From the cookies left for Santa to the ornaments hung on the tree, many families have Christmas traditions that have been passed from generation to generation. But if you’re looking for new traditions to start this year, then it may be time to explore some unique Christmas traditions from around the world.
Christmas is one of the world’s most widely celebrated holidays, and holiday happenings go way beyond making gingerbread and drinking eggnog.
Just like each family has their own way of celebrating, each country has its own Christmas traditions, too. From Papai Noel in Brazil to “Little Christmas” in Norway, global celebrations can offer plenty of inspiration for new Christmas traditions for families.
Ready to spend less time waiting in line to see Santa and more time feeling inspired by holiday magic? Then grab some cocoa, put on your Christmas PJs and explore our full list of Christmas traditions by country.
12 Christmas Traditions from Around the World
While the origin of Christmas may be rooted in religion, each country has a unique way of celebrating the occasion. In many cases, each nation also has their own version of the jolly, belly-like-a-bowl-full-of-jelly gift giver we know as Santa Claus.
For a holiday that’s even sweeter than candy canes, let these Christmas traditions from around the world inspire your celebrations this year!
Christmas Traditions of Mexico
In Mexico, Christmas is not a one-day celebration - it’s a whole month full of parties, processions, ceremonies, fireworks and, of course, food! Now that’s a celebration we can get on board with!
Some common U.S. traditions like Santa Claus (Santa Clos in Mexico) have started to become more popular. But most of the Christmas traditions of Mexico are rooted in Spanish culture.
Las posadas are processions held from December 16-24 that re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. Children walk from house to house singing traditional songs and asking homeowners to let them in. Each night ends with a party in a different home - the ultimate season of fiestas!
Unlike many Christmas traditions from around the world, in Mexico children do not typically receive gifts on Christmas Day. Instead, gifts are given after Christmas on January 7, El Dia De Reyes (Three Kings’ Day), to symbolize the gifts given to Jesus.
Christmas Traditions of Germany
Like many other Christmas traditions from around the world, German families celebrate the holiday with gifts brought by a mystery gift giver. In Germany, however, he is referred to as Sankt Nikolaus and delivers goodies on the night of December 5.
Is hanging stockings by the chimney with care feeling a little too traditional? Then give this German tradition a try: children polish their shoes and leave them outside the door before going to sleep. In the morning, they find their shoes filled with candy, small gifts and other treats.
Another popular Christmas tradition from Germany is the famous Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte. Imagine putting all your favorite shopping spots outside with live music, twinkling lights and holiday treats as far as the eye can see, and you’ve got a good picture of German Chhristmas markets. This is one celebration we wouldn’t mind adding to our Christmas traditions list!
Another favorite German Christmas tradition? The Advent calendar! These calendars have roots going back to the early 19th century, when Protestant families in Germany made chalk marks on the walls or lit candles to count down the days until Christmas. Today, Advent calendars are typically filled with chocolates or other small items. Adding a handmade Advent calendar to your holiday celebration is the perfect tradition if you’re already tired of answering “how many days until Santa gets here?!”
Christmas Traditions of Italy
In Italy, children don’t just wake up to stockings filled with treats and presents, they wake up to a cleanly swept floor (the ultimate Christmas miracle)! On January 6, marking the end of the Christmas season, families get a visit from la Befana (the good witch).
La Befana fills stockings with candy for children on the good list and leaves coal for children on the naughty list (sounds a lot like a certain jolly, bearded man we know). But she doesn’t just leave the treats and run - la Befana also cleans up! She sweeps the floors and along with the dust, dirt and cookie crumbs, sweeps away the problems of the year before and lets each family begin the new year with a fresh start.
Another favorite Christmas tradition of Italy, particularly in the northern parts of the country, is Babbo Natale - the Italian version of Santa Claus. So who is Babbo Natale? He’s very much like Santa Claus in the United States, although noticeably trimmer (perhaps because leaving cookies for Babbo Natale is not part of Christmas traditions in Italy). Despite his smaller waist, Babbo Natale fills stockings, leaves gifts and even has a team of reindeer.
Christmas Traditions of France
In France, Advent calendars are an important part of Christmas celebrations. Children open Advent calendar doors each day from December 1 through December 24 to find chocolate and other candy treats. And adults can now enjoy Advent calendars filled with beauty products, candles and other small items (like a nip of cognac, perhaps?).
Among all the Christmas traditions of France, however, none is quite so decadent, delicious and oh-so-français as le Réveillon, a big dinner held on Christmas Eve. The meal often consists of everything from foie gras, oysters and escargots to turkey, the bûche de Noël (or Yule log) as well as other candies, treats and plenty of French wine.
And of course, like many other Christmas traditions from around the world, Christmas would not be complete without the French version of Santa Claus, Père Noël. On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the fireplace filled with carrots and treats for Père Noël’s donkey. Père Noël takes the offerings and leaves presents in their place - traditionally small items like candy, money or toys that will fit in the child’s shoes.
Christmas Traditions of Sweden
In Sweden, one of the biggest days of the Christmas season is actually December 13, or St. Lucia’s Day. The day originated from stories told by monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.
According to the stories, St. Lucia was a young Christian girl who secretly brought food to persecuted Christians in Rome and was eventually killed for her faith. While the tale may be a bit darker than your typical holiday-movie happy ending, it has led to beautiful celebrations throughout Sweden.
Today, the day is celebrated by a girl dressing up as St. Lucia, with a white dress, red sash and a crown of (often real!) candles on her head. Schools often crown their own St. Lucia, while many towns select a girl to play St. Lucia in local celebrations and processions.
And unlike some other Christmas traditions from around the world, presents in Sweden are brought by the Tomte, or Christmas gnomes. And if you’ve ever gone to a Secret Santa party, then you likely have Swedish tradition to thank. Several hundred years ago, there was a tradition to knock on the door of a friend and leave a small gift with a riddle to help the person figure out who the gift giver was.
Christmas Traditions of Poland
If you’re always being surprised by unannounced holiday guests, this next tradition could be a perfect fit! Families in Poland hold a traditional Christmas feast on Christmas Eve, or Wigilia. Before the table is set for dinner, straw or hay is placed under a white tablecloth. An extra place at the table is set for any unexpected visitor.
This tradition is meant as a reminder of how Mary and Joseph were turned away from inns while seeking shelter (but is also perfect for making your great aunt Mary feel like you were expecting her the whole time!).
Like many other Christmas traditions from around the world, Polish families get a visit from a majestically-dressed gift giver. In Poland, this visitor is Święty Mikołaj (Saint Nicholas) who comes not on December 25 but on December 6.
In Poland, Święty Mikołaj arrives as a bishop dressed in bright robes, traveling by foot, horseback or in a sleigh pulled by a white horse. Children write letters to Święty Mikołaj sharing their good behavior and their gift wish lists. But good behavior is not enough to get the gifts they want! If Święty Mikołaj visits in person, he also tests children on their catechism and rewards correct answers with sweet treats.
Christmas Traditions of England
In England and in the United Kingdom, Christmas is a time of many celebrations. From gatherings at the local pub and tables full of Christmas pudding, there are many Christmas traditions from England that are truly unique.
Many British families celebrate the holiday with feasts of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and mince pies - all with plenty of gravy, of course. Picture a Hogwarts feast, without all the magically refilling dishes.
Christmas crackers are often pulled open at the start of the meal, making a loud pop when pulled. Paper hats are found inside and worn throughout the meal. Does your Christmas meal need to be livened up, but without the paper and plastic trash that comes with traditional crackers? Then refillable, reusable Christmas crackers could be a very merry addition to your holiday!
On Christmas Eve, children hang stockings at the foot of their beds to await gifts and treats from Father Christmas, the UK version of Santa Claus. And it wouldn’t be a happy Christmas without watching the Queen’s Christmas Day speech. Every year, this televised address is one of the most watched programs on Christmas Day.
Christmas Traditions of Brazil
Because Brazil is in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is actually a summer holiday! But while it may be time for bathing suits instead of Christmas sweaters, many holiday celebrations are similar to other Christmas traditions from around the world.
Many of Brazil’s holiday festivities take place on Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner is traditionally held at midnight on Christmas Eve, featuring a large chicken or turkey, Brazilian potato salad, chicken salad and white rice. Farofa is another traditional holiday dish, a mix of dried cassava flour with salt, butter, spices and chopped crispy bacon (because everything tastes better with bacon!)
Children in Brazil eagerly await a visit from Papai Noel, their version of Santa Claus. Papai Noel wears a red silk suit to keep cool in the hot Brazilian sun. And children hang stockings by the window so Papai Noel can easily fill them with small gifts - if they’re well behaved, of course!
Christmas Traditions of Norway
If you want to trade in huge family parties for a quieter Christmas at home, then Norway’s holiday traditions could be your solution.
In Norway, traditional Christmas celebrations are preceded by “Little Christmas Eve” on December 23. On this day, many families decorate the Christmas tree, make gingerbread houses and eat hot rice pudding with cinnamon and sugar.
Christmas Eve is the biggest celebration in Norway. In the early evening, Christmas bells ring across the country and Christmas dinners are held in family homes. Presents are opened after dinner and families stay home to spend time with loved ones in front of warm, crackling fireplaces - the ultimate cozy evening!
Unlike many Christmas traditions from around the world, Santa Claus is not the main figure of Christmas celebrations in Sweden. Instead, Swedish families look forward to a visit from Julenisse, a short creature with a long white beard and red hat who delivers small gifts for good children.
Christmas Traditions of The Netherlands
In The Netherlands, holiday presents arrive before Christmas. Children receive gifts from Sinterklaas on December 5, also known as pakjesavond or “presents evening.” Sinterklaas dresses like a Catholic bishop with long white hair and beard and rides a horse instead of a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
Instead of stockings, Dutch children leave out wooden shoes for Sinterklaas to fill with presents and treats. Children often leave carrots, hay or sugar cubes for Sinterklaas’ horse and a poem for Sinterklass himself (a great tradition to try if you’re tired of your kids’ ever-changing wish lists for Santa).
Unlike many other Christmas traditions from around the world, the night that Sinterklaas visits is actually celebrated as a separate holiday from Christmas itself. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in The Netherlands are typically marked with smaller family celebrations and large meals featuring fish, mussels and other local foods - yum!
Christmas Traditions of Ukraine
Ukraine actually celebrates Christmas on January 7, kicking off the celebration on the evening of January 6 with the Sviaty Vechir (or Holy Supper). Children head outdoors to search for the first star of the night. Once it is found, the meal begins.
The Holy Supper traditionally includes 12 dishes, such as mushroom soup, cabbage rolls with rice and stuffed dumplings. A sweet grain porridge called kutia is also served, traditionally handed out to family members individually, from eldest to youngest (it just goes to show that it pays to be older and wiser!).
Like several other Christmas traditions from around the world, Ukraine’s version of Santa Claus delivers presents on Saint Nicholas Day in early December. Svyatyy Mykolay brings gifts to well-behaved children.
Svyatyy Mykolay is a little tougher than Santa Claus though. Instead of leaving a lump of coal behind, he sometimes leaves a switch or willow branch (ouch!) to remind children to be on their best behavior in the year ahead.
Christmas Traditions of Denmark
In Denmark, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, December 24. Typically, families celebrate with an elaborate Christmas meal and open presents late into the night after they finish eating.
Before presents though comes one of the most unique Christmas traditions from around the world: dancing around the Christmas tree. Families join hands and sing Christmas songs while dancing together before sitting down to open their gifts - a real-life version of rockin’ around the Christmas tree.
And who brings the gifts in Denmark's Christmas tradition? In Danish, Santa Claus is known as Julemanden (The Christmas Man - a very no-nonsense description). He is helped out by a group of nisse, mischievous elves that have more in common with the tricky Elf on the Shelf than Santa’s North Pole helpers.
Julemanden arrives on Christmas Eve to distribute gifts. Instead of sneaking in undiscovered, Julemanden is typically played by a family member dressed up in red robes (so it’s not exactly song-worthy if someone sees Mommy kissing Santa Claus).
New Christmas Traditions To Start With Your Family
If these Christmas traditions from around the world have inspired you to start new ways of celebrating with your family, then there’s no better time to start planning! While US traditions of Santa Claus and his magical reindeer may be fairly set in stone, there are plenty of ways to put your own spin on the classics and add a little more holiday cheer to your season.
One of the easiest ways to bring a new tradition into your family is to think of a part of your holiday celebrations that you could do without. One big one? Wrapping paper! No one wants to be up until midnight working harder than Santa’s elves, only to watch that work end up crumpled on the floor hours later.
This year, consider a new Christmas tradition and change out wrapped presents under the tree for a personalized Santa Sack with your child’s name on it. Not only does this help reduce paper waste (and wasted energy!), it also creates a fun tradition your kids will look forward to every year!
Whether Santa leaves the sack behind each year filled with surprises or kids hang their sacks at the same time they’re hanging stockings, this new spin on a classic celebration can help make your family holiday a little more special.
Ready to start your own new Christmas traditions? Learn more about the magic of the Santa Sack tradition from Keepsack Co.