20 Christmas and New Year’s Eve Traditions Around the World
Christmas is almost upon us, our favourite time of the year. Wherever you are from in the world, why not take some time to learn more about Christmas and New Year’s Eve traditions all over the planet? From fun, quirky traditions to more unusual customs, we’ve pulled together a list of interesting Christmas traditions from different countries. See how they compare to your traditions at home or see how many of these you already know! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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Christmas in The Netherlands is much more centered around December 5th rather than the traditional 24th/25th. In the couple of weeks leading up to it, children put one of their shoes by the fire on the Saturday nights before bed, filled with carrots, treats, poems or drawings for ‘Sinterklaas’ and his horse in the hope that they’ll wake up to little gifts in their shoe in return.
A few days before December 5th, people flock to the closest port to welcome Sinterklaas and his ‘Petes’ as he arrives on his boat from Spain! He and his Petes then hand out sweets to those who came to greet him. December 5th is essentially the Christmas Day of the Netherlands, when families all eat together and open presents that arrive on the doorstep in a sack of potatoes.
On New Year’s Day, the Dutch like to take part in the New Year Dive where thousands of people from the Netherlands take to the ice cold sea and lakes wearing orange hats.
As well as having Santa Claus coming to leave presents on the 25th December, the Spanish also have Three Wise Men who come to visit on the 6th January. Little children leave food for the men and water for their camels and in return the Wise Men will leave presents. On the 5th January, the day before the Wise Men visit, a special cake is eaten called El Roscon de Reyes (the cake of the Wise Men) with little presents hidden within the cake - however there is one bad present in the cake and whoever finds it pays for the cake!
On New Year’s Eve, the Spanish wear red underwear for good luck but they have to be a gift from someone otherwise it doesn’t count. On the first 12 seconds of the New Year, the Spanish take 12 grapes and eat one per second to represent luck in the next 12 months.
In England the British custom is to crack Christmas crackers at the dinner table before you start your meal on Christmas Day. Christmas crackers are filled with jokes, small toys or silly gifts, as well as a coloured paper hat that everyone wears for dinner. It’s not a British Christmas without watching the Queen’s Christmas Day speech on TV.
On Boxing Day, some households like to cook Bubble and squeak, a meal that consists of all of the leftovers from the Christmas Dinner the day before. It’s made from brussel sprouts, roast potatoes, parsnips and more, all thrown in the pan and mashed together to eat for an early lunch.
On Christmas Eve, the Norwegians have an unusual tradition of hiding their brooms. They believe this will help to ward off evil based on a legend that witches and bad spirits come out on Christmas Eve to find brooms to ride on. To this today, people hide their brooms in Norway to stop them from being stolen.
If you ever have the chance to visit Spain’s Catalonia region in the lead up to Christmas, you’ll probably notice hundreds of strange logs with little legs, drawn-on faces and Santa hats being sold at markets. These are ‘Caga Tio’, logs that children believe bring them presents if they treat them correctly.
From 8th December until Christmas Eve, each family will give their tio something to ‘eat’ and will lay a blanket over it so it doesn’t catch a chill during the night. If the children keep the log fed and warm, they will be given presents on Christmas Day. However, to ensure they do find their gifts under the blanket on the 25th, they first have to beat the tio with a stick and sing a song!
For 13 days in the lead up to Christmas in Iceland, 13 mischievous trolls, also known as the Yule Lads, wreak harmless havoc across the country! On each of the 13 nights, children leave their favourite pair of shoes by the window, hoping that the Yule Lads will leave them a nice Christmas gift in them during the night, and they won’t get given rotting potatoes for being naughty. The 13 Yule Lads all wear real traditional Icelandic outfits, and each of them cause mischief in their own, jokey way!
Christmas in Australia is all sun, sea and sand. Drinks on the beach and chilling by the pool is how the Aussies spend Christmas Day. Santa often pays a visit to the beach, arriving in style on a boat, handing out sweets to the kids. They drink stubbies and grill shrimp and seafood on the barbecue on Christmas as well as eating cold meats. Backyard cricket is a popular Christmas game to play during the day.
Every year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the people of the Philippines hold a Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando, an area known as the Capital of Christmas in the Philippines. People from all over the country come to experience it. Eleven different villages take part in the festival to see who can build the most extravagant giant lantern which are illuminated with lights.
In Austria, there is quite a scary Christmas tradition known as Krampus, a beast-like demon character who roams the city scaring naughty children. The Krampus character is meant to be St Nicholas’ evil accomplice. Sometimes men dress up at Krampus on the eve of St Nicholas.
An advent wreath is put on the dining room table on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The wreaths have four large candles on them and each one is lit every Sunday. In some German households, the Christmas tree is not revealed until Christmas Eve.
December 5th is also an important day in Germany; it marks St Nicholas’ Day, a very exciting day for the kids during the Christmas period. Children leave freshly polished boots outside of the bedroom door before bedtime. The say St Nicholas and his assistant will visit their homes overnight and leave presents in their boots for them to open the next morning.
Krampus is also a tradition in Germany.
On Christmas day, the French eat foie gras and seafood with their Christmas meals; their main Christmas meal is called Réveillon. A lot of people however still go for turkey as it’s seen as being more traditional festive food (it’s just not considered to be very French). Yule logs are also burned in French homes.
While other countries decorate their Christmas tree with lights and pretty hanging ornaments, in Ukraine they decorate with spiders’ webs (fake, of course). The tradition derives from a myth about a poor widow who was unable to afford Christmas tree decorations. Spiders around her house spun shimmering webs around the tree as they felt sorry for her and her children, to which they all woke up to an incredible, shining tree on Christmas Day. Ukrainians also believe that spiders webs bring good luck.
The Danish celebrate Christmas on the 24th December (Christmas Eve) rather than Christmas Day. A popular tradition in Denmark is to walk around the Christmas tree at home and sing Christmas carols. They will also eat their big meal of Christmas Eve and open all of their Christmas presents.
A Christmas meal in Denmark will usually involve pork, sausages, salamis, duck, brown caramelised potatoes, red cabbage and golden potatoes. Risalamande is the Christmas dessert, similar to rice pudding but mixed with whipped cream and vanilla. If you are the lucky person to find the almond hidden in the risalamande, then you receive a gift!
On Christmas Day, it’s been tradition for Venezuelans in Caracas to roller skate to church instead of walk! However nowadays this tradition happens a lot less. Venezuelans will eat hallaca on Christmas Day, a dish similar to a Mexican tamale. On New Year’s Eve, 12 grapes are eaten where you make a wish for each grape you eat. People also put rice or money in their pockets before midnight on NYE in hope to have an abundant, wealthy New Year.
The Japanese don’t tend to celebrate Christmas, however one tradition that is pretty nationwide is getting a KFC takeaway for lunch on the 25th. In Japan, if you don’t preorder your chicken weeks in advance, you’ll have to suck it up and wait in line at the nearest store, sometimes for hours!
While the Chinese don’t necessarily celebrate Christmas, if you visit China during the Christmas period there will be lavish decorations around the big cities ahead of Christmas and they will remain lit up all the way up to Chinese New Year, the main celebration in China.
United States of America
Christmas in America is exactly like the movies make out - full of parties, crazy decorations, gingerbread houses and delicious festive food. The States go so wild with their Christmas lights, that they’ve even made an annual TV show out of it called The Great Christmas Light Fight, with families all over the country decorating their houses like mad with lights to get the win! You wouldn’t believe some of the displays they create… It literally stops traffic.
On the Christmas dinner tables of Polish families, it’s traditional to serve 12 different dishes and everyone must try each one in order for the next year to be fulfilling. The number 12 is due to the number of months in the year and the number of apostles.
In Portugal, a fun Christmas tradition involves a special festive cake which is eaten called ‘’Bolo Rei”. Inside the cake there's one trinket inside and whoever finds it "wins". In some Portuguese homes a fava bean is hidden inside the cake and whoever eats the slice that contains the bean, that person has to bake or buy next year’s cake.
Christmas in Sweden is celebrated on Christmas Eve, when Santa (usually a dressed up neighbour) will come round in the evening and deliver the gifts along with a rhyme. In the morning they’ll eat rice pudding for breakfast, followed by a delicious buffet of ham, stockfish, pickled herring and meatballs for lunch and gingerbread and mulled wine in the afternoon.
Want more? Check out the Best Christmas Markets in London for 2018
Article by Shereen Sagoo and Darcy King