The best part of any holiday are the traditions we look forward to year after year. Some may have been passed down from generation to generation – others we may have picked up along the way.
The most universal Christmas traditions include gift giving and enjoying a home cooked meal with family and friends. Families around the globe use online wish lists to make thoughtful gift giving easier, such as Giftster.
What other popular Christmas traditions are practiced around the globe?
Let’s take a look at some beloved holiday traditions…
In the south of France, the tradition of burning a log from Christmas Eve until New Years Day is seen to bring good fortune for the new year.
Filling shoes with gifts & carrots
French children often set out shoes near the fireplace on Christmas Eve for Santa (or Father Christmas / Père Noël as he’s known in France) to fill up with presents. Traditionally, instead of presents, children would find their shoes filled with carrots.
While I think most kids would prefer presents these days – my daughter absolutely loves carrots so who knows – maybe carrots would win out?
Growing up in the Midwest of the U.S., I cannot imagine a Christmas without snow. For some parts of Australia, it’s not uncommon for the temperatures to soar beyond 90 degrees F. Many of their holiday songs and decorations still involve snow even though it’s their summer season.
And no…not the kind by Mattel.
You’ll often find seafood and prawns on holiday menus and dinners being consumed outdoors at an Australian barbecue or barbie as their called down under.
And maybe if you’re lucky you’ll see Santa catching a few waves.
Another warm-weather location – South Africa is not without some unique Christmas traditions. They share many traditions with the United Kingdom.
Like Australia, Christmas is frequently celebrated with a braai (South African barbecue).
In South Africa, a traditional dessert often served for Christmas is Malva or Lekker pudding. It’s a bread pudding (cake-like consistency) with apricot jam and a caramelized exterior.
The word for Christmas in Spanish is Navidad. In Spain there are many exciting Christmas traditions. One of them, El Gordo (translates to “The Fat One“), is the Christmas lottery which is drawn on December 22nd. It is the largest lottery in the world – prizes totaling nearly 2.4 billion in 2019.
In Spain, Santa or Father Christmas is not responsible for delivering gifts to children traditionally. On January 6th, gifts are delivered by the Reyes Magos, the Three Wise Men. These wise men were said to have visited baby Jesus shortly after his birth delivering gifts.
For Three Kings Day, you’ll often find locals enjoying roscón de reyes, a ring shaped cake with pieces of sweet fruit baked into it – a representation of a jeweled crown.
El Caganer – An unusual holiday tradition
Another surprising, and albeit funny tradition seen throughout Spain is the tradition of placing an el caganer in a nativity scene. An el Caganer is a small porcelain figurine squatting with its pants down. It is thought to bring good fortune to those who include it in their nativity scenes.
Caganer translates to “pooper” in Catalan. One theory for the reason the figure is taking a “number two” is to represent fertility through the method of fertilization of farmland. A symbol of good fortune for farmers and their crop yields in the coming year.
A company in Barcelona is solely focused on producing a wide variety of these humorous el caganer figurines.
The Norwegian tradition of enjoying lefse, a soft flatbread made with potatoes and flour, is one I’ve enjoyed partaking in during my own family Christmas celebrations. It’s usually served warm with butter and reminds me of a what I would describe as a warm hug.
Christmas Eve in Norway is when most of the festivities happen, instead of Christmas Day. A julebord or “Christmas party” often includes a special buffet dinner and is frequently held by an employer as an end-of-the-year work party.
Ever wonder where the advent calendar originated? Back during the early 19th-century in Germany, Gerhard Lang has been credited with printing the very first advent calendar. His inspiration came from his mother’s own handmade calendar she made for him. Every day, for the four weeks leading up to Christmas, a small door is opened revealing a small treat or another surprise. You’ll even find elaborate Lego advent calendars to keep kids entertained all month long as they countdown the days until Christmas.
In addition to starting the Christmas tradition of the advent calendar, St. Nicholas Day is widely celebrated in Germany, as well as many other countries around the globe. On the eve of December 5th, children place shoes out to be filled with treats and other small gifts by Saint Nicholas. In the U.S. the tradition may include stockings instead of shoes. On the morning of December 6th, children wake up to find the goodies left for them overnight.
In Eastern countries, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 19th.
I personally celebrate St. Nicholas Day in my own family. I remember my grandmother, who grew up in Georgia, saying her stocking would be filled with oranges from St. Nicholas – a luxury she and her sisters would enjoy but only a few times a year.
On Christmas Day, it’s common to pop open a Christmas cracker or “popper” as they are sometimes called with someone sitting next to you. A cracker is typically a cardboard tube wrapped with holiday wrapping paper and filled with toys, treats, and often a joke. (I might have to try this tradition out this year, it looks like a lot of fun!)
The season of lights
While Christianity isn’t as widely practiced in India, it comes in third, behind Hinduism and Islam. Those who celebrate Christmas describe it as a season of vibrant lights – not unlike many other countries who celebrate. Churches set up brilliant light shows and markets and shops are decorated in paper streamers and flowers.
Nativity scenes are referred to as Christmas cribs in India. A lot of time and energy is spent planning out the crib each year – in fact, some neighbors become quite competitive.
One of the most iconic Christmas movies has a few significant scenes that were filmed in Canada – A Christmas Story. A popular tradition in many places around the world is to watch Christmas films together. Here’s a list of a dozen more Christmas flicks filmed in Canada.
Winter Festival of Lights
Niagara Falls becomes illuminated with over 3 million lights for what’s called the Winter Festival of Lights. This free event includes fireworks and live entertainment.
In Canada, one of the most popular shopping days of the year is the day after Christmas, December 26th – referred to as Boxing Day. Historically, Boxing Day was a day to give gifts to the poor originating in the United Kingdom. It’s celebrated in a variety of ways by other countries including Australia, Scotland, Singapore, and New Zealand.
A universal Christmas tradition
And although those Christmas traditions vary from country to country and household to household, there is one tradition we all have in common. The tradition of spending quality time with those we love.