Christmas around the world > traditions

Here are some Christmas traditions celebrated in other countries.

• Australia > Christmas in Australia is often very hot. A traditional meal includes a turkey dinner, with ham and pork. A flaming Christmas plum pudding is added for dessert. Australian families and tourists often celebrate Christmas at the beach or pool. Carols by candlelight is held on Christmas Eve, and tens of thousands of people gather in Melbourne to sing their favorite Christmas songs.

• Belgium > In Belgium, there are two Santa Claus figures, St. Nicholas and Pere Noel. St Nicholas visits those who speak the Waloon language, twice. He first arrives on December 4, to find out which children have been good and which have been bad. On December 6, if a child is good, he returns with presents. Bad children receive twigs inside their shoes or in small baskets. Pere Noel and his companion Pere Fouettard visit those who speak French. Good children receive chocolates and candies. Bad children are more likely to receive a handful of sticks. Christmas for both gift-givers is December 6, the feast of St Nicholas.

• China > The Christian children of China decorate trees with colorful ornaments. They also hang muslin stockings hoping that Christmas Old Man will fill them with gifts and treats. The Chinese Christmas trees are called Trees of Light.

• India > Christians in India decorate banana or mango trees. They also light small oil-burning lamps as Christmas decorations and fill their churches with red flowers. They give presents to family members and baksheesh, or charity, to the poor people. In southern India, Christians put small clay lamps on the rooftops and walls of their houses at Christmas, just as the Hindus do during their Diwali festival.

• Nicaragua > Christmas begins officially on Dec. 6 in Nicaragua, but actual activities begin on December 16. Every home contains a manger scene. From December 16 until the Christmas Eve Mass, prayer is held each evening in the home, followed by refreshments and the singing of carols. Christmas Day is celebrated with much fun and eating, fireworks and dancing.

• Russia > In Russia the religious festival of Christmas is being replaced by the Festival of Winter, but there are some traditions that are still kept up in some parts of the country. In the traditional Russian Christmas, which is observed on January 7, special prayers are said and people fast, sometimes for 39 days, until Christmas Eve, which is January 6 in Russia. On Christmas Day, hymns and carols are sung. People gather in churches, which have been decorated with the usual Christmas trees or Yelka, flowers and colored lights. Babushka is a traditional Christmas figure who distributes presents to children.

• Syria > In Syria on December 6, a special Mass is held in churches in honor of St. Nicholas Thaumaturgus. On Christmas Eve everyone in the family carries a lit candle to an unlit bonfire outside their house. The youngest child, usually the son of the family, reads the Christmas story, after which the bonfire is lit. The way the flames spread shows the luck of the house in the coming year. When the fire burns, psalms are sung, and when it sinks, everyone leaps over the embers making wishes. Early on Christmas morning everyone goes to Mass. It is on New Year’s Day that children receive presents.

• Wales > Every year at Christmas, carol singing is the most enjoyed activity. Caroling is called eisteddfodde and is often accompanied by a harp. Christmas is spent with lots of people gathering in the public square for the announcement of who has won the prize for submitting the best music for a new carol. Taffy making is one of the most important of the Welsh Christmas. The Welsh people maintain most of the traditional customs associated with England.


Christmas celebrations around the world

“He had a broad face and a round little belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly, He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself”

Clement Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.

On the sixth of December Sinterklaas or Saint-Nicholas is celebrated, which is an entirely different holiday from Christmas. Santa Claus in Belgium is called de Kerstman or le Père Noël and he does come around on Christmas Day to bring children presents. There are different cultures in Belgium, the Northern part being Vlaanderen (speaking a Dutch dialect), the Southern part being Wallonie (speaking a French dialect) and the Eastern part speaking German.

Small family presents are given at Christmas too, under the tree, or in stockings near the fire-place, to be found in the morning. Christmas breakfast is a special sweet bread called “cougnou” or “cougnolle” – the shape is supposed to be like baby Jesus. Some families will have another big meal on Christmas Day.

Father Christmas is called Papai Noel. Many Christmas customs are similar to USA or UK. For those who have enough money, a special Christmas meal will be chicken, turkey, ham, rice, salad, pork, fresh and dried fruits, often with beer. Poorer people will just have chicken and rice.

Finnish people believe that Father Christmas (Santa Claus) lives in the north part of Finland called Korvatunturi, north of the Arctic Circle. People from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland. (It is only fair to say that the people of Greenland say that really, Father Christmas lives in Greenland!). There is a even big tourist theme park called “Christmas Land” in the north of Finland, near to where they say that Father Christmas lives.

Everyone cleans their houses ready for the three holy days of Christmas – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Christmas Eve is very special, when people eat rice porridge and plum fruit juice in the morning. They will then decorate a spruce tree in the home. At mid-day, the “peace of Christmas” is broadcast on radio and TV from the Finnish city of Turku by its Mayor. In the evening, a traditional Christmas dinner is eaten. The meal will include casseroles containg macaroni, rutabaga, carrot and potato, with cooked ham or turkey. Many families will visit cemeteries and grave-yards to place a candle onto the burial graves of family members. Cemeteries are very beautiful at Christmas-time.

Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve, usually with a family member dressing as Father Christmas. As children grow older, they come to realise that Father Christmas is really a bigger brother, sister or family member.

In France, Christmas is called Noël. Everyone has a Christmas tree, sometimes decorated in the old way with red ribbons and real white wax candles. Fir trees in the garden are often decorated too, with lights on all night. The Christmas meal is an important family gathering with good meat and the best wine. Not everyone sends Christmas cards.

Germans love to decorate their houses at Christmas. Many houses will have little wooden frames holding electric candles in their windows, and coloured pictures of paper or plastic which look beautiful from the outside at night. Often too, they will have an “Adventskranz” – a wreath of leaves with four candles. (Advent – meaning “coming”, is the 4 week period before Christmas). On each Sunday of Advent, another candle is lit. Most homes will also have little wooden “cribs” – a small model of the stable where Jesus was born, with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and animals.

Father Christmas brings presents in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve (December 24th), after people have been to a church gathering. The presents are then found under the Christmas tree. One person in the family will ring a bell and call everyone to come to the room. On Christmas Day, fish (carp) or goose will be cooked.

Santa Claus (Winter-grandfather)
comes on the 6th of December. Children should clean and put their shoes outside next to the door or window before they go to sleep. Next day candies and/or small toys appear in them in red bags. For children, who don’t behave well, a golden birch is placed next to the sweets, a symbol for spanking… (but don’t worry, it is just for fun, and not for actual punishment.)

On 24th of December, children go to their relatives or to the movies, because little Jesus brings the tree and the presents that evening to their house. It is customary to hang edible things on the tree, like golden wrapped assorted chocolates and meringues beside the glass balls, candles (real or electrical), and sparklers.

Families usually cook festive dinner for that night. An example would be fresh fish usually with rice or potatoes and home made pastries as dessert. After dinner, the tree would be viewed by the children for the first time. It is very exciting. Christmas songs are sung and then the gifts under the tree are shared.

Older children attend the midnight mass with their parents. During communism, children had to hide at the back of the church. Teachers could have lost their jobs for attending the mass. Later (in mid 1970s) most of the Communist Party leaders of the town attended it too. Next day the children attack the edible part of the tree. Festive food is enjoyed on the second and third day too.

People from Transylvania serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve, and next day for lunch. Most likely the reason for that custom is that stuffed cabbage is the best on the second and third day after it was cooked. Moms can prepare the food a day earlier, leaving more time for decorating and organizing. Very practical. On the 25th of December, the whole family attended church and ate stuffed cabbage for lunch.

Latvians believe that Father Christmas brings presents on each of the 12 days of Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. Usually the presents are put under the family Christmas tree. What a good idea to spread Christmas out longer! It was in Latvia that the first Christmas tree was decorated. The special Latvian Christmas Day meal is cooked brown peas with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage.

New Zealand
Christmas starts with gifts under the tree, to be opened Christmas morning. Then its onto a Christmas lunch either at home or at one’s parents place. Turkey or chicken with all the trimmings is eaten, then comes tea time, it is a Bar-B-Q for friends and family to get together,and have a few beers or wines with the meal!

People pretend that Father Christmas brings presents to children on Christmas Eve. The presents are left under the Christmas tree or in shoes by the fireplace. A special Christmas meal of salted dry cod-fish with boiled potatoes is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve.

In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time – when “Father Frost” brought presents to children. With the fall of Communism, Christmas can be openly celebrated – either on December 25th, or more often on January 7th. This unusual date is because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the old Julian calendar for religious celebration days. Special Christmas food includes cakes, pies and meat dumplings.

The most important day is Christmas Eve. A special Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve – ham (pork), herring fish, and brown beans – and this is the time when families give presents to each other. Many people attend a church meeting early on Christmas Day.

United States
The USA is so multi-cultural that there are many different ways of celebrating Christmas. Some families (mostly of Eastern European origin) favor turkey with trimmings. Some preferred keilbasi (Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups. Italian families insist on lasagna!

All year long children are told to behave, or they will get coal in their stocking. On Christmas Eve, they hang highly stylized stockings on the mantle of the fireplace, then go to bed early so that they will find presents in the morning. They are told that at midnight Santa Claus will come, bringing a huge bag of toys. He will come down through the chimney, leave candy in the stockings and presents under the Christmas tree (anything from a Pine or Fir to a Spruce), then plug one nostril and shoot up through the chimney. Cookies are traditionally left for him, and a carrot is commonly left for Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer, very much a part of Christmas tradition (Santa will land on the roof with his sleigh and nine reindeer).

On Christmas morning, things such as cinnamon rolls or coffee cake are served for breakfast, and for dinner there is typically ham (and occasionally regal plum pudding). That is it for celebration, Boxing Day is never celebrated, Epiphany is only celebrated by Catholics, and Advent not commonly celebrated.

Unique Christmas customs around the world

Christmas festivities have been occurring for centuries. And as knowledge of the holiday has spread, different countries around the world have begun to celebrate Christmas as well. Along the way, each place has adapted the Christmas celebration to their own culture creating a variety of interesting and unique traditions.

For many people, Christmas brings to mind images of winter, snow, evergreen trees decorated with ornaments, and a Santa Claus delivering presents to children. But not every country celebrates Christmas exactly the same way.

In Australia, Christmas Day always falls in the middle of summertime changing a big part of the usual holiday tradition. Australians can’t build snowmen or go for a sleigh ride, and Santa would probably get very hot in his usual red suit. So instead, people build sand sculptures at the beach or go surfing, and Santa can often be seen giving out gifts in a swimsuit.

“Christmas in Australia is more like a party than a holiday,” said a student at Ulsan University who studied abroad in Australia last year. “People usually go to the beach or have a barbeque and wear Santa hats with their swimsuits.”

The Philippines also celebrates Christmas in warm temperatures, but unlike Australia, this mostly Christian country focuses more on traditions than celebrations. In fact, the Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world. Christmas carols are sung as early as September and decorations aren’t taken down until Three Kings Day in early January.

These decorations usually include thousands of “Parol” or star lanterns, that represent the Star of Bethlehem and are hung all over the city. On Christmas Eve, families have a big dinner and then travel around their neighborhood singing carols and reenacting the journey of Joseph and Mary the night Jesus was born.

In Scandinavia, people also mainly celebrate on Christmas Eve, although their traditions are a little bit different. In most Scandinavian countries, families gather for a large dinner that usually includes a ham, pickled pigs feet, fish and rice porridge. After the meal, instead of waiting for Santa Claus to come while they’re sleeping, children wait for the arrival of Tomte, a small, magical, elderly man who delivers gifts. Tomte is often accompanied by the Yule Goat and comes to the front door instead of down the chimney.

Some countries warn children with Christmas monsters as well as gift-givers like Santa Claus or Tomte. In Germany, children are told that if they have been good they will be visited by St. Nicholas, but if they are bad, they will be punished by the Krampus monster.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, Santa Claus, or Sinterklaas, is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, a black servant who will leave presents for children or punish them if they’ve been bad.

Despite these differences, certain aspects of Christmas remain the same around the world. Traditions of goodwill, giving and spending time with family can be found almost everywhere during the Christmas season.

Christmas Traditions in New Zealand

Christmas starts for New Zealanders with gifts under the Christmas tree, to be opened on Christmas morning.

Then they enjoy a Christmas lunch either at home or at one’s parents place. Turkey or chicken with all the trimmings is eaten, then comes tea time.

In New Zealand it is a barbeque opportunity for friends and family to get together, and have a few beers or wines with their meal.

Christmas Traditions in Australia

The heat of early summer in Australia has an impact on the way that Australians celebrate Christmas and on which northern hemisphere Christmas traditions are followed.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas houses are decorated; greetings cards sent out; carols sung; Christmas trees installed in homes, schools and public places; and children delight in anticipating a visit from Santa Claus. On Christmas Day family and friends gather to exchange gifts and enjoy special Christmas food.

Many Australians spend Christmas out of doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for a longer break over the Christmas holiday period. It has become traditional for international visitors who are in Sydney at Christmas time to go to Bondi Beach where up to 40,000 people visit on Christmas Day.

The tradition of an Australian Christmas Eve carol service lit by candles was started in 1937 by radio announcer Norman Banks. This outdoor service has now been held in Melbourne every year since then.

Carols by Candlelight events today range from huge gatherings, which are televised live throughout the country, to smaller local community and church events. Sydney’s Carols in the Domain has become a popular platform for the stars of stage and music.

Some uniquely Australian Christmas carols have become popular and are included alongside the more traditional carols sung at carol services and at Christmas church services: John Wheeler’s The Three Drovers is perhaps the best known of these.

Many light hearted Australian Christmas songs have become an essential part of the Australian Christmas experience. These include Rolf Harris’s Six White Boomers, Colin Buchanan’s Aussie Jingle Bells and the Australian Twelve Days of Christmas.

Christmas plants
There are many native Australian plants in flower over the Christmas season. A number of these have become known as ‘Christmas plants’ in various parts of the country, including Christmas Bells, Christmas Bush and the Christmas Orchid.

When Europeans first arrived in Australia they were delighted that they could pick wildflowers resembling bells and bright green foliage covered in red or white flowers to use as Christmas decorations. This was a huge contrast to the bare trees and dormant gardens they had left behind in Europe.

Christmas in Australia comes at the beginning of summer and many people no longer serve a traditional hot roast dinner. Cold turkey and ham, seafood and salads are often served instead. It has even become acceptable to serve the traditional Christmas Plum Pudding with cold custard, ice cream or cream. Pavlova, a meringue base topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit, and various versions of the Festive Ice Cream Pudding have also become popular Christmas desserts.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Coles company are engaged in a project to cultivate native foods. They are working with Mandawuy Yunupingu (of the band Yothu Yindi) and Aboriginal communities to grow sufficient quantities for sale in supermarkets across Australia. The aim is to offer all Australians a Bush Tucker Christmas.

Film and television
The films Bush Christmas (1947) starring Chips Rafferty and the remake Prince and the Great Race in 1983 (with Nicole Kidman), and Miracle Down Under starring John Waters (telecast as Bushfire Moon) are insights into the early Australian Christmas culture. Many television series have used Christmas episodes to explore the changing culture of Christmas in Australia.

Children’s stories
Australian children grow up enjoying traditional Christmas stories such as Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but children’s authors and illustrators are beginning to create truly Australian children’s Christmas literature. One favourite is Wombat Divine by Mem Fox, while a more recent addition is Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison.

Major sporting events
The Christmas break is an opportunity for sports fans to enjoy two major sporting events. 26 December is the opening day of the ‘Boxing Day Test’ between the Australian Cricket Team and an international touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This has been well attended since the first match in 1950, and watched by many others on television. In Sydney one of the world’s most prestigious ocean races, the Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race, starts on Boxing Day from Sydney Harbour.

Indigenous Australians
Indigenous Dreamtime stories obviously do not include Christmas. However, this date in the calendar coincides with other seasonal changes. In Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Yolngu Aboriginal people will observe the last season of their six-season cycle. Gudjewg, the wet season, begins in late December.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities include Christian groups within them which celebrate Christmas. The Ntaria Choir at Hermannsburg, via Alice Springs, Northern Territory, has a unique musical language from mixing the traditional vocals of the Ntaria women with Lutheran chorales – the hymn tunes that were the basis of much of J.S. Bach’s music.

Baba Waiyar, a popular traditional Torres Strait Islander hymn, is featured on Lexine Solomon’s debut album This is Woman (2003) – showing the influence of gospel music mixed with traditionally strong Torres Strait Islander vocals and country music. Significantly, Torres Strait Islanders celebrate the ‘Coming of the Light’ on 1 July, the day the London Missionary Society landed at Erub Island in 1871.

Modern Indigenous Christmas celebrations are beginning to take on elements of traditional Indigenous culture. The Department of Conservation and Land Management in Western Australia offers a Christmas celebration by organising activities which encourages people to join in Christmas bush activities with Nyoongar guides.

Source >

The story of Christmas around the world > 1

From North, South, East and West, there are more beliefs and traditions that unite rather than divide people, especially around the meaning of Christmas. 

In the following series of entries, we list a sampling of Christmas traditions around the world, which demonstrates that while countries have their own unique celebrations, a common theme still emerges: No matter the frenzy and materialism in some parts of the world, there is an inescapable moment when peoples’ hearts recognize the special grace that comes with this season, the certainty that love, peace, hope, family, faith, charity and community are possible.


The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, by Gerald Bowler, McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2000.

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.

(Read More)

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