There are some traditions that are pretty synonymous with Christmas celebrations the world over - such as decorating a Christmas tree, displaying Christmas lights and sending your loved ones Christmas cards. Other Christmas traditions around the festive period vary from country to country. From the terrifying to the slightly bizarre - in this article, we’re looking at all of the Christmas traditions around the world. From Eastern Europe to the Philippines or Latin America, we’ll take you on a special Christmas journey to each corner of the globe to learn how others celebrate Christmas in their homes.
Unfortunately we cannot cover every country in the world, but we’ve outlined the most interesting and distinct for your enjoyment...
European Christmas Traditions
There are some Christmas traditions that are commonly prevalent throughout much of Europe, such as attending Midnight Mass at church on Christmas eve, and then there are other more distinct traditions that vary from Western Europe to Eastern Europe.
In the UK there are many popular Christmas traditions. Children often write wishlists for presents that they leave out for Santa on Christmas eve, along with a snack (usually a mince pie or cookie) with a glass of milk, and a carrot for the reindeer that pull his sleigh. Christmas pudding with brandy sauce (sometimes set on fire) is the traditional dessert of choice that follows the obligatory roast dinner. Christmas crackers filled with small toys, jokes, and paper crowns are pulled at the dinner table, and often people hang mistletoe from the ceiling (the tradition is to kiss whoever is standing under it). Homes are also decorated with fairy lights, Christmas wreaths and Christmas Trees. Children go Christmas carolling from door to door.
Out of all the Christmas traditions around the world, Germany and Austria are best known for the creepy tradition of Krampus. Krampus is the nightmarish figure of Central European folklore. Half-goat and half-demon, he is considered the opposite to Santa Claus who brings presents to well-behaved children.
In fact, Krampus is said to kidnap and even eat badly behaved children. He has his own festival Krampusnacht on the 5th of December, the day before the feast of St.Nicholas. In many parts of Germany, a festive meal wouldn’t be complete without boiled potatoes, kale, and sausages.
Italian families celebrate Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes and eat lentils during the holiday season to ensure luck and wealth for the following year. The children in Italy receive gifts from La Befana during Christmas instead of a variation of Santa or St. Nicholas. La Befana is often depicted as a kindly old woman or witch. Other typical Italian Christmas traditions include presepis (nativity scenes) which can be seen displayed almost everywhere, and the traditional festive cake Panettone.
Some of the most Christmas traditions around the world come from countries such as Iceland. For example, on Christmas eve, it is traditional to exchange books with your loved ones, and then spend the rest of the night reading them whilst eating chocolate. Which is hardly surprising for the country that practically invented the art of cosiness known as Hygge. Other Icelandic Christmas traditions include dressing up as characters from folklore such as the Yule Lads and playing mischievous pranks. The people of Iceland typically enjoy a meal of roast lamb or a gamebird on Christmas Day accompanied by Laufabrauð' or leaf bread.
When it comes to Christmas traditions around the world, few go all out on Christmas Eve meals as much as the Ukrainians. There are 12 courses in the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper, each of them dedicated to one of Christ’s apostles.
Quite often in various European countries, people do not eat meat, eggs, or milk on Christmas eve in order to purify their bodies. Thus, the Christ Eve dishes usually consist of fish (such as herring or carp), accompanied by vegetables, pickles, and various grains.
Dumplings are also enjoyed, and traditional drinks such as strong herbal and fruit spirits.
American & Canadian Christmas Traditions
American and Canadian Christmas traditions are very much the same as the UK and the rest of Western Europe. They heavily revolve around decorating ones home with lights, and involve Christmas trees, roast turkey dinners, and gift exchanges. America and Canada seem to be far more fond of eggnog than the Europeans. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, more than 2.6-million litres of eggnog were sold in Canada last year!
African Christmas Traditions
Some countries in Africa such as Ethiopia and Egypt actually follow the Julian calendar, which would technically mean Christmas celebrations should be around the 7th of January. However, many choose to celebrate it on the 25th of December now. Many attend church, visit families, exchange gifts, and partake in carol singing. Traditional food includes spicy meat stews, vegetables, eggs, and flatbreads.
Central & South America
Some of the other most unique Christmas traditions around the world come from Central and South America; in particular, Belize. In Belize they celebrate with lots of traditional creole dancing, such as Garifuna Jankunu Dance, Maya Deer Dance, and the Christmas Bram.
Many people in Belize are religious (which can be said for most countries in the region) and as such, attend Midnight Mass ceremonies at church. Belizeans enjoy a mixture of mainstream Christmas foods (such as turkey) along with popular local fare (such as rice and beans, roasted pork, tamales, and black fruitcake to name a few).
Before Christmas, 9 days before to be exact, children in Ecuador sing around nativity scenes. The tradition is known as Novena de Navidad. They do this for 9 days, to symbolize the 9 months of pregnancy of the Virgin Mary. they then reenact the night in Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph were turned away from every inn (often referred to as Las Posadas). There is also a parade known as Pase del Niño which celebrates the birth of Jesus. A traditional dish of Arroz Navideño is often one of the several dishes served on Christmas Day.
Asian Christmas Traditions
Whilst Christmas may not be a big event in many Asian countries, the Philippines celebrates it with gusto. The Philippines are well known for their Christmas celebrations, which are some of the longest in the world, beginning in September. The Philippines favorite Christmas traditions center around festive light displays. Every house and business will be adorned with a type of Christmas lantern known as a Parol, and people party in the streets on Christmas eve. Church mass is also widely attended in the Philippines. Traditional Filipino festive foods include dishes such as puto bumbong and bibingka both types of steamed and baked rice cakes.
In India, mango or banana trees are decorated instead of the classic Christmas tree, and some use mango or banana leaves to decorate their homes. Some people decorate their homes with small oil-burning lamps or candles, or star-shaped paper lanterns, and people still enjoy carol singing. Churches will be decorated in Poinsettia flowers and candles, and many people will attend mass on Christmas eve if they are a practicing Christian in India. In some states, Catholics will actually fast from the 1st to the 24th of December. Just some of the names that Father Christmas is known by include: ‘Baba Christmas’, ‘Christmas Thaathaa’ , or ‘Natal Bua’ mostly translating as “Christmas old man” or “Christmas elder” who delivers presents to children.
Out of all of the Christmas traditions around the world, one of the most strange is the recent tradition that has taken Japan by storm - a festive feast of KFC Kentucky Fried Chicken. Families get together and tuck in to the famous fast food chain’s festive offerings. Christmas is much less of a religious period in Japan, and more akin to Valentines. Strawberry cake with whipped cream is the Christmas dessert of choice in Japan.
We hope you have enjoy our blog on Christmas traditions around the world! We have enjoyed compiling this article for you and expanding our own knowledge of different Christmas traditions. If you are interested in a unique Christmas experience next year, then consider coming to Belize! Speak to a member of our friendly staff who will be happy to help with any enquiries that you may have.