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Christmas Traditions from Around the World – A List

Blinking lights, bright lanterns, exchanging of presents, family reunions, colorful trees, lively carols – these are just a few things that remind us that Christmas is here again. Christmas Day, which happens on December 25, is one of the most celebrated festivals worldwide.

But did you know that despite its popularity globally, Christmas actually has different meanings in different countries? How it is celebrated all depends on the culture and tradition in the country, as well as the religion that is predominantly observed by the citizens.

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What Is Christmas All About?

What is Christmas about

Christmas is considered to be a sacred day by Christians because it’s declared it to be the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, the spiritual leader and central figure of the Christian religion. However, for non-Christians, it has a more secular rather than spiritual significance.

Historically, this period is also associated with certain pagan practices and traditions. For example, the Vikings used to hold their Festival of Light during this time. This festival, which marks the winter solstice, starts on December 21 and runs for 12 consecutive days.  Aside from this, there was also the practice from ancient Germans of honoring the pagan god Odin, and from the ancient Romans of commemorating Mithras’s birth during this time.

At present, while the designated date for Christmas is only for one day, i.e., December 25th, many countries start the festivities weeks or even months prior. For countries with a mostly Christian population, Christmas is a religious and spiritual holiday. Aside from having classes and workplaces suspended during this period, Christians also conduct religious activities to mark the occasion.

On the other hand, non-Christians experience Christmas as more of a commercial activity, where many brands and shops take advantage of the occasion to hype up their products and services. Nevertheless, the celebratory vibe is usually still present, with many families and establishments putting up the lights and decorations that we have come to associate with this event.

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Christmas Celebrations in Different Countries

Regardless of their religious beliefs, people around the world anticipate the season because of the festive and positive atmosphere that is associated with it. Take a look at this quick round-up of some of the most unique traditions in different countries during Christmas:

1. Christmas Apples in China

In addition to the usual festivities, the Chinese celebrate Christmas by exchanging Christmas apples with loved ones. These are just regular apples that are wrapped in colorful cellophane wrappers. Apples have become the standard Christmas greetings due to their pronunciation in Mandarin which sounds similar to “peace” or “Christmas Eve”.

2. Christmas Night Mass in The Philippines

The Philippines is the lone Southeast Asian country that is predominantly Catholic. Thus, aside from being considered one of the major holidays in the nation, Christmas is associated with many religious traditions as well.

One of these traditions is the nine-day night mass that runs from December 16 to December 24. The country is also known to hold the longest Christmas celebration worldwide, which typically begins on September 1 and then ends in January during the Feast of the Three Kings.

3. Edible Christmas Logs in Norway

Yule log cake Norway

In ancient Norse tradition, people used to burn logs for several days to celebrate the winter solstice. This tradition has been carried over to the country’s current observation of Christmas. However, this time their logs are eaten instead of being burned. The edible log is a type of dessert that is created by rolling a sponge cake to resemble a tree trunk, also called the yule log.

4. Chicken Feather Christmas Tree in Indonesia

Despite having a mostly Muslim population, Christmas is still recognized in Indonesia thanks to about 25 million Christians who live there. In Bali, the locals have established a unique custom of making Christmas trees consisting of chicken feathers. These are mainly hand-made by the locals and are then exported to many countries, mostly in Europe.

5. Wearing Roller Skates to Church in Venezuela

Christmas is considered a religious occasion in Venezuela, but the locals have invented a unique way of celebrating this day. In the capital city of Caracas, the residents attend mass wearing roller skates on the day before Christmas. This activity has become quite popular, so much so that the Caracas local government controls the traffic and prevents cars from entering the streets in order to ensure safety on this day.

6. KFC Christmas Dinner in Japan

Instead of serving a Turkey for dinner, a lot of families in Japan take home a chicken bucket from KFC for their Christmas Eve dinner. This is all thanks to a successful marketing campaign that was conducted when the fast-food chain launched in the country way back in the 1970s.

Despite being mostly a non-Christian population, this tradition has continued. Aside from this, young Japanese couples also treat Christmas eve as their version of Valentine’s Day, taking time to go on dates and spend time with their partners.

7. Christmas Camels in Syria

Children often associate Christmas with receiving gifts. Aside from those given by friends and relatives, there’s also the gift from Santa Claus, who would visit their house while riding a sleigh that is being pulled by reindeer.

In Syria, these gifts are delivered by a camel, which according to local folklore, is the youngest camel of the Three Kings in the Bible. Thus, kids would fill their shoes with hay and then leave them by their doorsteps, with the hopes that the camel will drop by to eat and then leave a gift behind in exchange.

8. Little Candles’ Day in Colombia

little candles day

Colombians begin their festivities with Little Candles Day which happens December 7, one day prior to the Feast of the Immaculate Concepcion. On this occasion, Colombia would be practically glowing because residents display numerous candles and paper lanterns on their windows, balconies, and front yards. 

9. Cobweb-filled Christmas Trees in Ukraine

While most Christmas trees would be filled with colorful lights and decorations, the ones in Ukraine would be decorated with glittering cobwebs. This practice is said to have started because of a local folktale. The story talks about spiders that decorated a Christmas tree for a poor widow who was not able to buy festive decorations for her children. Thus, Ukrainians believe that cobwebs bring in blessings to the household.

10. Christmas Sauna in Finland

In Finland, the celebration of Christmas day starts with a trip to a private or public sauna. This tradition aims to cleanse the mind and body before sunset in order to prepare them for what’s ahead. This is because the old Finnish people thought that elves, gnomes, and evil spirits would gather at the sauna when the night falls.  

Wrapping Up

Regardless of where in the world you are, it’s likely that Christmas is celebrated there in one way or another. Most countries have their own Christmas superstitions, myths, traditions, and legends that add a unique flavor to the celebrations.   

For Christians, Christmas holds spiritual significance and is a time to spend with family and friends, whereas for non-Christians, Christmas is a festive holiday, a time to buy gifts for each other, appreciate those around you, and take time off from one’s busy schedule to relax.

Affiliate Disclosures

Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.