Christmas traditions around the world

Here are 11 wonderful, quirky and magical Christmas traditions celebrated across the globe.

Christmas tradtions around the world

by Ellen Kinsey |

Christmas is a festivity celebrated all around the world. Whether it’s a gathering around a BBQ on the beach in New Zealand or commemorated by a thirteen-metre straw goat in Sweden, it is a joyous time for everyone who takes part.

New Zealand

Barbie on the beach

For those in the southern hemisphere, Christmas falls during the summer season. It is a tradition for New Zealanders to have a BBQ with their family and friends, cooking fresh seafood, meat and seasonal vegetables.

The Christmas tree in New Zealand ventures away from our European fir tree, their festive tree is called a Pohutukawa. The native Pohutukawa is large bush-like coastal tree that is bright-red colour during December.

New Zealanders sing carols in both Maori and English such as 'Te Harinui', Christmas in New Zealand, and A Kiwiana Christmas.


The Christmas Story

mexico christmas decorations

All across Mexico, churches put on a play called Pastorelas or the Shepherd's Play. This performance retells the Christmas Story. From December 16th to Christmas Eve, children perform the tale where Joseph and Mary search for a place to stay on the night that Jesus was born. For this celebration, Mexicans decorate the outside of their houses with evergreens, moss, flowers and paper lanterns.


The 13m Gävle Goat!

yule goat

In Sweden, the ‘Yule Goat’ is an iconic symbol for the mid-winter festivities. This goat is believed to be an invisible spirit who oversees that smooth running of the Christmas preparations. Between Christmas and the new year, it is not uncommon to see men dressed as goats pranking houses and singing songs. This tradition is known as ‘Julebukking’.

The Gävle Goat is a famous monument that is built in the city of Gävle at the start of advent. This enormous metal structure is 13m tall and is covered in straw. However, the goat is mainly represented as a Christmas ornament that guards the house or the Christmas tree. Straw is used as a decoration as a reminder that Jesus was born in a manger.


Saint Nicholas’ Day

st nick
St Nikolas

Between the night of the 5th and 6th of December, children wait for presents from St Nicholas or Christkind. This individual is not to be mistaken for Father Christmas, St Nicholas or Nikolaus travels by donkey in the middle of the night. The children place their shoes by the door in hopes that St Nicholas will deliver them small gifts like chocolates or sweets.

St. Nicholas is often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht also known as Krampus. This devil-like creature is dressed in dark rags and covered in bells and holds a whip to frighten naughty children.


The Day of the Little Candles

Day of little candles

The Day of the Little Candles or 'Día de las Velitas' is a celebration in Columbia that starts in the evening on the 7th of December. The streets and buildings are decorated with lanterns, candles and plenty of lights. There is also big firework displays and music playing throughout the streets. This day is celebrated by Catholics around the world known as ‘The Feast of the Immaculate Conception’ but is particularly popular in Columbia.


The Evil Krampus


Many Nordic countries have a legend called Krampus. This traditional figure is a devil-like creature blackened by soot, covered in rags and carries around chains. Much like its German neighbour, Austria has a festivity called St Nicholas day. Children are asked for a list of their good and bad deeds in the year: the good children are rewarded by St Nicholas with sweets in their shoes whereas bad children may worry about an encounter with Krampus.


The Giant Lantern Festival


Each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve the city known as the Christmas capital of Philippines, San Fernando hosts the Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu). This Christmas tradition attracts visitors from around the world as residents create lanterns on a bamboo poles or frames to hold a lightened star lantern. The lantern represents the star that guided the Wise Men. Nowadays, the lanterns are created from a variety of materials and can be up to six meters in size. They are lit up by electric bulbs that illuminate kaleidoscope patterns.


A very KFC Christmas

kfc christmas japan

Christmas is not celebrated as a religious holiday in Japan and has only been a day of celebration for a few decades. Japan have a rather quirky tradition, where they eat KFC for their Christmas meal. There was an advertising campaign by KFC in 1974 called 'Kentucky for Christmas!' which was so successful it became a regular tradition.

South Africa

Christmas Cookout

south african tradition

While the population of South Africa is very diverse, most families gather for a cookout called ‘braaing’ over the Christmas season. Dishes such as steaks, boerewors, sausages are served as the main course which is followed by a traditional dessert, malva pudding with custard. Their trees are decorated with a variety of baubles and hand-beaded African ornaments.


Carols and Christmas feasts.


Christmas is widely celebrated in Angola. Over half of the Angolan population are catholic and a quarter Christian. Attending church is deeply rooted in their Christmas traditions. After the Christmas day church service, the festive meal traditionally consists of 'pirão' or 'funge' which is a kind of polenta made of cornmeal or cassava flour. They also serve up rice, spaghetti, chips, turkey, fried chicken, plantain, cassava and dishes like cooked cold fish with vegetables known as 'ozido de bacalhau'.


Yule Lads

yule lad

Similar to the British tradition of twelve days of Christmas, Iceland celebrates thirteen days. Each night leading up to Christmas, the Icelandic children are visited by the thirteen Yule Lads. Yule Lads are regarded as magical people who come from the mountains. Similar to Nordic tradition, children place their shoes by the windows and wait to awaken the next morning to find sweets or chocolates.

Read more popular articles

40 of the best Christmas cracker jokes

The best Christmas adverts of all time

Affordable ways to visit Iceland

The Yours guide to Christmas TV

New Year’s Day traditions!

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us