Have you ever wondered if your Christmas traditions are different from your friends, colleagues or neighbours? What about the Christmas traditions of those in another country? Perhaps you’ve even thought about what kind of traditions your ancestors celebrated in their home country?
We have! So we’ve taken some time to explore different types of Christmas traditions around the world and, who knows, maybe there will be some you’ll want to incorporate into your Christmas celebrations this year.
Poptop’s Guide to Christmas Traditions from Around the World
Advent calendars are a big part of German Christmas traditions. So much so that in Bernkastel-Kues, Germany, there’s an advent calendar display in the city centre displayed on a building. Germans also exchange presents on Christmas Eve with their families, as opposed to Christmas Day. Germany is very well known for its Christmas Markets. Some cities even having between 5-10 different types of markets!
Traditional Christmas Dinner: duck, goose, rabbit or a roast
Traditional Christmas Drink: Glühwein (Mulled Wine)
Traditional Christmas Decor: Christmas Angels (Weihnachtsengel)
“Merry Christmas!” in German: Fröhliche Weihnachten!
Hong Kong, China
Christmas in China is often only celebrated in major cities, where there are Christmas trees, decorations and a Santa Clause that is called ‘Sheng Dan Lao Ren’, which means Old Man Christmas. As the Chinese word for apple sounds very similar to the word ‘peace’, a lovely tradition was developed by exchanging apples wrapped in coloured paper. The apples are eaten on Christmas Eve because in Chinese the word for ‘Christmas Eve’ mean peaceful or quiet evening.
Traditional Christmas Dinner: roast pork, jiaozi (Chinese dumplings), spring rolls, huoshao (baked roll with(out) stuffing, and rice.
Traditional Christmas Decor: Lanterns, flowers and red paper chains that symbolise happiness
“Happy/Merry Christmas!” in Chinese: Sheng Dan Kuai Le or 圣诞快乐
“Happy/Merry Christmas!” in Mandarin: Seng Dan Fai Lok!
An interesting Christmas tradition in Ukraine also happens to be a folk tale; The Legend of the Christmas Spider. The story goes:
a poor but hardworking widow once lived in a small hut with her children. One summer day, a pine cone fell on the earthen floor of the hut and took root. The widow’s children cared for the tree, excited at the prospect of having a Christmas tree by winter. The tree grew, but when Christmas Eve arrived, they could not afford to decorate it. The children sadly went to bed and fell asleep. Early the next morning, they woke up and saw the tree covered with cobwebs. When they opened the windows, the first rays of sunlight touched the webs and turned them into gold and silver. The widow and her children were overjoyed. From then on, they never lived in poverty again.
This is where the tradition of having tinsel on a Christmas tree comes from!
Traditional Christmas Eve Dinner: Kutia, Kolach, Stuffed Salmon or Fried Fillets, Pickled Herring, Meatless Holubtsi, Varenyky, Broad Beans or Mashed Beans, Compote, and Pampushky
Traditional Christmas Drink: Uzvar
Traditional Christmas Decor: Spider or Spider Web Ornament
“Happy/Merry Christmas!” in Ukranian: ‘Веселого Різдва’ Veseloho Rizdva (Merry Christmas) or ‘Христос Рождається’ Khrystos Rozhdayetsia (Christ is Born)
One quite unique tradition in Spain (typically the Catalonia region) is the Caga Tió, or pooping log. The Caga Tió is a piece of log with wooden legs, a face, a blanket and a Catalan hat. Children keep the Caga Tió in their homes or schools on the run up to Christmas and feed it small pieces of bread or orange peels each evening. Then, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, they hit the log with a stick, singing the special Caga Tió song, asking him to poo out lots of turron (a sweet nougat) and other sweets for them.
Another, less obscure, tradition is that Spanish people tend to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and follow the evening with Christmas meal. As it’s already customary for Spanish people to eat their dinner’s late, eating at/after midnight isn’t much different to them.
Traditional Christmas Dinner: seafood, lamb, galets, turrón, polvorónes and mantecados, roscón de reyes, and marzipan
Traditional Christmas Drink: Cava
“Merry Christmas!” in Spanish: “Feliz Navidad!”
“Merry Christmas!” in Catalan: “Bon Nadal!”
As America is very multi-cultural, there are a lot of different Christmas traditions. Some of the most popular include: building gingerbread houses (even having gingerbread house contests), outdoor Christmas light displays, city, town and village Christmas parades, sending out Christmas cards, and the ever-popular amongst children, leaving milk and cookies out for Santa Clause. Typically, Boxing Day, is not celebrated but is rather a shopping day – a day that’s bigger than Black Friday!
Traditional Christmas Dinner: ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and vegetables.
Traditional Christmas Drink: Eggnog
Traditional Christmas Decor: Candy Canes on Christmas Trees
While a majority of the world has cold weather during Christmas, Australia is in the middle of their summer season. School children are on school break and families go on holiday. In 1968, it was 42 degrees on Christmas Day in Australia! In lieu of this hot weather, Australians tend to celebrate outside and have Boxing Day barbeques or activities in the water, like the Surfing Santa’s!
Traditional Christmas Dinner: seafood, ham, pavlova, mince pies, gingerbread and
Traditional Christmas Decor: ferns, palm leaves and evergreens
On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing ‘kalanda’ or Christmas carols, and if they sing well they might be given money or sweets. An old and very traditional decoration is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross and hangs from the wire. Some water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day someone, usually the mother of the family, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house.
Traditional Christmas Dinner: lamb, pork, spinach and cheese pie, salads, vegetables, baklava, kataifi, and theeplers
Traditional Christmas Decor: shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim.
“Merry Christmas!” in Greek: “Kala Christougenna!”
In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday. It’s actually only been celebrated in Japan for the past few decades. Christmas is more about a time to spread happiness as opposed to celebrating religion. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic night, where couples spend time together and exchange presents. In many ways, Christmas Eve resembles Valentines Day.
Traditional Christmas Dinner: oddly enough…KFC. And Christmas Cake.
Traditional Christmas Drink: hot sake
“Merry Christmas!” in Japanese: “Meri Kurisumasu!” (in Japanese scripts: Hiragana: めりーくりすます; Katakana: メリークリスマス).
Many of Brazil’s traditions come from Portugal, as Portugal ruled Brazil for many years. Many Brazilians practice Catholicism and will attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, which finishes at 1 am on Christmas Day. In Brazil, taking part in Secret Santa, or ‘amigo secreto’, is very popular amongst friends and family. Santa Claus in Brazil is also known as Papai Noel & Bom Velhinho which means Good Old Man in English.
Traditional Christmas Dinner: pork, turkey, ham, salads and fresh and dried nuts and ice cream
Traditional Christmas Drink: beer or mulled wine
Traditional Christmas Decor: nativity scene
“Merry Christmas!” in Portuguese: “Felix Natal!”
In Ethiopia, Christmas isn’t celebrated on December 25th, but January 7th instead. This isn’t uncommon – many other orthodox churches around the world also celebrate Christmas on January 7th. Many people take part in a special Advent fast during the 43 days before Christmas, known as the ‘Fast of the Prophets’ or ‘Tsome Nebiyat’, which consists of only one vegan meal a day. For Ganna or Christmas, everyone dresses in white and will attend Christmas mass on Christmas Eve from 6 pm and leave on Christmas Day at 3 am. There are many, many Christmas traditions in Ethiopia and this just scratches the surface!
Traditional Christmas Dinner: wat – which is a thick spicy stew that contains meat, vegetables and eggs with flatbread
Traditional Christmas Drink: coffee
Traditional Christmas Decor: if anything, cotton balls for snow and pictures of Jesus
“Merry Christmas!” in Amharic: “Melikam Gena!”
In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was made into an important time. Following the revolution in 1917, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday in 1929 and Christmas Trees were banned until 1935 when they turned into ‘New Year’ Trees! If people did want to celebrate Christmas, they had to do it in secret just in their families. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, people were free to celebrate Christmas again. But it’s still a quieter and smaller holiday in Russia after the big New Year celebrations. The New Year is the big time for spending lots of money and eating and drinking lots. Christmas is much more religious and private.
Traditional Christmas Dinner: beetroot soup, vegan potluck, vegetable pies, sauerkraut, porridge dishes, and much more
Traditional Christmas Drink: uzvar
Traditional Christmas Decor: Russian dolls
“Merry Christmas!” in Russian: “Счастливого рождества!”
In Vietnam, Christmas Eve is often more important than Christmas Day. Christmas isn’t an official public holiday. People celebrate by throwing confetti, taking pictures and enjoying the Christmas decorations and lights of big hotels and department stores. Lots of cafes and restaurants are open for people to enjoy a snack. As Vietnam used to be apart of the French Empire, they still have a lot of French influences around Christmas traditions such as the Christmas Eve meal called ‘reveillon’ and has a ‘bûche de Noël’ (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log) for dessert.
Traditional Christmas Dinner: chicken soup or turkey
Traditional Christmas Decor: nativity crib
“Merry Christmas!” in Vietnamese: “Chúc mừng Giáng Sinh!”
Most families in England have Christmas Trees in their house, even sometimes more than one! And decorating the tree is usually a family occasion with everyone helping. Christmas Trees were first popularised in the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. He was German and thought that it would be good to use one of his ways of celebrating Christmas in England. Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are also sometimes used to decorate homes and buildings.
Traditional Christmas Dinner: roast beef, turkey, Yorkshire pudding, pigs in a blanket, roasted potatoes, mince pies, and Christmas pudding
Traditional Christmas Drink: mulled wine
Traditional Christmas Decor: Christmas cracker
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Marketing Manager at Poptop – UK Leading Events Planning Concierge Service