Have you ever wondered how people celebrate Christmas around the world? Although it is one of the biggest international celebrations, Christmas traditions around the world vary considerably. From the US, to South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, let’s take a journey to explore the different traditions & Christmas celebrations around the world.
15 Christmas Traditions Around the World
Discover how Christmas celebrations vary across the globe. Find below examples of how 15 countries celebrate Christmas around the world.
Kicking off our Christmas around the world list, let’s start with Italy. Christmas in Italy is celebrated from early December until the Epiphany in January.
Italian Christmas traditions start on the 8th December which is when most Italians put up their Christmas tree. Families create the “Presepe” at home, the crib scene telling the story of Mary and Jesus. In most towns, there will be a larger Presepe set up in the centre square for people to visit.
Throughout December children and families head out singing Christmas carols, and on Christmas Eve there is the midnight mass.
Food in Italy is everything. Italians generally avoid meat on Christmas eve, instead having a meal which includes fish. Christmas day lunch and dinner is usually multiple courses and dishes depending on the region including different meats, pastas, and of cours Panettone (sweet Italian bread) and “Torrone (a nutty sweet).
Christmas celebrations finish when “la befana” arrives on 6th January, the day of Epiphany to deliver sweets for children.
The end of November brings in the Christmas spirit in Norway and is the beginning of Advent. Norwegian Christmas is a culmination of Christian traditions, old pagan traditions, and Jewish Hannukah. The festivities last until New Year’s Eve.
Pre-Christmas festivities or julebord are celebrated by friends and colleagues at restaurants, clubs, or pubs, which make for an exciting nightlife in the city. Every city and town is decorated with lights, Christmas trees, and julenisser, which are little Christmas gnomes.
Christmas eve is the primary event in the Norwegian Christmas celebration. The streets are quiet, and most restaurants and pubs are closed. Families and friends gather to feast on hot rice pudding, marzipan, ribbe, pinnekjøtt, cod, ham, pepperkake, and gløgg. Then, they exchange presents after dinner.
Between the 25th of December until New Year’s Eve, folks spend their time with friends, family, or neighbors having brunches or dinners, and exchanging more presents.
The countdown to Christmas is marked by traditional advent wreaths that feature four candles to be lit each Sunday with the final candle lit on Christmas Eve, or szent-este.
The 6th of December is the eve of St. Nicholas Feast Day. That night, children who leave boots on their window sills are visited by St. Nicholas, or Mikulás, who leaves presents for the children. Hungarians also celebrate Luca Day on the 13th of December marking Hungary’s annual Winter Solstice.
The holiday season in Hungary lasts until New Year’s Day. Throughout this time, folks go house to house to sing carols, and they gather at Christmas markets.
Christmas Eve, also referred to as Holy Evening in Hungary, is very important. Christmas trees are traditionally decorated on this day by just the parents or other family members, while the children go out for a walk with their grandparents. The family surprises the children with a beautifully adorned Christmas tree with shiny glass ornaments, handmade decor, or szaloncukor, a fondant chocolate treat wrapped in colorful foil.
After decorating the tree, the Christmas eve dinner typically follows and consists of Halászlé, which is a spicy fish soup, stuffed cabbage, and poppy seed desserts. Gingerbread is also a typical Christmas treat. After dinner, most Hungarians go to Church or to the Midnight Mass.
Advent in Switzerland traditionally begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve, and celebrations last until the first week of January. Real advent calendars even happen in some villages where different houses decorate an Advent Window and host a party for the villagers in the evening.
Depending on the region, the exchanging of gifts might occur on the 25th of December, 1st of January, or the 6th of January. The 6th of December, also known as Samichlaus Abend or Santa Night, marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
Along with Christmas markets, big light displays, carol singing, and parades are among the traditions that keep the towns and cities abuzz during the holiday season. The clanging of bells, glowing candles, decorated Christmas trees, which are freshly cut on Christmas Eve, add to the festive mood of the season. Christmas Day also commences the winter sports season. Many folks flock to the mountains or ski resorts to ski, ice skate, toboggan, or bobsled.
On Christmas Eve, just before gathering around the Christmas tree to sing songs or hymns, families enjoy Christmas ham, scalloped potatoes, fondue, walnut cake, and Christmas cookies for a sumptuous Christmas dinner.
Many families subsequently read the nativity story from the Bible, or attend the Midnight Mass. Then, they end their night with hot chocolate and ringli, which are huge homemade donuts.
As soon as December arrives, you can smell Christmas in the air in Greece. Houses are decorated and Christmas treats are being baked in kitchens. Officially, Christmas is celebrated for 14 days beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on January 6th, or Epiphany.
January 6th in Greece is a feast day, which celebrates the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. Following the Divine Liturgy, priests toss a cross into the sea and men dive into the water to recover it.
Though many people decorate Christmas trees, it was traditionally more common to decorate a small boat in Greece than a tree. On Christmas Eve, kids can be found singing carols, and playing drums and triangles in the streets. Attending Midnight Mass Service is also one of the most important traditions for most Greeks.
Pork is traditionally the star on a Greek Christmas table. Other staples are Christopsomo (Christ bread), lamb, spinach and cheese pie, melomakarona (honey cookies), and kourabiedes (sugar-coated butter cookies). On New Year’s Eve, families gather to have a big meal and play games. A special cake called Vasilopita, commonly served on New Year’s Day also known as St. Basil’s Day, has a coin cooked inside of it and whoever has that coin in their slice of cake is believed to be lucky for the year.
Christmas in Brazil is celebrated in December, but instead of freezing temperatures and abundance of snow, it’s in the middle of the summer. The main Christmas celebration takes place on Christmas Eve. The diverse population in Brazil contributes to the multicultural traditions and Christmas meals prepped during the season.
Presépio, or Nativity Scenes, can be found in every church and home all throughout December. Most people attend the Midnight Mass service or Missa do Galo, typically followed by big firework displays and an electric light display shaped like a big Christmas tree especially in populated towns and cities.
Papai Noel or Santa Claus exchanges socks he finds that children leave by the window for a present. And in the spirit of this gift-giving, many Brazilians take part in Secret Santa, which is when people anonymously give small gifts throughout December and they reveal who they are on Christmas Day.
Brazilians typically spend Christmas with their families and relatives. They decorate their homes with a traditional Christmas tree, Christmas lights, tinsel, and ornaments. Christmas-patterned tablecloths cover their dinner tables, which will then be lined with their favorite Christmas dishes such as turkey, ham, potato salads, rice, stollen, and panettone.
Australians also celebrate Christmas in the middle of Summer so, just like in Brazil, it is usually quite warm. Carol’s by Candlelight is a popular tradition on Christmas Eve where families celebrate by singing carols either by attending one of the many events in the big cities where big performers sing, or watching it at home on TV where it is broadcasted.
Children leave milk and cookies (or sometimes even beer) for Santa Clause by the Christmas tree for him to have when he delivers the presents that evening and are usually in bed early. (So that the parents can then fill the tree with presents).
Christmas Day for Australians is usually spent with a meal with extended family exchanging gifts. Although tourists usually head to the beach.
Aussies love having a barbeque or eating cold ham, turkey, or seafood. The table settings almost always include a Christmas cracker (bon-bon) for each person which is a wrapped up cardboard tube with a prize inside. During the meal, you and the person next to you pull each end and the lucky person holding the longest end wins the prize.
In the Philippines, the formal and religious celebrations begin on the 16th of December when a big part of the population attend the first late night or pre-dawn Catholic mass. Filipinos attend all nine masses every day until the 25th, and the Christmas celebrations continue until the first Sunday of January when people celebrate Epiphany.
The informal Christmas celebrations, which the whole country celebrates and participates in, begin in September. Families hang up parol, a star-shaped Christmas lantern traditionally made out of bamboo and colorful paper in varying styles and sizes. Folks, young and old, gather in small groups and go door-to-door to sing Christmas carols. Churches and houses everywhere set up a belen (the nativity scene).
Throughout the -ber months (September to December), Filipinos indulge in Christmas treats like puto bumbong and bibingka, which are different types of rice cakes. Many Filipinos stay awake all night on Christmas eve to welcome Christmas day with Noche Buena, a lavish feast of lechon, hamon, and queso de bola are among the menu items. Another lavish midnight feast, Media Noche, is celebrated on New Year’s Eve; this time, with food formed into round shapes.
South Africa is another country who celebrate Christmas in the middle of Summer. Throughout the month of December, people decorate with Christmas trees and pine branches, sing carols, enjoy outdoor activities, or flock to the countryside. The vitality of the outdoors is reflected on the happy mood of the people.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are spent attending church services, singing carols, dressing in native African or Western attire, and exchanging presents. Families and neighbors gather for a carnival-like celebration of singing, dancing, and feasting. Because the weather is beautiful, many, if not all people, gather outside for games and evening fireworks.
Mince pies, suckling pig, roast beef, duck, and/or turkey are among the Christmas meal favorites, along with Christmas pudding. There’s also yellow rice, vegetables, fufu, okra soup, porridge, and biscuits. If it’s especially hot outside, some people might even have braai (barbecue).
Mexico celebrates Christmas from December 12th, also known as Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, to January 6th, which is Three Kings Day. During this time, elaborate nativity scenes are performed, Spanish Christmas carols are sung, there are candle-lit processions, dancing, and fireworks displays. The Spanish colonialism in the 16th century heavily influenced the indigenous culture and inevitably its Christmas celebrations.
Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe attracts Mexican pilgrims countrywide to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. After the pilgrimage, fireworks are set off, while parades fill the street and everyone relishes live musical performances. During the next couple of weeks, processions that re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter take place all over the country. These processions end with a fiesta at different houses each night, and folks indulge in an abundance of tasty food, drinks, and piñatas.
On Christmas Eve or Noche Buena, families attend midnight mass followed by a delectable dinner. Food is indispensable in Mexican Christmas celebrations. Tamales, bacalao, buñuelos, pozole, ensalada de nochebuena, ponche navideño are among the traditional dishes served during Christmas gatherings.
With only about one percent of the population being Christians, Christmas in China is often only celebrated in big cities, and typically in a non-religious way. Christmas trees, lights, and decorations line the streets and many department stores starting in late November. It’s not unheard of to find leftover Christmas decor in February or hear Christmas music in July.
China’s Christians head to church for services on Christmas Eve, when the choir and the congregation puts on drama and dance performances. They also sing carols, though rarely on the streets, rather in their homes. A number of people also put up a plastic Christmas tree adorned with paper chains, paper lanterns, or paper flowers.
Exchanging gifts is not traditional, though an apple giving tradition has increasingly been more popular. The Ping in Ping’an Ye or apple sounds the same as “peace” in Mandarin, so apples are sold with messages such as ‘love,’ ‘love hearts,’ and ‘peace’ printed on its skin, and people give and eat them on Christmas eve. Some typical Christmas foods are difficult to find in China such as Christmas puddings, turkeys, or brussel sprouts.
Christmas in Egypt is celebrated on the 7th of January, and only about 15% of the population who are Christians celebrate it religiously. Many of these Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. On Coptic Christmas Eve, Coptic Christians attend a service that begins at 9:00pm, and can last until 4:00am.
From November 25th to January 6th, Coptic Orthodox Christians eat a vegan diet, which is referred to as The Holy Nativity Fast. After the Christmas service, people break their fast and eat a big Christmas meal. One of the popular dishes is fattah, which is spiced lamb or beef served over rice with toasted pita, and garlicky tomato sauce.
Though most of the Egyptian population isn’t Christian, many people still enjoy celebrating Christmas as a secular holiday. Christmas trees, food, and decorations can be found in major supermarkets. The streets, hotels, and parks are generally decorated for Christmas as well.
With only about 1% of the population in Japan is Christian, Christmas is not considered a national holiday. However, Christmas is still in the air and celebrated all over the country! Christmas decorations, incredible lights display, and Christmas markets are abound.
Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day, and couples deem this as the most romantic day of the year. People get together with friends and celebrate with fun parties; while New Year’s is the time when families visit the temple, and gather for food and drinks.
From mid-November until Valentine’s Day, you will find seasonal festive light displays all over Japan. These illuminations are exceptionally beautiful and will put any Scrooges in the mood for Christmas right away. People also flock to Tokyo Disneyland between the second week of November until December 25th to enjoy a Disney-style Christmas celebration with parades and decorations.
Kurisumasu keki, the Japanese Christmas cake, is sold on every street corner. The biggest holiday meal in Japan is ordered from Kentucky Fried Chicken, and people place their orders six weeks in advance due to its popularity.
In Pakistan, Christmas is on the 25th of December and is a public holiday celebrated by about five million Christians. A big, long parade takes place that lasts a few hours from St. Anthony’s Church to the Cathedral. Once at the Cathedral, services will begin. Spiritual meetings and seminars are conducted throughout the days leading up to Christmas.
During the last week of advent, carollers go from house to house to sing in towns and villages. In areas that are predominantly Christian, the streets and houses are decorated with Christmas lights. Many houses also have a star on the roofs.
A vigil or midnight mass is held on Christmas Eve that draws a big crowd followed by music, dancing, and fireworks. People also exchange presents. On Christmas Day, Christian Pakistanis attend church service dressed in their best clothing. After the service, people celebrate with Christmas cakes, chicken or beef curry, rice, and a sweet dish.
Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russians weren’t allowed to publicly celebrate Christmas. After the collapse, Russians became progressively religious, particularly Russian Orthodoxy, which adheres to the Julian calendar.
Because of this, Christmas is generally celebrated on the 7th of January. Nevertheless, New Year’s Day is often regarded as the most important holiday. And because the Julian calendar is thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar, it is not unusual for Russians to celebrate two Christmases and two New Year’s: December 25th and January 7th, January 1st and January 14th.
Russians cover their tables and floors with hay to symbolize Jesus in a manger, and then they lay out a white tablecloth to represent the clothes Jesus was swaddled in. During the holiday season, some people fast, and when the first star appears in the sky on Christmas Eve, that’s when the fast is broken. Members of the Orthodox church attend a Christmas church service.
The Christmas Eve meal is typically meatless, and often consisting of twelve dishes, which represents the twelve apostles. Kutya, a honey-sweetened dish with grains and poppy seeds, is one of these dishes along with borscht or solyanka. The Christmas Day meal is another feast of a meal with roast pork, goose, Pirog, Pelmeni, fruit pies, gingerbread, Pryaniki, fresh and dried fruit, and nuts.
Christmas Around the World
It’s remarkable to think how wide and diverse our world is, and how people in different countries celebrate holidays such as Christmas around the world.
Sure, each country has its own Christmas festivities and traditions around the world, but you will find that the simple things like spending time with loved ones, strong community ties, delectable food, and the spirit of giving are among the things many around the world have in common.
And no matter what your religious affiliation is, holidays like Christmas brings people together!
Did we miss where you are from? Feel free to contact us by email and let us know of other Christmas around the world traditions.