Eighteen Christmas Traditions Around the World

Paige Geis Bradshaw

Honey ham for Christmas dinner, gingerbread men in gingerbread houses, stockings hung by the chimney with care—no matter where you live, your family has Christmas traditions of their own!

While many Christmas traditions are universal, there are many rooted in cultural tales and historical events.

Check out these eighteen Christmas traditions around the world, then try a few with your family this year!


If you’ve seen the popular horror film, Krampus, you may already know about this tradition!

On the eve of December 6th—known as Saint Nicholas Day—legend has it that a hairy creature with fangs and horns would roam the city streets on the hunt for naughty children. This creature, called Krampus, would supposedly collect the naughty children in a basket and return to the underworld with them in tow.

Today, Krampus Night—called Krampusnacht—is celebrated with parades of people dressed like devils chasing naughty children in circles. Now that’s an unusual way to celebrate the season!


Introduced by Scottish migrants who began calling Barbados “home” in the seventeenth century, “Jug Jug” is a traditional holiday dish inspired by the Scottish “haggis.” This unique meal includes pigeon peas, herbs, salted meat, and guinea corn flour.

Great Cake,” a cake made with dried fruits, spices, and liquor, is served with “Jug Jug” and a baked ham to celebrate the holiday season!


The classic Christmas rock song, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” takes on a whole new meaning in Denmark! After a hearty holiday feast, Danish families will dance in a circle around the Christmas tree while singing traditional hymns and carols.

El Salvador

Christmas isn’t complete without a sparkling display of fireworks in El Salvador! Starting at sunset on Christmas Eve, fireworks can be seen all across the sky.

Children will play in the streets with sparklers until the clock strikes midnight—when the really big and booming lights scatter throughout the sky!


No Christmas dinner is served without a delicious dessert! “Christmas Stollen”—known as “Christstollen” in Germany—is a festive fruit bread full of dried or candied fruits, spices, and nuts. Complete with a sweet, powdered sugar coating on the outside, the loaf is often topped off with a ridge down the middle and tapered edges to signify baby Jesus in swaddling clothes.


Akin to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” tune, Icelandic children line up their shoes in their bedroom windows every night for the thirteen nights before Christmas. At some point during every night, one of the thirteen Yule Lads will visit—each one making a stop by the time Christmas comes.

Depending on whether a child was naughty or nice that year, they’ll get either sweet treats and trinkets or a rotten potato in their shoes. (Coal doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?)


In Ireland, lighting a candle behind a window has multiple meanings during the yuletide season. These candles may indicate the following:

  • A sign that anyone is welcome in the household’s holiday festivities. Friend or stranger, no one should be left alone on Christmas!
  • A signal to Catholic priests that the family would like him to join them for Christmas mass in their home.
  • A silent prayer to remember lost ancestors and family who immigrated to the United States.


Christmas isn’t over on December 26th for children in Italy! On January 6th, Italian children look forward to a visit from La Befana. Translating to “the good witch,” this happy holiday visitor fills the stockings of “good” children with candy and presents.

It’s also rumored that La Befana is a fantastic housekeeper! Before her departure, she’ll sweep the floor to rid any leftover dirt the family may have missed over the year.

(When can she come to my house?)


Back in 1974, KFC—the well-known American fast food chain—launched a successful global campaign called “Kentucky for Christmas.” The campaign offered a somewhat-traditional American Christmas meal for Japanese families, which included chicken and a bottle of wine.

This meal is still available every Christmas in Japan, and families pre-order their KFC Christmas meals months in advance! Every year, the KFC chicken bucket comes in a collectable festive design.

Today, KFC’s exclusive Christmas menu includes locally sourced roasted chicken stuffed with cheese and mushrooms. Delicious!


Between December 16th and 24th, Christmas celebrations take place in “posadas” across Mexico. These “posadas,” or inns and other lodgings, represent Joseph’s and the Virgin Mary’s search for a place to stay the night Jesus was born.

Mexican “posadas” feature sweets, food, pinatas, music, and lots of celebrating!

The Netherlands

Two weeks before Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th, Sinterklaas arrives by ship to the Netherlands from Spain. The arrival of Sinterklaas—or Saint Nicholas, similar to Santa Claus—is broadcast live on television, similar to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the United States.

Between Sinterklaas’s arrival and Saint Nicholas Day, Dutch children will leave their shoes in front of their fireplace in hopes that Sinterklaas will leave a gift or treat inside. When Sinterklaas stops by, he leaves his gifts and treats as well as a humorous note poking fun at the children’s good and bad habits!

(Maybe try that note instead of gift tags this year?)

New Zealand

Since Christmas takes place during the summer months in New Zealand, the weather is warm and beautiful plants are in bloom. Instead of chopping down fir, spruce, or pine trees to decorate, New Zealanders use the Pohutukawa tree as their Christmas tree!

The Pohutukawa tree is still an evergreen tree. But during the summer season, the tree produces bright red flowers. To some degree, they decorate themselves!


In Norway, the day before Christmas Eve is celebrated. It’s called Little Christmas Eve!

The day is generally spent fulfilling family traditions, from gingerbread houses to decorating the Christmas tree. It’s also common to find families snacking on “risengrynsgrot,” a hot rice pudding served with butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Whoever finds the hidden almond in their pudding wins a marzipan pig!


Beautiful and colorful lanterns, called “parols,” can be seen everywhere in Pampanga—known as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. These delicate lanterns are made from bamboo and paper and can be simple or extremely intricate.

From city streets to small villages, they’re hung everywhere! They’re symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem, which led the three wise men to the baby Jesus the night of his birth.


Before Christmas dinner, Polish families pass around and share “oplatek,” an unleavened wafer. Every person breaks off their piece, eats it, and wishes one another a merry Christmas. When the wafer has been eaten and dinner served, there is often an extra place setting to welcome a traveler to the family’s festivities.

South Africa

Mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and turkey are common foods served for a Christmas feast. In South Africa, their Christmas specialty is fried emperor moth caterpillars! These colorful caterpillars are not only festive, but a nutritious treat. Yum?


The Yule Goat, or “Gävle Goat,” is believed to have followed Saint Nicholas around and possessed power to control the devil. In another Swedish story, Christmas elves rode around on the “Gävle Goat” from door to door, delivering presents to children as they slept.

In honor of this tale, a straw Yule Goat over forty-two feet tall—that weighs over three tons—was constructed back in 1966. It still stands in Sweden’s Castle Square today!


Ukrainian folklore points to the tale of a widow who lived in a small hut with her children. Outside of this hut was a pine tree. While the children were excited at the thought of having a Christmas tree, the family was too poor to decorate it.

Nearby spiders heard the children cry and decorated the pine tree with beautiful, intricate webs. The next morning, the children awoke to a decorated Christmas tree! Today, Ukrainian Christmas trees are often decorated with web ornaments or shiny tinsel to honor the story—and bring good fortune for the following year.

Learning About the World Around Us

No matter where we live or what traditions we celebrate in our homes, Christmas is universally celebrated with families and communities. Whether it’s a feast, religious service, or deep-rooted historical tradition, there’s always a way to celebrate!

From other cultures to foreign languages, it’s important to learn about the world around us. At Troomi, our mission is to empower kids to learn, do, and become anything! With our kid-safe, parent-controlled phones, kids can explore new hobbies, express their creativity, and learn something new—like a foreign language on the Duolingo app.To learn more about how our phone can help your child develop healthy technology habits, click here!