Christmas traditions around the world

Every country has their own way to make Christmas extra special

In Australia, Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so the traditional snack left out for Santa, whose sleigh is apparently pulled by eight white kangaroos, often includes a cooling beer.

Although some families will have a traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings, many more might have a picnic or barbecue, followed by a visit to the beach or a game of football or cricket.

New Zealand has much the same traditions, and a cold ham is more traditional there than hot turkey.

The celebrations start on December 6 in Austria, when Saint Nicholas rewards good children with sweets, nuts and apples, and the big moment for receiving presents is Christmas Eve. Their tradition has the Christ Child bring both gifts and a Christmas tree.

In Belgium, a special meal on Christmas Eve is common, as is the children receiving their gifts on December 6. On Christmas Day the family will all receive more small gifts, either under the tree or in Christmas stockings. Christmas breakfast is a special sweet bread called “cougnou”, which is meant to be made in the shape of baby Jesus.

The French Santa leaves presents inside shoes left by the fire on Christmas Eve, and many people go to the midnight service and come home to a special late supper. Christmas puppet shows are very popular in France, and lighting the yule log is a very important ritual.

In Germany, people love to decorate their houses at Christmas, and candles in the window are very popular, as are Advent wreaths which hold four candles. Carefully decorated Christmas lists are left on the windowsills overnight, weighed down with sugar so they don’t blow away. The presents arrive in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day the traditional meal is fish or goose.

Portugal is another country where Santa leaves gifts in shoes, along with bigger presents under the tree. A special Christmas meal of salted dry cod-fish with boiled potatoes is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve.

In Spain, children get a double helping of gifts. Santa delivers the first lot by climbing up balconies. When all the celebrations are nearly over, the three wise men come to visit on January 6, and also leave gifts for the children.

A longstanding custom in Norway was for a bowl of porridge to be left in the barn for the gnome who protects the farm, and this is now left by the fireplace on Christmas Eve. The tree is put up at the same time as the presents arrive from Santa.

In Italy, children are visited by a good witch called Strega Buffana on the day after Christmas. She flies around Italy on a broom and leaves treats for good children and coal for bad children. One unusual present here is to give a bag of lentils to your good friends to make soup. The soup is eaten to bring good luck and prosperity in the New Year.

Finnish people believe that Father Christmas lives in the northern part of their country and Christmas gets a lot of attention. Christmas Eve begins with rice porridge and plum juice for breakfast, followed by the decorating of the tree. A traditional Christmas dinner includes macaroni, carrot and potato along with cooked ham or turkey. The children receive their presents then, often from a member of the family dressed as Father Christmas.

In the USA there are so many different cultures that a huge variety of traditions can be seen throughout the country.

No matter where you are in the world, Christmas has a very unique place in people’s affections. And while it may become more commercialised every year, it’s the old traditions that continue to make it special.


Afrikaans: Gese`nde Kersfees

Arabic: Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah

Armenian: Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand

Basque: Zorionak eta Urte Berri On

Bengali: Shuvo Naba Barsha

Bulgarian: Tchestita Koleda

Cantonese: Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun

Catalan: Bon Nadal i un Bon Any Nou

Cornish: Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth

Danish: Glredelig Jul

Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest

Esperanto: Gajan Kristnaskon

Finnish: Hyvaajoulua

Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest

French: Joyeux Noel

Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ur!

German: Fršhliche Weihnachten

Greek: Kala Christouyenna

Hebrew: Mo’adim Lesimkha. Chena tova.

Hindi: Shub Naya Baras

Hungarian: Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket

Icelandic: Gledileg Jol

Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit

Italian: Buone Feste Natalizie

Japanese: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto

Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha

Latvian: Prieci’gus Ziemsve’tkus un Laimi’gu Jauno Gadu

Mandarin: Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan

Manx: Nollick ghennal as blein vie noa

Norwegian: God Jul

Polish: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia

Portuguese: Feliz Natal

Romanian: Sarbatori vesele

Russian: Pozdrevlyayus prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom

Slovakian: Sretan Bozic

Spanish: Feliz Navidad

Swedish: God Jul

Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai

Turkish: Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun

Urdu: Naya Saal Mubarak Ho

Vietnamese: Chung Mung Giang Sinh

Welsh: Nadolig Llawen

One Response to “Christmas traditions around the world”

  1. Christmas Traditions » Leap Into Art

    […] I feel that we are still in the “setting up” phase as far as our family traditions go. It seems that whenever a holiday comes up now, I begin shopping around for traditions to pass down to our girls. Both Michael (my husband) and I have great Christmas traditions that are passed down from our family. One of my favorites is Christmas Eve dinner with my in-laws. My father-in-law,Gary, goes all out cooking steak and giant (fist sized) shrimp. Oh, Grandma Lulu helps a little too…you know, all of the other stuff. My mouth waters just thinking about this dinner; which is a slightly chaotic affair. There are 7 siblings, all but one married and 19 nieces and nephews under 11 years old. After the dinner, the nieces and nephews exchange gifts and Grandma and Grandpa present each family with a beautiful gold ornament from the Danbury Mint. Then the kids get to open a present from their parents; the traditional Christmas Jammies. (I will admit that I spent about a month trying to find matching ones in 6-9mo. and 2T–I’ll post a picture for you next time.) However the traditions start much earlier than Christmas Eve. As mentioned before, we decorate Gingerbread cookies on the first Sunday of the month. Grandma Lulu also does a candle nativity earlier in the month. She weaves the bible verses together with carols and lights a candle as each new person (or group) enters the story (soft blue and green votives for Mary and Joseph, White tapers for the angels, green for the shepherds and maroon for the Wise men, and a cream votive in a crystal holder for Jesus.) She also gives us a Christmas picture book every year. It is so much fun to have a seasonal collection with her writing in the front. My family’s traditions start with putting up decorations the day after Thanksgiving as Christmas music blares through the house. I always think about being a little kid and feeling flooded with excitement that Christmas had finally come when I haul out the tree. On Christmas morning we always got an orange and a banana in our stockings. We had to eat one or the other first, but then could feast on all of the treats and our very own box of SUGAR CEREAL! My little sister also always got a bottle of maraschino cherries and I got a bottle of green olives (yeah, the craziness started early with me.) One thing that my husband and I started doing a few years ago, was to forgo presents for each other and “sub for Santa” for a family in need. In looking around to see what others do, I found some fun things. I loved all of the ideas My Derbe shares in her blog. From nightly devotionals, where they discuss sections of the Christmas story to eating banana splits for breakfast on Christmas day. My sister-in-law makes the infamous Christmas casserole and has a platter with ham and rolls available for sandwiches during the day so that when anyone is hungry, they can just go grab something. We both agree that Christmas day is meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. A Silicone Valley Mom tells about her Filipino rooted Christmas which is celebrated from Nov. 1st to Jan. 6th and features a midnight feast, Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), complete with ham, fettuccine, turkey and a whole roast suckling pig (lechon). You can read a great compilation of how Christmas is celebrated around the world done by grhomeboy! here, including how to say it in over 40 languages. Dgrbino focuses on philanthropy by donating money to buy fruit trees for families in 3rd world countries (there is a link to do it yourself on her site). One last site to check out: Lil Duck Duck is in a similar position and shares an extensive list of possibilities. Please let me know what you love to do with your family and have a wonderful Christmas! -Keersten […]