Culture

12 Unique Christmas Traditions From Around The World

By Meghan Dillon··  7 min read
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Whether you go to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass every year or simply celebrate by exchanging gifts, every family has their own Christmas traditions.

Some families bake cookies, some drink mimosas while exchanging gifts in the morning (my family and I can’t be the only ones drinking before noon), and some keep it low-key by sleeping in and exchanging gifts later in the day. These traditions differ even more across the globe, and every unique tradition echoes the heritage of the country where it’s celebrated.

Here are 12 unique and fun Christmas traditions from across the world.

Australia: Christmas in the Summer

Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, they experience summer when countries in the northern hemisphere (like North America, Europe, most of Asia, and parts of Africa and South America) experience winter. This phenomenon means Australians celebrate Christmas in the summer, and their traditions reflect the seasonal difference from most Western countries. Some Australian Christmas traditions include Christmas lunch on the beach with barbeque foods, surfing Santa competitions, block parties, and family road trips.

Ukraine: The Christmas Spider

Like most cultures that celebrate Christmas, Ukrainians love to decorate their Christmas tree every year. However, they have developed the unique tradition of putting spider webs (or spider web ornaments) on their Christmas trees. The tradition can be traced back to a Ukrainian legend where a widowed mother couldn’t afford to decorate the Christmas tree, and the children went to bed on Christmas Eve in tears. Saddened by what they heard from the children, a group of spiders took it upon themselves to weave intricate webs to decorate the tree. Due to this folktale, spider webs are considered to be lucky in Ukrainian culture.

Brazil: Midnight Mass

Though the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is a common custom in many Catholic communities, Brazilians take it to another level. They start the evening with a late-night feast with extended family that’s similar to American Thanksgiving and end the evening with going to Mass. Christmas Day in Brazil tends to be more casual and spent with immediate family, and Christmas Eve is devoted to extended family and religion (which you can see in elaborate nativity displays throughout Brazilian towns).

Germany: Saint Nicholas Day

Before Santa Claus comes on Christmas Eve, German children get a foreshadowing on Saint Nicholas Day. Children leave their clean boots outside for Saint Nicholas to fill them with treats. The children celebrate with their treats on the morning of December 6, which is celebrated as Saint Nicholas’ feast day across several Christian denominations. Though this holiday is most popular in Germany, families of German descent celebrate it in countries like Austria, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Ireland: Little Women’s Christmas

The Christmas season can be stressful, especially for women who have hosted the holiday while running a household. Ireland celebrates the end of the Christmas season on January 6 (when Catholics celebrate Epiphany) by celebrating Little Women's Christmas. Men (who traditionally don’t get involved in housework) take down the Christmas decorations while women destress from the holiday season by going out with their friends. It’s one of the oldest traditions on this list, but don’t we all need some time to destress after the holidays?

Italy: La Befana

Though Italians celebrate Christmas on December 25, Italian children can expect more presents on January 6 from La Befana, a famous figure in Italian folklore. La Befana gives good Italian children candy and bad Italian children coal. The origins of La Befana can be traced back to the early days of Christianity, as she is believed to be the old woman who housed the Three Wisemen before they went to meet Jesus in Bethlehem.

Mexico: Las Posadas

Similar to Brazil, Ireland, and Italy, Mexico takes Christmas seriously because it’s a predominantly Catholic country. Christmas is a month-long celebration, and some of the most significant days are between December 16 and 24 when Mexicans celebrate Las Posadas. The six-day festival celebrates the days leading up to the birth of Jesus, specifically when Mary and Joseph were forced to sleep in a stable after they were denied a room at an inn in Bethlehem. Mexican children perform a procession through the town to show the story of the birth of Jesus, and families celebrate with traditional Mexican food.

Japan: KFC for Christmas Dinner

Since only 1.5% of Japanese citizens are Christian, Christmas isn’t a widely celebrated holiday. However, this hasn’t stopped many Japanese families from engaging in their own traditions on December 25. In 1974, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) launched a marketing plan called "Kentucky for Christmas" to encourage Japanese families to buy buckets of chicken for Christmas dinner. The marketing campaign was a success, and many Japanese families have made it a tradition to eat KFC for dinner every Christmas. The best part is that statues of Colonel Sanders dressed as Santa Claus can be seen all over Japan throughout December.

The Philippines: The Giant Lantern Festival

You may decorate your house with Christmas lights every year, but Filipinos take it to the next level with the Giant Lantern Festival. Most popular in the city of San Fernando, Filipinos decorate colorful lanterns to light up the night to help citizens walk to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. Traditionally made of bamboo, modern lanterns are elaborate and built by professional electricians and designers. Though they are most popular during December, lanterns can appear as early as September to light up the night.

Russia: Christmastide

Like most predominantly Orthodox Christian countries, Russians celebrate Christmas on January 7 because Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar (which is used in most countries like the United States and the UK). Though Russians celebrate many different Christmas traditions, one of the most popular is the Christmastide festival. The festival includes pagan and Christian rituals, including singing Christmas carols, Christmas dinner, fortune-telling, and children playing pranks. It’s kind a mix of traditional Christmas and Halloween in the same festival, and most Russians prioritize New Year's Eve over Christmas.

Sweden: The Yule Goat

Although most Americans tend to think of reindeer as the animal of Christmas, Swedes take it to the next level with the Yule Goat. Instead of a sleigh, Santa Claus rides a goat through Sweden to deliver presents to children (according to legend, Thor’s chariot was led by two goats). The Yule Goat has become a symbol of Swedish Christmas, for many Swedish communities (mainly the town of Galve) create a giant goat made of straw for the town square. The Yule Goat is also a common ornament and craft idea for children during the Christmas season.

United Kingdom: Christmas Pudding

Similar to American Christmas, Christmas in the United Kingdom is celebrated by going to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus, exchanging gifts, and having Christmas dinner with close or extended family. Besides watching the Queen's Annual Christmas Address with family, the main difference between American Christmas and British Christmas is the food they eat. While most Americans celebrate with turkey or ham, traditional British Christmas foods include mince pies and pudding. Some of the most popular puddings are Yorkshire pudding (which is made often made of beef baked into bread) and Christmas pudding, which is similar to fruitcake.

Closing Thoughts

Whether you’re decorating your tree in spider webs or eating KFC, Christmas looks different to every culture around the world. However, all Christmas traditions revolve around either the birth of Jesus or celebrating with family (or both!).

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