Top 15 Christmas Traditions: What Makes Christmas Special Around The World?

Christmas Santa with children
Christmas traditions gain deeper significance across many countries worldwide. People celebrate with special foods, gifts, and customs that define this festive season. Traditional dishes, diverse decorations, and cultural celebrations vary from one country to another. Join us today to explore the unique and sometimes peculiar international Christmas traditions celebrated each holiday season.

1. Advent Calendar in Germany

Germany’s Christmas celebrations center on Advent, starting the first Sunday about four weeks prior to December 24th. Decorative calendars, wreaths, and intricately designed paper advent calendars help count down the days. Commercial calendars, often starting on December 1st, feature 24 chocolate-filled windows. Some elaborate versions have 24 hanging pockets with daily gifts for children, fostering a fun family tradition during this holiday season.

2. KFC’s Christmas Tradition in Japan

Despite Christmas not being a national holiday in Japan, families across the country visit their local KFC for a special Christmas Eve meal. In the 1970s, KFC’s successful advertising campaign established the Kentucky tradition for Christmas, becoming a popular holiday theme throughout Japan. Due to high demand, KFC requires restaurant reservations up to two months in advance and delivery orders to be placed months ahead, all specially packaged for the occasion.

3. Gift from Sinterklaas in Netherlands

Top 15 Christmas Traditions: What Makes Christmas Special Around The World?
Top 15 Christmas Traditions: What Makes Christmas Special Around The World?

Sinterklaas arrives in mid-November by steamship from Spain, donning a red bishop’s robe and accompanied by his mischievous helpers, the ‘Zwarte Pieten.’ He brings gifts and joy to children on December 5th. Children who leave carrots for Sinterklaas’s horse in their shoes receive candies and sweets. It becomes one of the delightful Christmas traditions cherished by children.

4. Posadas Pinatas in Mexico

In Mexico, Posadas Pinatas is a pre-Christmas festival, which consists of a series of 9 exciting parties lasting from December 16 to 24 leading up to Christmas Eve. This festival includes a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem and cannot find a room at the inn. Every night, traditional Christmas carols are sung, and a seven-pointed star-shaped Piñata which is made of paper mache, decorated and filled with candies and small toys – is hung up for children to break with sticks and pick up candy and toys falling from the Piñata. It’s the precious time before Christmas.

5. Broom-Hiding in Norway

Norwegians believe that Christmas Eve coincides with the appearance of evil spirits and witches. So, apparently they hid all their brooms before going to bed to protect themselves from mischievous witches. This superstition reflects the cultural belief in warding off evil spirits during the festive season, adding a touch of folklore to Norwegian Christmas traditions.

6. Christmas Eve Book Tradition in Iceland

Jolabokaflod, known as the Christmas Book Flood, is a part of Icelandic Christmas traditions. More books are published per capita in Iceland than in any other country, and a significant portion is sold during the Christmas season. On Christmas Eve, people exchange books and spend the evening reading while enjoying chocolate.

7. La Befana in Italy

With lots of traditions and beliefs, Italians find it hard to add a new Santa Claus-like figure to their special list. After research, the Vatican considered replacing Santa with La Befana, a local witch gifting Italian children on Christmas Eve. A new story emerged: three wise men invited La Befana to meet Jesus, but she declined, busy granting gifts to kids across Italy.

8. Yule Goat in Sweden

The Yule Goat in Sweden is an iconic part of their Christmas traditions, symbolizing both ancient folklore and festive celebrations. Its story goes back to the 11th century. There’s a legend about a big goat guided by Saint Nicholas that was said to have special powers against evil. Nowadays, folks put up Christmas decorations showing this Yule Goat. In some Swedish towns, they even make huge Yule Goat decorations using straw and red ribbon, and everyone gets to see them in public.

9. Buy Lottery Tickets in Spain

The first Christmas lottery, held in 1812 to aid Spain’s battle against Napoleon, became one of the popular Christmas traditions. Spaniards now spend an average of 66 euros on tickets every year, emphasizing the community component over the reward itself. Every year, millions of people are captivated by Spain’s largest lottery, which symbolizes solidarity and hope. The coveted jackpot, which is called El Gordo, draws people eager to purchase tickets, reflecting the spirit of sharing embedded in this cherished institution. This social ethos still lies at the heart of the Spanish Christmas lottery.

10. Krampus in Austria

Krampus in Austria
Top 15 Christmas Traditions: What Makes Christmas Special Around The World?

In Austrian tradition, Krampus is St. Nicholas’ sinister companion. It is a demon-like creature tasked with punishing naughty children. Often spotted wandering the streets during the festival, Krampus strikes fear into children’s hearts. Many towns in Austria, particularly the mountain villages around Salzburg and Tyrol, observe Krampusnacht on December 5. During this night, many men dressed as half-goat demons march through the streets, playing ghastly pranks to scare both kids and adults alike.

11. The Christmas Spider in Ukraine

Ukrainian Christmas trees go beyond the usual decorations and include artificial cobwebs and tiny spider ornaments. Legend has it that a poor widow and her children, unable to afford decorations, found their Christmas tree covered in a sparkling web woven by a spider one Christmas morning. Today, Ukraine decks its trees with ‘pavuchky’ (spider ornaments) and fake webs, believed to be the origin of the shimmering tinsel seen worldwide during Christmas.

12. Roller Skating to Church in Venezuela

Venezuela begins celebrating Christmas on December 16 with a unique early morning ritual called Misa de Aguinaldo. It is attended by people on roller skates, so the streets are closed until 8 am to ensure everyone’s safety. Additionally, the night before, children in town tie a string around their big toe and then attach the other end of the string to the window before going to bed. Passing churchgoers will pull the rope to wake the children.

13. Horse Skull from Wales

A rather scary custom of the Welsh people during Christmas, known as Mari Lwyd, involves parading through the streets while carrying a horse skull adorned with ribbons and bells, and singing traditional songs. Locals believe that this ritual helps to bring good luck and ward off evil as the new year approaches.

14. Predicting Marriage in Czech Republic

According to traditional Christmas customs, single women in the Czech Republic engage in age-old Christmas traditions to foresee their future marriages. They will stand with their backs to the door and throw one of their shoes over their shoulder. If the shoe falls with the toe points doorward, it means they will get married within the next year. On the contrary, if the heel points towards the door, they will remain single.

15. El Caganer in Spain

“Caganer” is derived from the Spanish word for “one who defecates.” It is a customary souvenir during Christmas in Spain. This little funny statue, which is frequently seen in nativity settings, shows a human defecating. Despite its unconventional nature, it’s regarded as a symbol of luck and prosperity in Spanish tradition.


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