14 Unusual Christmas Traditions from Around the World
You don’t need to take a trip around the world to see how Christmas traditions vary from continent to continent. Here’s how 14 countries celebrate the holiday.
In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7, a time when Babouschka brings gifts to children. Babouschka—meaning “old woman” or “grandmother” in Russian—is based on the biblical story of the woman who didn’t give a gift to the baby Jesus. So, to repent, she gives gifts to children.
In Finland, families decorate the holiday tree with geometric mobiles made out of straw. It’s also customary to enjoy a sauna before Santa’s visit!
In Germany, it’s tradition for children to decorate their Christmas lists with pictures and then leave them on the windowsill overnight—sometimes shoes or boots are left outside the front door too.
Children in Holland receive presents from Sinterklaas on Dec. 5, not Christmas Eve or day. And if they leave carrots for Sinterklaas’s horse, he’ll leave the kids sweets.
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Italian families celebrate Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes and eat lentils during the holiday season to ensure luck and wealth for the following year. The children in Italy receive gifts from La Befana during Christmas.
It’s traditional for Irish families to leave out mince pies—and Guinness Ale—as a snack for Santa.
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In Norway, people hide all the brooms in the house on Christmas Eve to prevent witches from stealing them for a midnight ride. It’s also a Christmas Eve tradition to leave a bowl of porridge in the barn for the gnome who protects the farm.
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The mistletoe was first hung as a Christmas decoration in Great Britain. However, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is most likely of Scandinavian origin.
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Jamaicans dress in elaborate costumes and celebrate Christmas with parades and “Junkanoo” dancers, based on African dance. The festival, which occurs on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, may have started as early as the 16th century.
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The Spanish dish, turrón, a confection made from honey, egg white, sugar, and toasted almonds, is served during Christmas. Recipes date back to the 16th century.
Thirteen jólasveinarnir, or “Christmas Lads,” deliver presents to children in Iceland. Originally, the Christmas Lads were pranksters. Each showed up on a specific day around Christmas and performed a trick or prank.
In the Ukraine, it’s traditional to hang spider web-shaped decorations on the tree. This reflects the Ukrainian legend of the poor widow who didn’t have enough money to decorate her tree, but when her children awoke on Christmas day, the tree was covered in webs that glistened gold and silver in the morning light.
Children in Japan receive their Christmas presents on their pillow during Christmas night. And a traditional Christmas meal in Japan is fried chicken.
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The traditional Christmas meal in Poland is called the Wigilia. Held on Christmas Eve, Wigilia is derived from the Latin phrase “to watch.” Families here believe that what happens during Wigilia festivities predicts the coming year.
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