20 Christmas traditions from around the world that might surprise you

About Cultural Exchanges

Christmas is a special time of year for many people around the world. Families and friends gather together to celebrate and exchange gifts. 2020 has been a challenging year in this regard due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Why not make Christmas 2021 or 2022 special by doing something different by taking in some of the traditions celebrated elsewhere in the world.

You'll soon find that many countries celebrate the holiday differently than North Americans do. Not only do some populations eat different Christmas food, but you'll also see that Christmas isn't even observed on December 25 in some places.

Although you may find that some yuletide rituals remain the same, like singing carols, decorating a Christmas tree, making advent calendars, and feasting on a lot of Christmas ham, the following Christmas traditions around the world may surprise you. Who wouldn't want to visit the stunning traditional Christmas market at the historic market square of Goslar, Germany? This is possible on one of our many river cruises. How about waking to find rotten potatoes left in your shoes by a mischievous Father Christmas? What about Kentucky Fried Chicken for your Christmas dinner? Believe it or not, these are actual Christmas traditions around the world.

From Christmas by the beach with fresh seafood in New Zealand to hot porridge that keeps families warm during the cold Finland winter, a vacation in another part of the world will help you discover just how different these global holiday traditions are.

Sweden

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The Yule Goat dates back in time to ancient pagan festivals, however it wasn’t until 1966 that it took on a giant straw form. It stays in the same spot from the first Sunday of Advent until after the New Year when it's taken down.
Philippines


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Every year, the city of San Fernando holds Ligligan Parul (or Giant Lantern Festival) featuring dazzling parols (lanterns) that symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. Each parol consists of thousands of spinning lights that illuminate the night sky. The festival has made San Fernando the "Christmas Capital of the Philippines."
Japan

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Although Christmas isn't a national holiday in Japan its citizens still find an interesting way to celebrate. Instead of a turkey dinner, families head out to their local Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sometimes families order their boxes months in advance to
ensure that they won’t be disappointed.
Iceland

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Lucky people in Iceland get to celebrate 13 days of Christmas, instead of 12. Each night before Christmas, Icelandic children are visited by the 13 Yule Lads. After placing their shoes by the window, children head upstairs to bed. In the morning, they'll either have received candy (if they're good) or be greeted with shoes full of rotten potatoes if they're bad. And you thought coal was a terrible gift!
Finland

PAIVI NIEMI
On Christmas morning, Finish families traditionally eat a porridge made of rice and milk topped with cinnamon, milk, or butter. Whoever finds the almond placed inside one of the puddings "wins"—but some families cheat and hide a few almonds so the kids don't get upset. At the end of the day, it is customary to warm up in a sauna together.
New Zealand

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Christmas for Kiwis occurs during the summertime, so a number of their traditions center around the “barbie”, or BBQ, 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 color in December, providing shade during the sunny days as they sing carols in both English and Maor.
Denmark

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Day in Denmark was a celebration of brighter days, jól, as it occurred just before winter solstice. Today, homes are decorated with superstitious characters called nisser who are believed to provide protection. On the evening of December 24, Danish families place their Christmas tree in the middle of the room , dance around it and sing carols.
Martinique

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In the French Caribbean island of Martinique, la ribote is one of their traditions, where families visit their neighbours during Advent and on New Year's Day. They share holiday food like yams, boudin créole, pâtés salés, and pork stew. They sing Christmas carols together adding their own creole verses to traditional lyrics.
Norway

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In Norway, the Christmas season, called julebord, begins Dec. 3, filling up local bars and restaurants throughout the month. Families celebrate “Little Christmas” on Dec. 23. Their traditions may include decorating the tree, making a gingerbread house, and eating risengrynsgrøt (hot rice pudding).
Ireland

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The Irish people may eat homemade roast goose, vegetables, cranberries and potatoes. They leave a tall red candle in a front window overnight, a welcoming symbol of warmth and shelter for the holiday season.
Barbados

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A Christmas table in Barbados isn't complete without a baked ham decorated with pineapple and sorrel glazes, a rum cake, and Jug Jug, a dish inspired by the Scottish influence on the island combining pigeon peas, guinea corn flour, herbs, and salt meat.
Poland

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On Christmas Eve in Poland, many families share oplatek (an unleavened religious wafer), each person breaking off a piece as they wish each other Merry Christmas. Dinner may not begin until the first star appears in the night sky and, traditionally, an extra setting is left at the table should someone show up uninvited.
The Netherlands

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Sinterklaas is the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas, the man recognized by children by his long white beard, red cape, and red miter. Kids put a shoe by the chimney or back door and wake up on Christmas morning to find treats like gingerbread men, marzipan, and chocolate letters inside.
Portugal and Brazil

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Brazilian and Portuguese families come together on Christmas Eve to eat dinner as late as 10 p.m. Then, at exactly midnight, they exchange gifts, toasts, and wish each other a Merry Christmas. Midnight mass, Missa Do Galo (Rooster Mass), is a chance to meet up with neighbors and extended family to wish them well for the holiday season. The service is often followed by fireworks in the town square. Pictured: Cathedral Square in Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Austria

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Countries like Austria have a legend that a devil-like creature called “Krampus” shows up on December 6. Children make a list of their good and bad deeds: Good children are rewarded with sweets, apples, and nuts, and bad children worry what Krampus might bring on Christmas morning.
South Africa

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While the traditions around South Africa vary by region and culture, most families come together for a cookout, called braaing . Marinated steaks and boerewors sausages serve as the main course, followed by a customary dessert of malva pudding (pictured) served with a custard. Traditional fir Christmas trees are decorated with a variety of baubles included hand-beaded African ornaments.
Ukraine

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Christians in Ukraine celebrate Christmas Day on January 7 by dressing in traditional garments and walking through town singing carols. A dish called kutya, made of cooked wheat mixed with honey, ground poppy seeds, and sometimes nuts, is a popular Christmas Eve treat. Some families throw a spoonful of kutya at the ceiling: If it sticks, there will be a good harvest in the new year.
Mexico

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All across Mexico members of the Church put on Pastorelas (Shepherd's Plays) to retell the Christmas story. The Mexican Christmas season begins early in December with Las Posadas, a religious march that re-enacts the journey of Mary and Joseph. The vibrant red poinsettia flowers are also used in holiday arrangements for decoration.
Switzerland

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Swiss families make their own advent calendars for the holiday season. These calendars are either given to children as a surprise or made together as a fun activity. Each day's bag reveals a new surprise or treat, with the biggest gift on Christmas Eve.
El Salvador

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Central American countries like El Salvador toast Christmas with fireworks displays on December 24 and 25. Children celebrate with smaller firecrackers called volcancitos (little volcanos) and estrellitas (little stars) while those who are a little older tend to prefer the larger varieties and Roman candles. Pictured: A Christmas tree in front of the National Palace at the historic center of San Salvador, El Salvador.

Source: 20 Christmas Traditions from Around the World - Incorporating Christmas Traditions from Travels (countriving.com)