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We are fully in the Christmas season, now that Thanksgiving is past! And I’m glad. This is my favorite time of year. My house is fully decorated for Christmas. There’s a cocoa bar set up in my kitchen. And my little living Norfolk pine serves as my Christmas tree.
In the US, we have many fun holiday traditions, from decorating Christmas trees to ugly sweater contests to setting out cookies for Santa.
Have you ever wondered how other countries celebrate Christmas? My ever curious mind wanted to know. Check out these Christmas traditions from around the world! You might find a fun new custom to add to your festivities.
Christmas Traditions from Around the World
Many countries celebrate Christmas differently than we do in the US. People around the world find joy in this holiday season, eating favorite foods, honoring timeless traditions, giving gifts to loved ones.
Although some Christmas traditions are universal, like decorating trees or singing carols, some are quite unique. Take a look at these traditions that differ from what we do in the US.
In jolly England, Father Christmas leaves presents in stockings or pillowcases hung on kids’ beds. And children leave a snack for Father Christmas, just as children do in the US. However, while we leave cookies and hot cocoa or milk, children in England leave mince pies and brandy.
The Irish leave a red candle lit overnight in a front window on Christmas Eve. The candle is symbolic of welcoming Mary and Joseph with warmth and shelter as they search for lodging. Traditional Christmas fare includes roast goose, potatoes, veggies and cranberries.
One of the most astounding things about Scotland is that Christmas was banned in the country for 400 years! As a result of the reformation in 1560, the kirk (church) frowned on anything related to Roman Catholicism. In 1640 Scottish parliament passed a law making yuletide celebrations illegal. It wasn’t until 1958 that December 25 became a public holiday in Scotland again.
For this reason, New Year’s Eve in Scotland is a very big celebration. It’s called Hogmanay. I’ll share more about this festive time in a future post. One Scottish Christmas tradition is baking unleavened yule bread for each person in the family. The one who finds a trinket in his or her bread is blessed with good luck for the new year.
Did you know that nativity scenes originated in Italy? The holiday season begins on December 8 in Italy and runs through January 6. Everywhere, in churches, homes and outdoors, are nativity scenes called presepes that include Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. And rather than Father Christmas, Italians have Babbo Natale, a kind old woman who leaves gifts for children on January 6.
In Germany, December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day. Children receive small gifts on that day and they recite poems they wrote for Saint Nicholas.
The Yule Goat became a Swedish Christmas symbol centuries ago. However, in 1966, someone came up with the idea of making a huge straw goat, now called the Gavle Goat. The festive goat stands 42 feet tall and weighs more than three tons.
Construction of the straw goat begins on the first Sunday of Advent and it remains standing until New Year’s Day.
San Fernando is the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. Every year they hold the Ligligan Parul, Giant Lantern Festival. The brilliant lanterns, called parols, represent the Star of Bethlehem. Each parol contains thousands of spinning lights.
In Iceland they celebrate the 13 days of Christmas. Every night before Christmas, children place shoes or boots in the window and then go to sleep. The kids hope to receive a visit from the 13 Yule Lads, who leave candy for good children and rotten potatoes for naughty ones.
Christmas in New Zealand falls during their summer. Christmas festivities include gathering around the barbie for cookouts. New Zealand boasts a spectacular Christmas tree called the Pohutukawa that blooms with crimson flowers in December.
Homes in Denmark contain gnome like characters called nisser, who provide protection. They sport long white beards and wear red stocking caps. Make your own adorable nisser by searching for them on Pinterest.
On Christmas Eve, Danish families move the Christmas tree into the middle of the room where they dance around it while singing carols.
The Christmas season, called julebord, begins on December 3 in Norway. Families celebrate Little Christmas December 23. On that day they decorate the tree, make gingerbread houses and eat a hot rice pudding called risengrynsgrot.
In the Ukraine, people celebrate Christmas Day on January 7 by dressing in traditional clothes and walking through town, singing carols. Kutya, a dish made with cooked wheat, honey, ground poppy seeds and nuts, is popular on Christmas Eve. If someone throws a spoonful of kutya at the ceiling and it sticks, the harvest in the new year promises to be bountiful.
Families in Nigeria throw parties that last all night long, on Christmas Eve. In the morning they go to church. The church choir travels through the town, singing carols to people in their homes. Family members exchange gifts and children enjoy setting off fireworks on Christmas Day.
In Switzerland, families make their own advent calendars together. Each day’s bag or box contains a small gift or treat. The biggest gift is given on Christmas Eve.
In Mexico, bright red poinsettia plants appear in holiday arrangements throughout the country. In churches, members put on Pastorelas, Shepherd’s Plays, to tell the Christmas Story. They also march in parades in early December, re-enacting the journey of Mary and Joseph.
What Are Your Christmas Traditions?
In my home, I enjoy several personal traditions. I purchase a heart ornament for my tree each year, buy a new Christmas mug for my collection and cluster snowmen in groups and villages.
My younger daughter and I, and any other family members who want to join in, watch Dicken’s A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve. We prefer the George C Scott version. I’m excited to introduce my new granddaughter to the tradition this year.
And I’d love to incorporate Christmas traditions from around the world in my festivities too. I seriously want a nisser! And next year, or whenever travel restrictions ease, I’ll visit the Christmas market in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Do you have favorite Christmas traditions in your home? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
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16 Replies to “Christmas Traditions from Around the World”
Very nice post! I am Hungarian, so traditions from Germany and Iceland or even from Italy is very familiar to me.
Miss Christmas times from my childhood.
Thanks for sharing!
Is there a special one from Hungary?
Oh, I would love to find a good Christmas market here in the U.S., since European travel is out right now. As a kid, we always celebrated St. Nick’s Day in my Catholic school, and received treats in our (probably stinky) shoes. I think I’ll try to remember to do that for my boys, this year. Hearkens to my German ancestors and will be a bright spot, as my mom, who passed away 14 years ago, would have a birthday the next day.
Awww great idea…and memories too!
Very nice, post. I enjoyed reading about the different traditions. I think that the Christmas Markets that Europe has is a pretty cool idea. That just never caught on in the US, I guess.
I wonder why??
Beautiful Christmassy post! Love the reference to New Zealand, definitely BBQ, beach and summer celebrations for us here. Would love to have a white Christmas one year though. Our only tradition is as a family we all go and select a new Christmas decoration each year.
I thought of you when I read about New Zealand!
These are great. I enjoy learning about other countries’ traditions.
Every Christmas we host a party. I was sick of the traditional menu so now every year is now themed. We have done a cowboy Christmas, Italian Christmas, and this year is mele kalikimaka.
Such a fun idea!
I love learning about others traditions for the holidays!
It’s so interesting and fun!
Loved learning all about these meaningful Christmas traditions from around the world. My husband’s family is originally from Luxembourg so they always make a traditional log (buche) cake every Christmas. I may need to learn how to make it this year since we are all celebrating from home.