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21 Ways Christmas Is Celebrated Around The World - Antsy Labs

21 Ways Christmas Is Celebrated Around The World

With the Christmas season around the corner, it’s time to start gearing up for our most beloved holiday traditions.

From decking the halls and ugly sweaters to elves on shelves, we all have our tried-and-true ways to celebrate the seasons.

As we were putting together The Carol of the Coin, our Christmas book, we thought a lot about where our traditions came from, why we celebrate them, and what we hoped our children would take away from participating in these traditions.

From there, we started to find not only the interesting origins of our own festive celebrations but of a series of inspiring and interesting Christmas traditions from all over the world.

Though we may have some similarities - meals shared between families, the occasional gift exchanged - it’s exciting to see how these powerful shared moments can become so unique to a place.

To get you in the mood for the holiday season - and maybe even to inspire a new tradition of your own - we’re sharing some incredible ways Christmas is celebrated around the world.

How Christmas Is Celebrated In 23 Different Countries

  1. Australia - Given that Australia celebrates Christmas during their summer, a typical Christmas activity is to gather friends and family for a Christmas picnic and Christmas carols by the beach.

  2. Austria - Recently gaining international renown is Krampus, the crueler counterpart to St. Nick. In olden times, it was said he visited towns on December 5th alongside Santa, and while Santa put candies inside the good children’s shoes, Krampus filled the misbehaving children’s footwear with sticks and stone. An annual Krampus parade still takes place in Lienz, Austria.

  3. China - While Christmas may not be China’s most established tradition, there are still some emerging holiday traditions. One way to honor Christmas in China is through an exchanged apple gift basket. These baskets come with colorful paper and a thoughtful note. There are some who say the similar pronunciation of ‘apple’ and ‘Christmas eve’ in Chinese led to the tradition.

  4. El Salvador - In many countries, Christmas lights often stay in the same place. Maybe they twinkle off and on, but they’re largely static. In El Salvador, the celebration goes from fireplace to fireworks as children celebrate with volcancitos (little volcanoes) and estrellitas (little stars). Older kids may even get to launch Roman candles!

  5. England - The 26th of December is called Boxing Day, and it is an official public holiday. Since this tradition originated in Great Britain, many of the British Empire’s former colonies celebrate the day - often thought of as the second day of Christmas - as well. And while this may not technically qualify as a tradition, Americans will be surprised to know that it’s not “Merry Christmas” in the UK, but “Happy Christmas.”

  6. Finland, Norway, and Sweden - Before Christmas Day on December 25th comes St. Lucia Day on December 13th. Named for the woman said to have been one of the first Christian martyrs (by the Romans in 304 AD!), these countries honor her by having the family’s eldest daughter dress up in a white robe, often donning a crown and holding candles. In the particularly dark Scandinavian winters, this celebration of light is even more powerful.

  7. France - On Christmas Eve in France, children will leave their shoes (freshly polished, mind you!) by the chimney in hopes of getting a little something sweet from Père Noël.

  8. Germany - In Germany, the Christmas tree is often put up at the very last possible moment: on Christmas Eve! Still, there are plenty of other decorations put up throughout the season, it’s just the pine or fir tree that waits until the last minute.

  9. Greece - In Greece, the Christmas tree has to share the stage with another holiday icon: the Christmas boat. As part of Karavaki, a Greek tradition where families would either decorate their own boat with lights - or a small model boat, cities in Greece will often have lit-up trees and boats on display.

  10. Greenland - Thinking about popping out to the store to get a last-minute meal for your Christmas in Greenland? For kiviak, you’ll need at least three months to let the 400-500 birds decompose in a seal. That may sound like an intense process (and it is), but at least you’ll know by September that you won’t have to stress your Christmas Day meal prep.
  11. Iceland - Instead of following in the French children’s footsteps, the children in Iceland put their shoes up on the windowsill. Like other countries, Iceland’s celebrations start with midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Plus, instead of just one Santa, they celebrate the 13 Yule Lads, each arriving on the days leading up to Christmas.

    One other note of interest: this is the time of year for Jolabokaflod, or the Icelandic Christmas Book Flood, a result of so many books being published at the same time, making books the most popular Christmas gift (so if you see a gift waiting under the tree for you, odds are you you don’t need to shake it to find out what it is).

  12. India - While not everyone in India may have access to the typical fir or pine Christmas tree, that doesn’t stop them from decorating with the trees they do have. There it’s not uncommon to see banana or mango trees decorated instead.

  13. Italy - As part of the Christmas season, Italians celebrate Epiphany Day, or Three Kings Day, on January 6th. On the day before, they leave out milk and cookies not for Santa Claus, but for La Befana, a witch who flies around on a broomstick (or gets around by boat in Venice), giving coal to naughty children and presents to good ones.

  14. Japan - In Japan, the traditional meal is not goose or fish but chicken - fried chicken, that is! Since the holiday is still a relatively new one, companies like KFC (that released a campaign in 1974 for “Kentucky for Christmas!”) can have a large impact. It’s resulted in one of the restaurant chain’s busiest times of the year.

  15. Mexico - The main Christmas festivities in Mexico begin on the 16th of December as the first of nine posadas takes place. These parties represent Joseph and Mary’s pilgrimage, and are attended by the community, featuring hot food, drinks, and piñatas.

  16. Norway - Norway also gets its own spot on this list with their Christmas tradition of hiding the brooms around their homes. Given their belief that witches and spirits come out Christmas eve looking for brooms to ride on, it’s important to make sure those brooms can’t be found!

  17. The Philippines - In honor of the star of Bethlehem, the Philippines create a star-shaped lantern out of bamboo and paper. These brightly colored lanterns are on sale and on display throughout the country. You can learn more about these Parol Christmas lanterns here.

  18. Slovakia - Christmas dinner in Slovakia often features carp. What makes this special is not the fish itself, but the idea that many families actually keep the carp alive in their bathtub for the days leading up to Christmas dinner. While it may have meant that families didn’t have access to their bathtubs, it’s said that carps bring luck - so it sounds like a worthwhile trade-off!

  19. Spain - Christmas in Spain is partially celebrated with a Christmas service translated as the Mass of the Rooster, in acknowledgement of the rooster that crowed in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. For the kids of Catalonia, Spain, the time leading up to Christmas is all about Caga Tió, the log that poops. In short, kids feed their red-hatted log dried fruit and water till December 24th (while keeping him warm), before smacking him with sticks and wondering at the sweet nougat that comes out. After all the candies are enjoyed, the log (and its sweet face) are burned for warmth.

  20. Switzerland - While in the US advent calendars can be considered more of a shared family treat, in Switzerland it’s common for each kid to have their own calendar - and to even request specific ones like LEGOs or makeup.

  21. Ukraine - Haven’t put your spider decorations away from Halloween? In Ukraine, that’d be perfect as spiders are a part of the Christmas festivities. According to the Legend of the Christmas Spider, spiders once decorated the tree of a hardworking widow and her family with cobwebs that turned to silver and gold. Now, spiders and spider ornaments are considered lucky. 

Between Kentucky Fried Christmas and beating sticks to turn healthy fruits to candy, the range of ways we ring in the holidays around the world is certainly large.

Still, there’s magic in the way these traditions are shared, from the long lines at Japanese KFCs to the Spanish kids grabbing their Caga Tió logs to start the holidays.

There are Christmas spiders, Christmas boats, Christmas creepers, Christmas birds rotting inside Christmas seals, and even Christmas firecrackers.

While we can’t say we’ll be adding all of these to our family’s Decembers (let’s keep the encounters with firecrackers to a minimum, shall we?), there are definitely one or two here that I wouldn’t mind having in the tradition rotation (sign me up for a book flood!).

What about you and your family? What sorts of traditions do you have? Are they ones that you’ve started together or ones that were handed down from your family?

Let us know below!

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