In the Western & Christian worlds, we celebrate Christmas this weekend. In celebration, I decided to compile some unique Christmas traditions around the world! Since our globe has more than 200 countries, the list below includes only the ones I have personally visited and/or lived in. This way, we keep the number close to 30 😉 Hope you enjoy it!
In this beautiful Caribbean island, it is commonplace for families to go to church together on Christmas Eve. Then, families gather again for Christmas dinner the next day and sing Aruban songs as they eat ajaca (also eaten in Puerto Rico, but known as “pastel”), salted ham and salmon.
While Christmas markets are very popular in several cities across Europe, they are particularly important in Austria. The most popular in this quaint country are found in Vienna (in front of the City Hall), Innsbruck (in square by the Golden Roof), and Salzburg (by Residenzplatz/the big Cathedral).
In the Barbados, a curious tradition is that children put on a pantomime show (instead of a traditional Christmas play) for school. This is also common Christmas tradition in Jamaica.
In the Dutch Caribbean (including the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao) they celebrate what it’s called Saint Nicholas Day. What’s really special in this region, however, is Sinterklaas: The Dutch Santa Claus! He makes an appearance on December 5th and gives out the gifts then! Oh, it is also feast day 😉
While many Latin American countries celebrate both December 25th (Santa Claus/Christmas) and January 6th (Three Kings Day), only the latter is celebrated in Dominican Republic. There might be some exceptions to the rule, such as wealthy families exchanging gifts on both days. This, however, is rare. What, then, happens on January 6th? Children leave grass for the “camels” of the Three Kings to eat under their beds (not tree!) and then see their gifts there the next morning.
Christmas in EGYPT? That’s right! While more than 90% of the population in Egypt are Muslims, there is still a Christian minority, called the Coptic Church. Also, as an Orthodox Church, so they actually celebrate Christmas on January 7th, a day after Three Kings Day in Latin America (Epiphany). Then, on Christmas Eve, everyone goes to church midnight service wearing a brand-new outfit, then goes home afterward to eat delicious fata (pictured above).
Some peculiar Christmas traditions in England are the Queen of England’s speech (radio and televised) on Christmas Day and the celebration of Boxing Day on Dec. 26th, which nowadays involves giving small amounts of money as gifts to those who have helped you throughout the year (i.e. the mailman, the newspaper boy, etc.). When it comes to food, Christmas lunch includes a chestnut-stuffed turkey, Yorkshire pudding and roast beef or roast goose.
As in several European countries, the day that German kids actually receive gifts is December 7th. Thus, on the night of December 6th, children place a boot or shoe by the fireplace (similar to the mistletoe tradition!) and wait for St. Nicholas to fill it with gifts! Another funny fact? Christmas Eve is called “Dickbauch” (which means “fat stomach”) and if you do not eat well on that day, you will be haunted by DEMONS! Say wha!? Interesting Christmas superstition indeed!
Icelandic Christmas is great, as it lasts 26 days and brings about 13 different “Santa Clauses” (also called “Yule Lads”) and they start bringing gifts 13 days before December 25th! The story behind them is that their parents are mean mother Grýla (who takes away the naughty kids in town!) and father Leppalúði, who is not that bad. Their children then are the infamous Yuletid, and each day of the Icelandic Christmas a different one comes to town, either bringing gifts or a prank, or both! 😉 on December 12th, children place a shoe by the window and expect one of the many “Santa Clauses” to leave gifts – but if you have been naughty, you get a potato instead! The major gift exchange and Christmas celebration, however, happens on Christmas Eve, when many Icelanders also go to midnight mass.
Israel & Palestine
While Jews celebrate Chanukkah around the same time, a minority of Christian Arabs do celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, on December 25th. Celebrations are particularly evident in Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity, where it is believed to be the location of the manger where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. See the video above to get a taste of Christmas in the West Bank/Palestine!
For part 2, and many more traditions from other countries, CLICK HERE!!
What’s wild is once you go North into Mexico, Tamales are the traditional food at X-mas, same concept but slightly diff. taste & use corn husk. My Hispanic friends in Texas would spend all day in the kitchen making them. Good stuff!
I have had Ajaca, when I stayed a night with a Mayan family in Belize. It was great & the Plantain leaves did add to the flavor tremendously. They did have a diff. name for it, but it eludes my memory.
In Puerto Rico we eat the same exact thing for Christmas, but we called them “pasteles” instead. Seems to be a traditional Christmas food all over the Caribbean and even Central America! 🙂