International Christmas Traditions

3 major Christian vacations occur in December and early January: Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, the day before the birth of Jesus Christ; Christmas, Dec. 25; and Surprise, Jan. 6, celebrating the coming of the 3 wise guys and Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.

Across many nations, cultures and areas, these holidays are commemorated in diverse ways. Gift-giving customs, signs, songs and processions can all hold clues to ethnic roots:


While most Australian traditions are English in origin, Christmas cards include native animals such as koalas. Palm leaves, ferns and blooming plants decorate homes during this summer season vacation in the Southern Hemisphere.


On Dec. 26, residents celebrate Jonkonnu, a festival that combines English and African aspects and dance motions.

Eastern Europe

Ukranians hang spiders and webs on their trees as part of a folkloric tale about a female who was too poor to decorate her tree so a spider spun webs for decor during the night. In Russia prior to the 1917 transformation, an old woman named Baboushka brought children treats. Throughout the Communist period, she was altered to Grandfather Frost. Slovakian children put sleek boots in their windows for St. Nicholas to provide gifts on Dec. 5. Moravians set up Christmas pyramids embellished with a star and racks, one reserved for a nativity scene. A prop on top of the structure turns from the heat of the candles on the racks.


English children await Dad Christmas to provide presents. Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, brought the customized of tree embellishing from his native Germany. The first Christmas cards debuted here in the 1840s. Christmas crackers, little popping cardboard tubes with surprises inside, are popular during the vacations.


The Coptic Church commemorates Ganna (Christmas) on Jan. 7. Ganna is named after a popular game comparable to field hockey, which legend says the shepherds played upon hearing of Jesus’ birth. Everybody uses white to a church service following a day of fasting.


Young kids consider Development as a calendar with a prize on every day between Dec. 1 and Dec. 25. Originally, Development was a time to think about the future spiritual events of the season. Introduction dates from 490 ADVERTISEMENT when the Bishop of Tours advocated fasting 3 days a week for the 40 days prior to Christmas. Extended families gather together after midnight Mass for réveillon, a banquet on Christmas Eve.


Many sources credit Germans for starting the tradition of embellishing Christmas trees, eventually bringing that customized to America. Elaborate hand-blown glass accessories also initially appeared in Germany. The German city of Lauscha was the manufacturing center for glass accessories, although accessory production slowed after it became part of postwar East Germany. Kids write letters and lists and leave them for Christkindel (southern Germany) or Weinnachtsman (northern Germany). Many towns hold a Christkindelsmarkt, offering handmade presents and treats during the vacations.


St. Nicholas, tutelary saint of sailors and anglers, offers presents. Present providing happens on Jan. 1, St. Basil’s Day, in honor of among the 4 dads of the Greek Orthodox Church. On Epiphany, called Greek Cross Day, crucifixes are blessed by dipping them into water.

Latin America

Las Posadas, a day-to-day procession that re-enacts Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter, is typically performed in the days prior to Christmas. Kids leave their shoes in the window on Surprise for gifts from the Magi. In Mexico, the holiday season ends with Candlemas, a spiritual ceremony on Feb. 2.

A Mexican folktale recounts the story of a bad woman who provided the baby Jesus with a branch from an easy plant. As she laid it next to the manger, it reddened. Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and the first United States ambassador to Mexico, brought the plant to this nation, where it happened called a poinsettia.


Italian kids leave their shoes or stockings near the fireplace to receive gifts on Epiphany from La Befana. They likewise receive presents from Father Christmas on Christmas Day. Nativity scenes and Christmas pyramids belong to Christmas displays.


Black Peter disciplines naughty boys and women on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), while Sinterklass, or St. Nicholas, rewards excellent children with candy and gifts.


Because the Philippines is the only Asian nation where most of people are Christian, Christmas there is popular commonly. The season begins on Dec. 16 with the Misa de Gallo, or “rooster’s mass.” Many households display parols, or star-shaped lanterns, and sing carols.


At midnight on Christmas Eve in Poland, numerous go to pasterka, or Shepherd’s Mass. Afterward, the head of the family breaks an oplatek, a thin wafer made from wheat flour and water with a nativity scene marked on it. Each family member breaks off a small piece and consumes it. Later, they may feast on fish, sauerkraut, potato pancakes and beet soup.


In Scandinavian nations, trees are strung with straw goats. Danes usage red-and-white hearts and strings of miniature Danish flags. Finnish kids believe that their gift provider, our Santa Claus, resides in Korvatunturi, in the northern part of their country. Swedes honor Santa Lucia on Dec. 13 by choosing a kid to gown in a white gown with a red sash. The kid wears a wreath on the head with lit candles and delivers standard food. The tomte, or Christmas gnome, brings presents on Christmas Day. In Norway, Christmas, or Juledag, is a peaceful prelude to Dec. 26, when Norwegians start eating, drinking and commemorating until Jan. 13.

United States

Various areas of the United States likewise handled Christmas in their own special manner ins which might be reflected in your household’s heritage. Conservative Puritans in Massachusetts tried to outlaw Christmas in the 17th century, while Southern inhabitants brought over carols, yule logs and greenery from England. Christmas in New England was a time of religious dedication; the southern nests invited the vacation by making as much sound as possible. Much of these regional differences outgrew the diversity of people in the area. In Alaska, for example, Russian descendants still follow the customs of the Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7 with a procession bring wheels trimmed with tinsel to resemble stars.

Vacation Food

No holiday is complete without specific foods. My childhood memories revolve around big family parties on Christmas Eve, the tables loaded with a meal dinner brought by loved ones reflecting their particular ethnic heritage. My cousin always made la tourtière, a meat pie served by French Canadians after midnight Mass, initially part of réveillon.

A normal English meal included roast goose or turkey, plum pudding and wassail to consume. Waves of immigrants to America have each included their own products to that traditional holiday menu. Fruitcake, for instance, has its origins in Ireland, while gingerbread cookies began in the Netherlands and Germany. Spain is significant for its marzipan and Sweden for its lussekatt buns at the celebration of Santa Lucia (find out how to prepare standard Swedish dishes from the book Swedish Cakes and Cookies), while mincemeat is an old English tradition. Banquets also become part of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, of course. And no one who participates in an Italian Christmas Eve ever forgets the 7 courses– with eel as one conventional offering. See the box at right for a list of cookbooks that will help you whip up heritage meals for your vacation feasts.

Give your household’s vacation traditions, dishes and stories in Family Tree Legacies: Maintaining Memories Throughout Time, from the editors of Family Tree Publication.

Christmas Stockings

Christmas Pullovers

Christmas Pullovers

Christmas Dresses

Christmas Dresses

Christmas Jewelry