Do our Globe Aware volunteers enjoy any of these Christmas traditions from around the world? If not, what traditions does your family celebrate during the holidays?
25 Christmas Traditions Around the World That Will Surprise and Delight You
Brooms, books, and even roller skates are all part of some beloved holiday customs.
BY MICAELA BAHN
Sep 11, 2023
The Pioneer Woman
Every family has their own special Christmas traditions that they carry out year after year: the game of Pictionary that always follows opening gift or the delicious punch your mom makes for holiday parties. In the case of the Drummond family, they always wear matching Christmas pajamas and savor dishes that Ree is famous for (like cinnamon rolls and biscuits and gravy). And then there are those larger, cultural traditions that each country celebrates as well. For some, it might be going to Christmas Eve Mass, singing Christmas carols, or hanging up twinkling lights on your house.
And while certain aspects of Christmas tend to look very nearly the same all over the globe, many countries have their own unique ways to celebrate that you may not be familiar with. From foods that you might not associate with Christmas (like radishes or fried chicken) to sunny, non-snowy activities (like surfing), everyone has their own take on Christmas. Ahead, as you learn about these Christmas traditions from around the world—and you may even pick up some to weave into your own family holiday, like hiding a pickle ornament in the tree or having some festive fun with Christmas crackers. There are even Christmas Eve traditions like exchanging books the night before the big day (or make them a part of Christmas Eve boxes). No matter how one celebrates, there’s one thing we all have in common: Christmas is meant to be enjoyed with those we love.
1 Christmas Piñatas
You likely know that piñatas, or papier-mâché animals and other figures filled with candy, are tied to Mexico, but did you know that they frequently make appearances during the holiday season? The only difference is that this time of year, they show off some additional glitz and sparkle to celebrate the holidays. Traditional ones come in the form of a seven-point star, symbolizing the seven deadly sins that are then broken by a stick to represent faith in God. They're usually filled with little treats like candy, fruits, and peanuts.
2 Brooms and Mops
Perhaps you’ve hidden your brooms and mops when you’re not in the mood to clean, but in Norway, they do it with a Christmas tradition in mind. Norwegian folklore advises hiding brooms and mops on Christmas night to prevent evil spirits and witches, who return to earth on Christmas, from taking the cleaning tools and using them to fly through the sky. How’s that for a clean sweep?
3 Fried Chicken
This is a more recently-celebrated tradition that’s become super popular in Japan. While Christmas isn’t exactly a huge holiday there, some people do celebrate it, with Christmas Day feasts consisting of none other than buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Not only is Colonel Sanders now synonymous with Santa Claus, but the brand even purveys Christmas-themed “Party Barrels” to mark the tradition. They include salad, cake, and plenty of fried chicken.
4 Saint Nicholas’ Day
In Germany, Saint Nicholas is entirely different from Santa Claus. Over there, Saint Nicholas is a separate gift-giver that nods to the religious version of Santa and leaves small presents, such as coins and fruit, in the shoes of good German children on the night of December 5th. But if they were naughty, children could wake up to find sticks, twigs, or switches in their shoes instead!
5 Christmas Pickle
Here's a dill-ightful tradition that's thought to have started in Germany, but the actual origin is pretty much a mystery. Despite that, everyone will relish in this activity. It consists of someone hiding a pickle ornament deep within the tree’s branches, and the person who discovers the pickle sometime during the Christmas season will receive a bonus gift or lots of good fortune for the upcoming year.
6 Exchanging Books
Iceland has a charming Christmas tradition you may want to start in your own family. On Christmas Eve, Icelandic families exchange books, then spend the rest of the evening cozied up by a fire as they read aloud and eat sweet treats. Sounds like a perfect Christmas Eve to us!
Fruitcake, the frequently-gifted cake that’s filled with dried fruits and nuts, is eaten throughout the world during Christmastime. But did you know that this tradition actually started in ancient Egypt? While the Egyptians may not have celebrated Christmas, the food got its start amid the pyramids and was even dropped into tombs, since it was seen as a must-have food in the afterlife.
8 Christmas Star
In Poland, on Christmas Eve, you may feel your tummy rumbling until your family receives a sign from the heavens that it’s time to eat—literally. Polish families don’t start eating dinner until someone spots the very first star shining in the sky.
9 Ukraine Christmas Dinner
In Ukraine, as soon as you sit down to the dinner table, get comfortable—because you’ll be here for a while. Ukrainians serve a whopping 12 courses during their traditional Christmas feasts, and each one is dedicated to one of Jesus’ apostles.
10 The Night of the Radishes
Yes, this is a real night that’s celebrated in Mexico, and it’s considered to be a Christmas tradition. Every December 23, residents of Oaxaca, Mexico witness a competition like no other, in which participants carve nativity scenes into the skin of sizeable radishes. Then they’re put on display at the Christmas market for all to view.
11 Czech Santa
Did you know that in the Czech Republic, Santa doesn’t drop down the chimney on Christmas Eve? Instead, he delivers his presents on December 5, or St. Nicholas Eve.
12 Christmas Orchid
In the United States and in other parts of the world, the Poinsettia is pretty much the official flower of Christmas. But this is not the case in tropical Costa Rica, where the official Christmas flower is the orchid.
13 Roller Skates
How’s this for a super-fun Christmas tradition? In Caracas, Venezuela, residents don’t head to church services in cars—but on roller skates. There are actually so many people who participate in this tradition that several city streets are closed to traffic on Christmas morning.
14 Mince Pies
Maybe you’ve heard of mince pies in passing, but what are they exactly? They’re tiny pies filled with dried fruit, and they’re so popular in England during the Christmas season that children leave them out for Santa instead of cookies.
15 Holiday Sauna
For many of us, Christmas is a downright chilly holiday, which is why any opportunities to soak up some warmth are welcome. We think we can get on board with this Finnish tradition: sitting in a sauna. Many homes in Sweden have saunas, with people often sitting in the sauna to celebrate Christmas Eve.
16 "Happy Christmas" Instead of "Merry"
If you’ve ever watched a British Christmas movie (like Love, Actually), perhaps you’ve heard people saying, “Happy Christmas” instead of “Merry Christmas.” While people don’t know exactly how this phrase started in England, people do know that King George V said it in 1932 during the first royal Christmas message.
17 Shoes by the Fire
In the Netherlands, right before Christmas, Dutch kiddos place their shoes next to the fire so Santa (or “Sinterklaas”) will fill them with tiny gifts. Children also leave carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’ ride: a white horse named Amerigo.
In New Zealand, Pohutukawa refers to the native trees that bloom during the holiday season. They're famed for their cheerful, bright-red blooms and throughout the country, the flower is seen as an official symbol of Christmas, often appearing in decorations and cards.
Cowabunga, Santa! In Australia, Christmas means surfing, and lots of it. It’s when they’re celebrating summer while the rest of us are freezing up here in the Northern Hemisphere. On the beach, Santa arrives by surfboard instead of his sleigh, and after catching some waves, people celebrate with a Christmas barbecue.
20 Yule Goat
While we may associate Christmas with reindeer, in Sweden, they have a different animal that symbolizes Christmas. Historians say that the tradition of the “Yule Goat” goes all the way back to the 11th century, first appearing in Saint Nicholas lore as a goat figure that could ward off the devil. Nowadays, it’s often seen as an ornament on many Christmas trees. Some people even put giant versions of them in their yard as a holiday decorations.
21 Christmas Apples
In China, it’s not all cakes and candy when it comes to Christmas—it’s all about apples. People believe that this tradition stems from the similarity of the Chinese word for apple to the Chinese word for Christmas Eve. Gift-givers give entire packages of apples to loved ones for Christmas.
No, we’re not talking about saltines. In England, crackers are brightly-hued cardboard tubes that hold mini toys, paper crowns, and jokes. When two people tug at each end, it makes a loud CRACK! sound (hence the name) and whoever is left holding the side that has more of the middle chamber wins the gift.
23 Father Frost
In Russia, their version of Santa is named “Father Frost.” He doesn’t travel alone (specifically, with a “snow maiden”) and brings presents on January 7, which is when Russians celebrate Christmas.
While many American Christmas dinners tend to revolve around turkey or ham, in Mexico, it’s all about the tamales for holiday feasting. Yum!
25 St. Lucia Day
In Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden, St. Lucia, or St. Lucy, is a big part of Christmas. On December 13, people celebrate St. Lucia Day, which by many is viewed as the start of the holiday season. For these festivities, the oldest daughter in each family dresses in a white gown and wears a crown made up of twigs and nine candles.