Christmas Around the World

When I was a kid, we'd celebrate Christmas by opening just one gift of our choice on Christmas Eve after the family party at my grandmother's house. We'd also try and keep count of all the houses we saw with Christmas lights on the drive home.

Everyone has their own holiday traditions, and I'm sure you have plenty of your own. Here, I've dug up a few fun and unusual Christmas traditions from around the world. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a few fun traditions you'd like to adopt for your own family. I know I'd love to roller skate to mass like they do in Caracas, Venezuela! 

Women's Rink Roller Skates 7.5-foot Tannenbaum Christmas Tree Drummer Soldier Nutcracker 17-inch Charcoal Grill Ornament Magnetic Die Set Peruvian Ceramic Angel Ornaments Hand-embroidered Giraffe Ornament from India

Many of our own traditions have their origins in Germany, including Christmas trees and nutcrackers. One of the traditions that is still distinctly German, however, is the celebration of Nikolaus Tag on December 6. During the night, St. Nikolaus (or St. Nicholas, as we know him) leaves candy, fruit, and other treats in the shoes of children who have been good, and wooden switches for those who've been bad.

It turns out that many European countries have similar traditions. In the Netherlands and Belgium, SinterKlaas arrives by steamer on December 6 with his helper, Black Pete. He also leaves candy and treats in the shoes of good children, replacing the hay and sugar they've left for his horse. In France, it's Pere Noel who travels with Pre Fouettard to leave treats for the children.

Each country seems to have its own depiction of Santa Claus. In Greece, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and appears drenched in seawater with his face covered in sweat from rescuing ships on the sea. In Australia, Santa often wears a swimsuit and arrives at the beach on a surfboard where many families are firing up the barbie for the summertime holiday celebration.  In some places, it's not even Santa at all who swoops down chimneys to deliver gifts and toys. In Italy, for example, a witch named La Befana flies around on a broomstick on Epiphany Eve and drops down chimneys to leave either candy or lumps of coal for the children.

Speaking of broomsticks, there's a tradition in Norway to hide all the brooms on Christmas Eve, because witches and evil spirits rise from the grave that night and ride around on broomsticks, creating havoc all night long. It all sounds very Halloweeny to us here, but the tradition of evil or mischievous spirits causing chaos around Christmas is fairly widespread. In Greece, the Killantzaroi are goblins who emerge between Christmas and the Epiphany on January 6 to cause all sorts of mischief, like dousing the fire or turning the milk sour.

In Central and South America, Christmas traditions are typically livelier, with fireworks shows at midnight and celebrations that last all night long. In addition to its citizens roller skating to mass, the children of Caracas, Venezuela, tie a long string to their toe and dangle the other end out the window. In the morning, roller skaters tug on any string they see to wake the children for the early morning services.

A bit further north, in Oaxaca, Mexico, El Festival de los Rabanos, The Festival of the Radishes, is the biggest holiday celebration. Large radishes are carved into Christmas scenes and displayed in the city plaza where there is also plenty of food and dancing late into the night.

In all corners of the world, Christmas is celebrated in different, unique ways. In England, they set off Christmas crackers, while in Japan, KFC is so popular at Christmastime that you need a reservation to eat there. In the Ukraine, there's a tradition to hang spider web ornaments on trees, and in the Czech Republic, single women throw shoes over their backs to determine if they will marry within the next year.

What are your own favorite holiday traditions? Do any originate from elsewhere in the world, passed down through the generations?



Posted by Andrea Sparks

Andrea Sparks



Dec. 3, 2012 at 3:21 PM

We like to have breakfast for dinner on Christmas Eve. This doesn't really come from our heritage. It just tastes good and feels cozy.

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