillowcases.

Another British Christmas tradition is mince pies. They’re tiny pies filled with dried fruit, and they’re so popular in England during the Christmas season; children leave them out for Santa instead of cookies.


Christmas Traditions


Italy and France

Our next stop on the Christmas traditions journey is Italy and France, where the Nativity crib is a very popular way of celebrating Christmas as they use it to tell the Christmas story with clay figures of the holy family. In Italy, it is traditional not to eat any meat or diaries. Instead, they eat a big Christmas Eve meal of seven different seafood dishes; the number seven represents the seven days of creation in the Bible. However, some households have 9 dishes to represent the Christian trinity times, 13 to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples, or 11 for the disciples without Jesus or Judas!


Australia and New Zealand

Over in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmastime happens to be in the middle of summer and the usual lyrics to carols about snow and cold weather are replaced by sunshine and hot weather. However, they still have their own original Christmas carols. Santa Claus uses kangaroos or six white boomers to get to Australia and wear lighter clothes to suit the hot weather. People also decorate their houses and gardens with Christmas Trees and Christmas lights. Neighbours sometimes even compete to see who has the best light display. 

The most famous Christmas street display is on One Street in Sydney. Australians have a native Christmas tree with small green leaves and cream-coloured flowers. The typical Australian Boxing Day feast includes a beach seafood barbeque and a famous Yacht race from Sydney to Hobart in Tasmania. Traditionally, they eat together as a family and mostly it is seafood such as prawns and lobsters.

In New Zealand, a number of their traditions centre around a barbie, or grill, where families and friends gather for a casual cookout of fresh seafood, meat, and seasonal vegetables. The New Zealand Christmas tree is the Pohutukawa, a coastal species that blooms a bright-red colour in December, providing shade during the sunny days as they sing carols in both English and Maori.


China

Most of the world’s plastic Christmas trees and Christmas decorations are made in China, however, Christmas isn't that widely celebrated in the rural areas of China. They use plastic Christmas trees and decorate them with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns. A tradition that is spreading now on Christmas Eve is giving apples because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called "Ping'an Ye" (平安夜), which means peaceful or quiet evening. In big cities, Christmas Trees, lights, and decorations are seen on the streets and in stores.


Vietnam

Vietnam used to be a part of the French Empire and therefore the French influences are still present in their Christmas traditions. Like France, they have the Nativity crib tradition and their Catholic churches have big scenes with nearly life-size statues of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the Shepherds, and animals.

Christmas Eve is more important to the Vietnamese people than Christmas Day! They celebrate by taking pictures, throwing confetti and witnessing the Christmas decorations and lights of big hotels, major department stores, restaurants and cafes. People turn their neighbourhoods into Christmas areas with big crib scenes in front of their houses and street decorations and lights. Vietnam is very hot for Santa so he wears lighter clothes and he is called Christmas old man.


Japan

In Japan, Christmas is a time for spreading happiness rather than a religious celebration. Their Christmas traditions include celebrating Christmas Eve as a romantic day in which couples exchange presents and go out on romantic dates and enjoy the Christmas lights.

On Christmas day, Japanese people often eat fried chicken, mainly from KFC, and Christmas cake that is spongy and decorated with strawberries and whipped cream. Christmas time is family time and the Japanese New Year is celebrated over five days from the 31st of December till the 4th of January. Santa Claus is known as Mr Santa.


Christmas Traditions



Indonesia

Artificial plastic Christmas trees are normally used in Indonesia and less often, some people have real Pine trees to be decorated for Christmas. It doesn’t stop there, Indonesians have a special type of Christmas tree made from chicken feathers, mostly made by people on Bali Island.

All over the country, gigantic Christmas trees with beautiful and colourful decorations are found and also in major shopping malls. Professional Indonesian chocolatiers made a huge edible chocolate Christmas tree in 2011. Santa Claus is very popular and is seen in shopping malls. Cookies are a must-have treat during Christmas.


Singapore

No real snow or reindeer is present during Christmas in Singapore but still, it is a huge celebration that includes shopping and eating for the locals. The well-known shopping belt on Orchard Road is picturesquely sparkling with light every December to entice the festive mood of the country and serves as a dazzling winter wonderland of stars and diamonds. To spice Christmas up, Singaporeans eat Turkey with Asian seasonings and herbs such as ginger and chilli as a part of their Christmas traditions.


Slovakia and Ukraine

Christmas traditions in these two countries involve pudding! Pudding – in all flavours and consistencies – is a popular Christmas delight. In Slovakia and parts of Ukraine, pudding does not only warm the heart, but it can also predict the future; the oldest male member of the family takes a spoonful of loksa pudding and throws it at the ceiling. The more pudding sticks, the more luck you’ll have!

In Ukraine specifically, you need to get comfortable for Christmas dinner, it is a feast and you’ll be there for a while! Ukrainians serve a show-stopping 12 courses during their traditional Christmas feasts, and each one is dedicated to one of Jesus’ apostles.


Mexico

All the way in the Americas, Christmas Piñatas make an appearance in Mexican Christmas traditions. It is commonly known that piñatas, or papier-mâché animals and other figures filled with candy, are tied to Mexico, but did you know that they also make appearances during the holiday season? The only difference is that this time of year, they show off some additional glitz and Christmas sparkle to celebrate the joy of the holidays.

Another Mexican Christmas tradition is the Night of the Radishes. Every December 23, locals in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico witness a competition that’s one of its kind, in which participants carve nativity scenes into the skin of sizeable radishes. Then they’re put on display at the Christmas market for all to view.


Norway

In Norway, brooms and mops play a crucial role in the country’s Christmas traditions. According to Norwegian folklore, hiding brooms and mops on Christmas night is advised to prevent evil spirits, who return to earth on Christmas, from taking the cleaning tools and using them to fly through the sky. Keep the spirits at bay and keep your brooms out of sight!


Christmas Traditions


Germany

As the place where Christmas traditions and celebrations allegedly started, Germany has plenty of Christmas quirks to share with the world. For starters, Santa Claus is known as Saint Nicholas, who is a separate gift-giver that nods to the religious version of Santa and leaves small presents, such as coins and fruit, in German children’s shoes. 

Another German Christmas tradition is the Christmas pickle, which is a glass pickle ornament hidden in a Christmas tree. The ornament is hidden deep within the tree’s branches, and the person who discovers the pickle sometime during the Christmas season will receive a bonus gift or lots of good fortune for the upcoming year.


Iceland

Over in Iceland, the Christmas traditions tend to be on the bookish side. On Christmas Eve, Icelandic families exchange books, then spend the rest of the evening cosied up by a fire as they read aloud and eat sweet treats. This would be an especially fun Christmas for bookworms and lovers of knowledge!


Poland

 In Poland, most Christmas traditions depend on the stars. Families wait for Christmas dinner until they receive a sign from the heavens that it’s time to eat—literally. Polish families don’t start eating dinner until someone spots the very first star shining in the sky. In other parts of the country, the right time to open the presents is also written in the stars; the youngest child has to watch the evening sky and wait for the first star to appear – that’s the signal that the opening of the presents can begin.


Venezuela

In Caracas, Venezuela, you go to Christmas mass in style! Residents don’t head to church services in cars but on roller skates. There are actually so many people who participate in this tradition that several city streets are closed to traffic on Christmas morning. It is one of the most fun Christmas traditions that brings even more joy to the holiday season!


Spain

Spain has plenty of Christmas traditions of its own that make this country’s celebration a worthwhile occasion! The lottery is one of the country’s most unique Christmas traditions. Since the late 19th century, the Spanish National Lottery has been giving out the biggest amount of money of the year: “El Gordo” or “The Fat One.” It has become a huge social event, that usually falls on December 22, when people get together with dozens of lottery tickets each, in high hopes of being one of the lucky winners. The lottery numbers are traditionally sung by a choir of twenty-two schoolchildren, and the whole country basically stands still in hopes of getting the Christmas present of a lifetime.

Santa does not have as many responsibilities in Spain. In many parts of Spain, the gifts are brought by Tió de Nadal or Christmas log – a piece of wood that is often decorated with a face and little legs. However, the log doesn’t just bring presents to the families: Tió de Nadal also gets fed at night, and it can cosy up with its own little blanket.


Christmas Traditions


Philippines

A country with stunning and light-filled Christmas traditions is the Philippines! Every year, the city of San Fernando holds Ligligan Parul, also known as the Giant Lantern Festival, featuring dazzling parols (lanterns) that symbolise the Star of Bethlehem. Each parol consists of thousands of spinning lights that illuminate the night sky. The festival has earned San Fernando the nickname of "Christmas Capital of the Philippines".


Finland

In the Northern country of Finland, Finnish families traditionally eat porridge made of rice and milk topped with cinnamon, milk, or butter on Christmas morning. Whoever finds the almond placed inside one of the puddings "wins". However, most families add almonds in all the puddings so no kids are upset on Christmas morning. Another Christmas tradition in Finland is that it is customary to warm up in a sauna together.


Ireland

In Ireland, people celebrate Christmas like most other countries but have a few traditions of their own. The Irish leave a tall red candle in a front window overnight, a welcoming symbol of warmth and shelter for the holiday season. Christmas traditions in Ireland often include homemade roast goose, vegetables, cranberries, and potatoes.


One of the many joys of Christmas is how differently it is celebrated around the world. Wherever you may be in the world, whether as a resident or a casual visitor, you are bound to experience a unique set of Christmas traditions that you will absolutely treasure! So, how is Christmas celebrated in your special corner of the world? Are there any unique Christmas traditions in store?


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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most popular Christmas tradition in the world?

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Gift-giving is the most beloved of all the Christmas traditions around the world. It goes back to when the Three Wise Men offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus in the manger. Gifts are usually placed under the Christmas tree or within stockings in festive patterns.

Which country has the best Christmas traditions?

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Every country has its own unique Christmas traditions that its locals enjoy taking part in, some of the best Christmas traditions worldwide include the following:

  • Kentucky Fried Christmas Dinner, Japan
  • The Yule Lads, Iceland
  • Saint Nicholas' Day, Germany
  • Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines
  • Gävle Goat, Sweden

How popular is Christmas in the world?

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Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. It is a religious festival that celebrates Jesus' birth. However, even some non-christian countries follow the Santa Claus tradition and partake in Christmas celebrations and gift-giving ceremonies.