Christmas Traditions Around the World
Christmas is celebrated in different ways and on different days across the world. Here is a look at some popular Christmas traditions.
Argentinians celebrate Christmas with fireworks at midnight on Christmas Eve after dinner. Children leave their shoes outside, or under the Christmas tree, to be filled with gifts. Typical Christmas meals include roast turkey, vegetables, and mince pie.
The holiday season occurs during summer in Australia. Christmas activities often include beach parties, outdoor barbecues, and family picnics. Paper balloons are lit and floated into the air for children. Christmas dinner is more often a Christmas lunch and centers on ham, turkey, pork, seafood, or barbecued meat. Carols by Candlelight is also a popular tradition where people gather and sing Christmas songs while holding candles. In 2015, a group of 320 Australian surfers, all dressed as Santa, broke the world record for the largest Santa surf lesson.
In Colombia, the beginning of the Christmas season is marked by Little Candles Day. Colombians place candles and paper lanterns in the windows of their homes, on porches, on balconies, and in front yards. Christmas Eve is the most important day of the season and families gather and wait until midnight to open presents. The Christmas meal often includes pork stuffed with rice and peas.
On Christmas morning Finish families eat a traditional porridge made of rice and milk topped with cinnamon, milk, or butter. Inside of one of the dishes, an almond is hidden. Whoever finds the almond will have good luck for the rest of the year. It is also traditional for the family to enjoy a sauna on Christmas Eve. Traditional dinners often include ham, beetroot salad, liver casserole, smoked salmon, or herring dishes.
Children decorate their Christmas lists with pictures and then leave them on the windowsill on Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree is typically put up and decorated on the morning of Christmas Eve. The tradition of decorating the Christmas tree with a pickle ornament is believed to have started in Germany. An extra gift is given to the child who finds the pickle. Christmas dinners are varied and might consist of carp, sausage, or roasted duck or goose. Christmas cookies are also very popular in Germany.
Iceland celebrates the 13 days of Christmas, much like the United States celebrates the 12 days of Christmas. Every night the twelve “Christmas Lads” or “Yule Lads” deliver presents to children in Iceland. Each night before going to bed, Icelandic children place their shoes by the window. In the morning, if they have been good, their shoes will be filled with candy. If they have been bad, their shoes will be filled with rotten potatoes. People in Iceland also often exchange books on Christmas Eve. It is also traditional for those who live in Iceland to give and receive new clothing as a Christmas gift. Gifts are typically exchanged on Christmas morning after a dinner of smoked lamb, ptarmigan, turkey, or pork. Thin gingerbread cookies are also often baked during the holiday season.
The Christmas holiday in Ireland extends from December 24th to January 6th. It is common for parties to be held for friends and family on the days leading to Christmas. The Irish place a tall, thick red candle in the largest front window on Christmas Eve. The candle is allowed to burn all night. Traditional Christmas dinner often includes roast goose, turkey, or ham served with potatoes, vegetables, and cranberries. The season ends with a celebration of Little Christmas on January 6th.
Italians decorate their Christmas tree on the night of December 8th. They also decorate with elaborate miniature nativity scenes. On Christmas Eve the traditional dinner is fish. On Christmas day, and the day after, families gather for long lunches consisting of meats, sides, several types of pasta, fruit and sweets. Christmas gifts are exchanged on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day.
Christmas in Japan is seen as more of a celebration than a religious holiday full of traditions. More recently, however, a new tradition began in Japan after Kentucky Fried Chicken ran a clever campaign in 1974. The campaign was called Kentucky For Christmas and apparently the Japanese thought that was a great idea. Now, Japanese families must order their chicken months ahead of time or stand in long lines to feast on Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Day.
Christmas is celebrated with plays and parades during the month of December. Nativity scenes are even more popular than Christmas trees. Red poinsettias are used for decoration all over the country. Mexico first brought the colorful poinsettia to America. In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red and green plant from Mexico to America. Soon after, the plant was named for him and it began appearing in American greenhouses in 1830. By 1900, the pretty plant was a popular symbol of the holiday season across the United States.
Children place a shoe by the chimney or door and wake up to find that Saint Nicholas has left them treats such as gingerbread men or chocolate. Christmas dinner usually consists of roast goose, roast pork, vegetables, and homemade breads.
Christmas occurs during the summer in New Zealand. The traditional Christmas tree in New Zealand is the Pohutukawa, a tree that grows along the coast and has bright red blooms in the month of December. The beautiful tree has been associated with Christmas since the 1800s. Instead of gathering for dinner, many New Zealanders gather for an outdoor lunch barbecue.
The city of San Fernando holds a Giant Lantern Festival every year. The huge lanterns are made of paper, lit with colorful lights, and can be as big as 20 feet in diameter. Some towns have contests for the most beautiful Christmas decorations. Families gather together on Christmas Eve for a big meal that often includes puto bumbong, or bamboo tubes stuffed with purple rice, sugar, butter, and coconut.
The traditional Christmas meal is called the Wigillia and it is held on Christmas Eve. It does not start until the first star appears in the night sky. An extra place setting is also often left at the table for an unexpected guest. The traditional meal includes carp, beetroot soup, potato salad, pierogi, and pickled herring. After dinner, families typically open their gifts. The Christmas tree is also set up and decorated on Christmas Eve. It is usually left up until January 6th or even until early February.
The Yule Goat has long been a Christmas symbol in Sweden. Goats are used as Christmas ornaments and straw goats decorate towns across Sweden. In 1966, however, the annual tradition began of building an enormous giant straw goat (42 feet high and 23 feet wide) in the town of Gavle. After the New Year (if the goat has not been destroyed by vandals), the goat is taken down. Most often, though, the goat does not last that long. Swedish families also gather to watch Donald Duck at 3 p.m. every Christmas Eve on television. One of the most popular shows is a 1958 Christmas special titled Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas. Traditional Swedish Christmas dinners are served on Christmas Eve and include ham, meatballs, pickled herring, sausage, and spareribs. Sweet treats include marzipan, chocolates, and oranges decorated with cloves. Presents are opened on Christmas Eve after dinner.
Swiss families create homemade advent calendars for the holiday season. Every day, the children open another bag to find a treat or small gift. The largest gift is saved for Christmas Eve. Popular dishes for Christmas dinner include a pastry wrapped pork fillet with sausage meat, meat fondue, and potato salad.
According to legend, long ago, a widow did not have enough money to decorate her Christmas tree. When she and her children woke up in the morning, the tree was covered with a spider web of silver and gold. Now, to honor the story, Ukrainians hang pretty gold and silver spider webs on their Christmas trees. It is also traditional to delay eating Christmas dinner until the first star appears in the night sky. Dinner often includes sweet grain pudding, beet soup, dumplings, and stuffed cabbage roll.
Families bake Christmas cookies, decorate Christmas trees with lights and ornaments, and gather to exchange presents Christmas morning. Children often leave cookies and milk out for Santa before going to bed on Christmas Eve. Family gatherings often include playing games and watching favorite Christmas movies. Christmas presents are left under the Christmas tree and in stockings hung by the chimney. Traditional dinners include ham, roast beef, mashed potatoes, pie, and eggnog.
Children hang their stockings at the foot of their beds in the United Kingdom. Christmas Crackers (a paper tube loaded with confetti and prizes that explodes when pulled) are also very popular for the holidays. Like the United States, the cities and towns of the United Kingdom are decorated with festive lights. Traditional dinners often consist of turkey or roast, gravy, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and mince pie.
Every Christmas Eve, the residents of the city of Caracas, Venezuela head to church early in the morning in an unusual manner – on roller skates! Across the city, roads are closed so residents can make it to and from church safely. The traditional dish is a wrap made of cornmeal and plantain leaves and then filled with a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, capers, olives, and raisins.
Although days and traditions may differ, no matter where Christmas is celebrated, families and friends gather to eat good food and exchange gifts to celebrate the holiday. Across the world, it is a magical day full of tradition and love.
Writer: Cheryl Shireman. Cheryl holds a Bachelors of Creative Writing & American Literature and a Masters of Christian Education. She also writes for the gardening website The Garden Shed, and for her home decor website Coastal Cheryl. Her books can be found on Amazon.