Regardless of where you are celebrating Christmas, you can incorporate culture, travel and Christmas traditions around the world into your holiday festivities.
With these unique Christmas traditions around the world, funny Christmas traditions around the world, Christian Christmas traditions around the world and more, you’ll have endless cultural Christmas activities to choose from.
Christians, how inspiring is it to see people across the globe — even in countries where Christianity isn’t the predominant religion — celebrating the birth of Jesus?
Let’s dive in.
Unique Christmas Traditions Around The World
1. Iceland: The Christmas Book Flood
Book lovers, you’re going to love this first international Christmas tradition.
In Iceland each year on Christmas Eve, family members will exchange books instead of other material gifts. Afterward, they spend Christmas Eve reading their new books and delighting in chocolate treats.
This tradition is known as Jolabokaflod, which literally translates to the Christmas book flood.
2. East Africa: Giving Birthday Presents To Jesus
As opposed to exchanging gifts with each other, the people of East Africa, namely Kenya and Uganda, gather nearby simple natural resources, such as rocks or leaves, and present them to Jesus as gifts for his birthday.
Furthermore, thanks to the religious epicenter of these cultures, the most common gift to give a loved one isn’t a new toy or stocking stuffer. It’s a new set of church clothes.
3. Mexico: Symbolizing Purity With Poinsettia
Believe it or not, the poinsettia’s position in Christmas tradition originated with the Aztecs, an indigenous people group of Mexico.
To the Aztecs, the bright red color that poinsettias possess is symbolic of purity, which appropriately transitioned to the Americas’ favorite Christmas flower when celebrating the birth and purity of Jesus.
4. Costa Rica: Orchids All Around
Alternatively, instead of placing a poinsettia in your home this holiday season, you can experience this simple Costa Rican tradition.
In Costa Rica, the country’s Christmas flower of choice is not a poinsettia, but an orchid.
5. Finland: Hidden Almond Porridge
This Christmas Day, have porridge (traditionally made with rice, milk, cinnamon and butter) for breakfast and hide an almond in one of the porridge dishes. Whichever family member finds the almond wins this unique Finish Christmas tradition.
6. Ireland: Welcoming Red Candles In Windows
Or, if you’d prefer to indulge in Irish tradition, decorate your front window with a tall red candle.
In Ireland, this tall red candle is a welcoming symbol of warmth, protection and shelter for the cold winter.
7. New Zealand: The Pohutukawa Tree
Instead of the evergreen trees we see sprinkled around the Western hemisphere inside every home, New Zealand homeowners celebrate around a pohutukawa tree.
In fact, the pohutukawa is so readily recognized as the Christmas tree of New Zealand that, there, the tree is pictured on greeting cards, displayed on decorations and sung about in New Zealand carols.
Naturally, the pohutukawa is native to New Zealand. It boasts beautiful Christmassy colors with its unique green foliage and bright red flowers.
8. Sweden: The Yule Goat
This Christmas traditions around the world list wouldn’t be complete without highlighting Sweden’s famous yule goat.
Dating back to the 11th century, the Swedish yule goat has taken various forms: giant city-center statues, Christmas tree ornaments, costumes, home decor figurines and more.
Traditionally, the yule goats are made of straw as a sign of remembrance to Jesus’s manger.
9. Greece: Mistletoe Marriage
“Kiss me under the mistletoe” takes on a stronger meaning in Greece.
According to Greek tradition, if you kiss someone underneath a mistletoe, you are subtly promising that you will marry that person.
So, if you’re in the market for a spouse this Christmas, kiss them under the mistletoe with this unique Christmas tradition in mind.
Funny Christmas Traditions Around The World
1. Germany: Find The Pickle
Now, you may or may not have heard of this German tradition. Some families in the United States also practice this tradition each year. The tradition? Finding the pickle.
Essentially, every year, German households hide a single pickle ornament somewhere on their Christmas tree. The first person to find the pickle gets a bonus Christmas present.
2. Japan: Christmas Kentucky Fried Chicken
Surprisingly, even though Japan does not recognize Christmas as a national holiday, as only 1.5% of the Japanese population is Christian, this tradition still carries out vastly throughout the country: getting KFC on Christmas Day.
And, if you’re thinking this tradition is probably carried out by a Japanese minority, you’re sorely mistaken. In reality, some residents order their “Kentucky for Christmas” boxes months before Christmas, while others wait in line for hours the day of.
If you’re craving some good ole Kentucky Fried Chicken or simply don’t feel like cooking this Christmas, bring your family to KFC to celebrate in Japanese fashion.
3. Sweden: Christmas Day Donald Duck
Additionally, over 40% of Sweden’s population tune in to watch Donald Duck’s Christmas special, “From All Of Us To You” otherwise known as “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas” in Swedish, every single Christmas.
In fact, the entire Christmas Day itinerary of these practitioners is revolved around the 1958 Christmas special so that no one in the families miss it.
So, if you want to involve your family in a sweet Swedish tradition, go ahead a turn on Donald Duck this Christmas.
Christian Christmas Traditions Around The World
1. Peru: A Manger In Place Of A Tree
Instead of placing gifts under the tree, Peruvians place gifts around the manger of their central Christmas decoration, the “pesebre.”
Basically, the “pesebre” is a nativity scene that is typically carved from wood or stone.
Each year, families chose one member to place the figurine of Jesus into his manger. This person is considered lucky.
2. Spain: Roscon De Reyes
Speaking of figurines, every year, the Spanish hide a figurine of baby Jesus inside their “roscon de reyes,” commonly known in English as a king cake, to celebrate Three Kings Day, an honorary day for the three wise men of the Bible.
Whoever gets the lucky slice with the Jesus figurine is given the task to buy next year’s cake.
3. Brazil: Gifts From The Magi On Three Kings Day
Also on Three Kings Day, kids in Brazil receive presents from the magi, or the three wise men, just as Jesus did on the night of his birth.
4. Austria: Marking The Three Wise Men’s Initials
Furthermore, yet another tradition involving the three wise men takes places over in Austria. There, farmers write in the initials of the three wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, on top of their stable doors.
5. Poland: Waiting To Eat Dinner
Nearby, in Poland on Christmas Eve, families wait to have dinner until the first star comes out at night. This waiting period is meant to symbolize the appearance of the star of Bethlehem.
Moreover, before dinner, the Polish eat a flavorless Christmas wafer named the oplatek, which usually comes in the shape of a star or the Nativity scene, as they wish each other a Merry Christmas.
Lastly, another unique Polish Christmas tradition you can easily implement at home is to purposely set an extra place out on the table, just in case a guest should show up unannounced.
6. Ukraine: 12 Courses For 12 Apostles
As for Ukrainian Christmas dinners, families in Ukraine traditionally serve a whopping 12 full courses on Christmas. Each of the courses represents one of the 12 apostles.
7. Germany: Advent Wreath
Although door hanging wreaths are popular here in the US, advent wreaths, such as the wreaths used in Germany, are a less common and easy way to incorporate cultural experiences into your Christmas this year.
The traditional German advent wreath has four taper candle holders on the wreath to be lit on the four weeks before Christmas, as well as an open center for a larger, often white, candle to be lit on Christmas.
Whenever the family members light a candle, they usually celebrate with good food, good beverages, prayer and Christmas songs.
8. Philippines: Christmas Lanterns
On the contrary, in the Philippines, celebrators adorn their homes and cities with elaborate parols, colorful Christmas lanterns traditionally built from bamboo and paper.
Normally, the lanterns depict a star to resemble the star of Bethlehem.
These lanterns light up the entirety of the Philippines, especially in the city of San Fernando where the Giant Lantern Festival takes place.
9. Portugal: Midnight Mass
Next, in the Portuguese speaking countries of Portugal and Brazil, Christmas festivities begin late at night, usually around 10:00 p.m., with dinner and a gift exchange followed by midnight mass.
Midnight mass, also known as Missa Do Galo, or Rooster Mass, is essentially the Portuguese equivalent of a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service, but, as the name suggests, it’s held at midnight. Furthermore, after mass, neighbors often light up the night sky with fireworks to further celebrate.
Although your church may not offer midnight mass on Christmas, you could replicate this Portuguese tradition at home by streaming a Christmas sermon on YouTube at midnight.
10. Switzerland: DIY Advent Calendars
Moreover, as opposed to buying a cheap-chocolate advent calendar every year, families in Switzerland make their own advent calendars.
Just like store-bought advent calendars, Swiss DIY advent calendars hold fun gifts to open each day of December leading up to Christmas Eve, which is when the biggest gift is revealed.
Strange Christmas Traditions Around The World
1. Greenland: Snacking On Seals And Sea Birds
Finally, let’s dive into some strange Christmas traditions around the world, starting with a feast of seals.
In Greenland, the yearly Christmas dinner of choice isn’t turkey, cranberries or pie. It’s hollowed seal stuffed with sea birds.
Unsurprisingly, between the extensive fermentation process, the hollowing of the seal hide and the stuffing of the hide with around 500 full-feather sea birds, the dish takes a long seven months to prepare.
2. South Africa: Deep-Fried Caterpillars
Alternatively, if you can’t get your hands on seal at home, try deep-fried Emperor Moth caterpillars, the local Christmas delicacy of choice in South Africa.
3. Germany: Dyed Goose Feathers
Or, if you’d prefer to opt out of the strange food Christmas traditions (I’m right there with you), here’s another strange Christmas tradition for you to recreate: crafting a fake Christmas tree out of dyed feathers.
Back in the day, Germans designed the prototype artificial Christmas tree by dying goose feathers and stacking them into the shape of an evergreen tree.
This could make a great kid-friendly Christmas tradition activity.
4. Poland: Spider Webs As Christmas Tree Decorations
Furthermore, in Poland, many residents decorate their Christmas trees with — yes, that’s right — spider webs.
According to Polish legend, a spider wove a blanket for baby Jesus on the night of his nativity. So, to honor the legend, you can find many trees adorned in webs in this country.
5. Spain: The Pooping Log
Stranger yet, the Spanish have a wacky Christmas tradition that involves a child-crafted log with wooden legs, clothes, a region-specific Catalan hat, and a face. This log is nicknamed Caga Tio, which roughly translates to pooping log.
After building the pooping log, kids feed it small bites of food each day leading up to Christmas. Come Christmas, they hit the pooping log like a piñata in hopes that the log will poop out candy for them.
6. Mexico: Ravishing Radishes
Last, but certainly not least, December 23rd is known as The Night Of The Radishes in Oaxaca, Mexico, thanks to this bizarre Christmas tradition.
On this night, each year, residents compete to carve the best nativity scenes into large radishes. These carvings are then displayed in the town Christmas markets.
Would you attempt to carve the nativity into a radish?
Which of these Christmas traditions around the world are you going to try this year? Let me know in the reply section below!
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