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Christmas Traditions Around the World

The world is made up of many countries, many cultures, and many religions, each with their own belief system, rituals, festivals and holidays. Christmas is the season for family, happiness, and joy all around the world – whether it is celebrated on December 25 or an entirely different month in some countries. In the United States, Christmas involves tales of Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman, elaborate dinners with family, exchanging of gifts, attending mass, and more. However, Christmas traditions can be quite different from our own – let’s take a look at some Christmas Traditions Around the World.

  • In Italy, Christmas is called Il Natale, which means “the birthday.” Christmas is celebrated starting on the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th through the Day of Epiphany on January 6. Most people eat a meal of fish and veggies on Christmas Eve and then go to mass, usually at midnight.  The most popular Christmas Mass is the one performed by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square at noon. People in Italy exchange gifts on the Epiphany on January 6. On this date, La Befana, not Santa Claus, brings gifts on her broom.

  • In Spain, the Christmas holiday also kicks off on December 8th and runs all the way until January 6th. The main events happen Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena, or “Good Night,” and is a night when most people dine with their families and then head out for Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass), returning home for dinner afterwards. Most people go back to church on Christmas Day and then spend the afternoon exchanging gifts and spending more time with family. Popular Christmas Eve dishes in Spain include lobster, turron (an almond nougat candy), marzipan, and polvorones, a crumbly cookie made only at Christmas. 

  • In many countries, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, and the United Kingdom, whole pigs are the main dish served at Christmas celebrations. There are many ways to roast pork, including open fire rotisserie style roasting, roasted on a bamboo spit over hot coals, and “caja china” style box grilling. 

  • Instead of hanging socks by the fireplace, many French children put their shoes out for Papa Noël (Father Christmas) to put presents into.
  • In Brazil, Christmas traditions are similar to the ones in Northern Europe and America. Some cities, such as Curitaba, will have decoration contests where judges will inspect interior and exterior decorations of competing houses to proclaim the most beautiful.

  • In Ethiopia, Christmas is widely and strictly observed by its Orthodox Christian majority. Because the country follows a traditional Coptic calendar, Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7th.

  • Christmas in Russia is also celebrated on January 7th like it is in Ethiopia. The Russian Orthodox Church still operates according to the Julian calendar, which runs 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar of the rest of the world. As a result, Christmas gets bumped back almost a fortnight until after the New Year.

  • It is customary in Finland for families to gather and listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast, and also to visit the gravesites of departed family members.

  • Christmas traditions in Canada are very similar to those practiced in the United States. In northern Canada, some people plan a Taffy Pull. This is held in honor of Saint Catherine, the patron saint of single women. This party provides an opportunity for single women to meet eligible single men.

  • In Japan, Christmas in known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Thanks to a lack of turkeys and smart marketing by KFC, fried chicken buckets are the main dish served at Christmas, and they’re so popular you have to order weeks in advance.

  • In Ukraine, Christmas trees are often decorated with (fake) spider webs to usher in good luck during the coming year. In some regions people make decorated Christmas eggs very similar to Easter eggs. After Sviata Vecherya or “Holy Supper” families sing Kolyadky (Ukrainian Christmas Carols). In many communities the old Ukrainian tradition of caroling is carried on by groups of young people and members of organizations and churches calling at homes and collecting donations.

  • In Australia, Christmas falls during summer and it can be quite hot on December 25, so hot that many Aussies choose to hit the beach that day. Because of the heat, the meal served on Christmas tends to be lighter, and colder – cold prawns, salads, beer, and most Australians choose to barbecue outdoors.

"Globe World Flags Image courtesy of vectorolie / FreeDigitalPhotos.net | Happy Christmas Around The World Image courtesy of luigi diamante / FreeDigitalPhotos.net | White Box, Bow And Ribbon Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”

If you observe Christmas, how do you and your family celebrate? What other Christmas traditions have you discovered recently? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter (@STU_Alumni), or email them to alumni@stu.edu!