Holidays Reviews

Christmas Traditions Around the World

Christmas is the most joyous time of year and celebrating this festive season varies from country to country. Some customs are similar, while others are quite different. Many countries enjoy decorating Christmas trees, hanging Advent wreaths, placing stockings on the mantle, and eating candy canes.

Just like North America, Christmas carols about the infant Jesus, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkind or Grandfather Frost, are sung in choirs, churches and on street corners. It’s heartwarming and touching to listen to festive songs being belted out by the locals, all over the world.

Sending Christmas card greetings, burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents are warm traditions many grew up with and continue today. It’s interesting to learn how Christmas is celebrated around the world. Below are a few holiday traditions from various countries.

Christmas Market

Denmark’s Julekalender (Christmas calendar) celebrates by airing a special Christmas episode each for 24 days in December leading up to Christmas Eve. Each year the two main Danish TV stations air two different versions of Julekalender. One is more for adults and the other for children to enjoy and follow along. The plots and storylines are akin to each other with a culprit trying to destroy Christmas and a main character/s stepping in to save the festive moment. Popular Christmas foods include goose or pork served with boiled and sweet potatoes, roast duck, beetroot, red cabbage and cranberry jam/sauce.

In Russia, Christmas is traditionally celebrated on January 7th by most people in that country. Some will celebrate the festivities on December 25th. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent from November 28th to January 6th, so it’s 40 days long. The main food eaten during Christmas Eve is sauerkraut. A family may serve it with finely shredded, juicy cranberries, onion rings and cumin. Another dish served during the holiday season are porridge dishes like buckwheat that are dished up with a serving of fried mushrooms and onions.

In Belgium, children believe that Sinterklaas/St. Niklaas or Saint Nicholas will bring them presents on December 6th, St. Nicholas’ Day. Children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, along with some biscuits, tangerines, gingerbread, mokjes for St. Nick, carrots for Sinterklass’s horse and something for Zwarte Piet (Black Peter, Sinterklass’s assistant). During the dark of the night, Sinterklaas lands on the roof with his beloved horse with Zwarte Piet. It’s hard to believe, but it’s Zwarte Piet that climbs down the chimneys and leaves the pile of presents in and around the people’s shoes. Just like Santa, Sinterklaas has a tell-all book that discloses the names of the children that were naughty and nice. Naughty children, will not get gifts, but will be put in his sack and taken you back to Spain by Zwarte Piet! So, you better watch out!

Christmas Yule Log

Ukraine uses the old ‘Julian’ calendar for their church festivals, so Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. Sviata Vecheria (or Holy Supper) is what their main Christmas meal is called and it’s enjoyed on Christmas Eve (6th January). They will fast all day and then eat when the first star appears in the sky. This special supper consists of 12 separate dishes which represent the 12 disciples. The main dish is a sweet porridge made of wheat called kutia. Other dishes can include mushrooms, sauerkraut, red borsch, dumplings known as ‘varenyky’ (Pierogi), whitefish, ‘bigos’ ( meat and cabbage stew), cheesecake and bread.

In France, Père Noël (Father Christmas) is the one everyone longs to see at Christmas Eve. In eastern France, he has a companion known as Le Pere Fouettard who dresses in black. Some believe he might be Zwarte Piet of The Netherlands. Very often the French will decorate their homes with a Nativity crib featuring clay figures. The main Christmas meal, Réveillon, is made of hearty dishes and eaten on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning after returning from their midnight Church Service. Dishes might include roast goose and turkey along with chestnuts. Platters of venison, lobster, oysters and various cheeses are also enjoyed. They save the best for last, a scrumptious chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël.

In Greece, Christmas is called Christougena, and it’s celebrated on December 25th with Saint Vasilis (Santa Claus). Like other countries, Saint Vasilis delivers gifts on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is very special for the children because they get to stroll the town streets serenading the townspeople with ‘kalanda’ (Christmas carols) while playing triangles and drums. A very old Greek custom is to carry model boats painted gold and decorated with nuts. While many countries have Christmas Elves, the Greek have ‘kallikantzaroi.’ They are mischievous and even dangerous elves that prey upon people only during the twelve days of Christmas between December 25 and Epiphany on January 6th.

In Ireland, Christmas is celebrated similar to the US, but they do have customs and traditions. Some people burn a large candle on their window sill during the late hours of Christmas Eve. This custom represents a warm welcoming light for Joseph and Mary. Another disappearing ancient tradition happens on St. Stephen’s Day, aka Boxing Day, is the Wren Boys Procession.

In Kenya, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th and is called ‘Krismasi’ in the local Swahili dialect. Homes, Churches, and shopping malls are decorated in holiday splendor with balloons, ribbons, and green plants. Cypress trees are used as Christmas trees and adorned with candles, bells, and small presents.

Experiencing and celebrating Christmas in different countries is to open our hearts to non-traditional ways. It’s about getting in the holiday spirit and making the holidays a truly memorable celebration. If you have a Christmas tradition that is unique to your country or family, please share below. I’d love to read it.

49 Comments

  • We like to invite friends and family over about a week before Christmas for hot chocolate and cookies. During this time we recall our fondest Christmas memories. It’s evoked lots of tears of joy and brought us closer together.

  • I love all the different traditions that there is, this is what keeps Christmas the same every year, mine is no biggie, I make cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning to snack on while we do the gifts and have been doing that for years!!

  • This is all good to know and it is interesting on even though we are all apart, we are truly all together sharing Christmas..
    @tisonlyme143

  • It’s interesting to learn how the holidays differ around the World but they all have the love of family and friends involved in these traditions. thanks

  • I love this. A world away we can be very similar and very different at the same time! Love Ireland’s tradition of putting the candle in the window sill. Remembering the TRUE meaning of Christmas is important to me.

  • Thank you for sharing these traditions. It is nice to find out how other countries celebrate and where some of our traditions came from.

  • such a great post! Thank you! ..my daughter found it interesting also! I grew up celebrating with German traditions, we opened presents Christmas eve..it wasn’t until I was married that I ever opened a present on Christmas morning! I keep a few of the traditions but our family has made our own now!

  • It is interesting to read about the different Christmas around the world. Everywhere, families gather together and have a festive meal and most celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.
    Our family usually gather together at our home on Christmas to catch up on family news, eat pizza and sweets and generally have a family social time.
    The next day some gather at our home again for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Others go to the in-laws to celebrate with other family members. It is a wonderful time.

  • It was so neat to read about the different Traditions around the world! I bookmarked this page do I can read these traditions to my kids and husband when they get home.

  • I lived overseas for three years. The first year it was a bit of a shock how very differently they celebrated Christmas. Not bad, just different. It made for an interesting and enjoyable v3 years.

  • It is wonderful to know that many countries celebrate Christmas in their own way yet it is mainly to welcome the birth of the Christ Child. I hope we still say ‘Merry Christmas”, or as the British say: ‘Happy Christmas.” This is too important a day for all Christians to have to say the saccachrine ” Happy Holidays.’

  • Great Article. I have decided when I get older and Christmas starts to become stale that each year I will celebrate with a different tradition from another country to keep it fresh.

  • I would like to have experienced Christmas in France. They put up Nativity Scenes. They also go to Midnight Mass and have a great feast afterwards. This meal also includes the buche de noel which I think is a yule log. St. Nicholas also comes to the children.

  • In Ireland, Christmas is celebrated much like it is in the USA and Canada. It is celebrated on December 25. One custom, which is not so prevalent now, was to put a large lit candle in a window and lit it burn all night to light the way for Joseph and Mary. This would be a lovely custom but, unless someone took care, a very dangerous one.

  • I was interested to learn that in Russia, Christmas may be celebrated on December or on January 6. Advent may be 40 days long. The feast features Sourkraut and other dishes that we probably would find particularly delicious.

  • I like out traditions best. I do not like ‘Happy Holidays.’ It is the birth of the Christ Child. Merry Christmas or Happy Christmas(England) works for me.
    People being kinder, more considerate; making sure the poor have a happy Christmas; Midnight Mass; the family being here on Christmas Eve with pizza, soda and sweets works for me.

  • This is really a great article. It’s so cool to hear how we all celebrate and although we have different traditions, the world really does come together to share this same holiday.

  • When I was growing up, we skipped a traditional Christmas breakfast. Instead, we paused partway through opening presents to eat cinnamon buns and drink orange juice in the living room.

  • Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus with our family and friends. After services on Christmas Eve we get together with the family to share presents and play games. It’s a wonderful time of the year!

  • This probably isn’t common in Canada, but toys came from our parents and socks and underwear from Santa! When asked, Mom said, “Why should Santa get all the glory?” 😉

  • Denmark’s Christmas of watching episodes of a serial program leading up to December seems strange to me. I suppose the children will enjoy this. The Christmas meal seems more like our own and seems to be a wonderful feast. Thank you for giving us information about different traditions about the world.

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