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Christmas Traditions Around the World

Christmas Traditions Around the World

Few things shout Christmas to folks in the U.S. more than gifts, good food and family festivities. But as surprising as it might seem, not every culture celebrates Christmas the same way!

To get into the holiday spirit, we thought it would be intriguing to take a look at these differences around the world, which all share a common bond of joy and community. The following are just a handful of the ways in which the most wonderful time of the year is celebrated across the globe!

Austria

Austria

Saint Nicholas & Krampus

In Austria, a friendly, elderly man suited in red rewards children who have been good with the gifts they deserve (sound familiar?) St. Nicholas visits each year on December 6th, otherwise known as Nikolastaug. He is accompanied by angels carrying bags filled with nuts, fruit, chocolate, and even small toys for the extra well behaved.

But unlike his U.S. counterpart, Santa Claus, jolly ‘ol Saint Nick comes with a chilling adversary named Krampus. Originally intended to chide good behavior out of children, beginning on December 5th, this devilish creature, with long horns and a black tongue is said run the streets of Austria manically. His goal? To capture children who have been bad and take them away for proper punishment. Young Austrian men have decided to take on this mischievous task as their own, especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, by dressing up in bells and chains and frightening children they deem naughty.

Advent

As the majority of Austria is of Catholic faith, families traditionally buy or create an Advent wreath made of fir or spruce. The wreath is decorated with four candles and one is lit for each Advent Sunday leading up to the festival honoring the birth of Christ, otherwise known as Christmas Eve.

In addition to the Advent wreath, you will find Advent Calendars in most homes in Austria to count down the days to Christmas. They are filled with either chocolate, tea, tiny toys, books and even beer; for something exciting to open with each passing day!

Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are another popular Austrian tradition and are held in the town squares of many of its cities. The markets of Vienna date back all the way to the year 1298! They sell a variety of seasonal gifts and yummy delicacies such as mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.

Iceland

Iceland

The Yule Lads

The final 13 days leading up to Christmas in Iceland are plagued by mischievous trolls who love to play tricks on children as they visit their homes. Known as the Yule Lads or “Jólasveinar,” there are 13 of them in all and each one has a distinguishing characteristic that guides their silly pranks.

Today, the Yule Lads enjoy bringing joy to the children rather than frightening them. Any child hoping for gifts such as small toys, a book or fruit need to leave a pair of clean shoes by a window. But that's not all — children also need to be on their best behavior. Those who act up receive rotten potatoes instead.

St. Thorlakur’s Day

St. Thorlakur’s Day or Þorláksmessa is the day of feast for Iceland‘s patron saint. Since meat is not allowed on this day, a popular custom is eating fermented skate, a flaky, ammonia-smelling fish. Only the true Icelandics can bear this delicacy.

Decorating of the Christmas tree is typically done on December 23rd, much later than American tradition. It is also a big day for shoppers to get their last minute gifts with stores open until midnight.

Christmas Eve & Beyond

December 24th is the main day of Christmas with celebrations typically starting around 6pm over a hearty meal with family. Gifts are opened on this night, instead of on Christmas Day. In a tradition known as jólabókaflóð, books are commonly exchanged and then the rest of the evening is spent cozied up and reading. Sounds relaxing!

Christmas Day on December 25th is for relaxing and enjoying quality time with extended family. But wait, there’s more! Next up, on the 26th, Boxing Day is another day off of work to wind down and spend time with family.

Canada

Canada

Cavalcade of Lights

The sky lights up at the end of November to signal the start of the holiday season in blustery Toronto, Canada. The celebratory Cavalcade of Lights was first performed in 1967 in the town square to show off new construction, and the city has continued the ritual of sorts ever since. People in Toronto set up an elaborate display of more than 300,000 lights that cover up the town’s enormous Christmas tree and everything around it. The lights stay on from sunrise to 11 at night until New Years.

Venezuela

Zenezuela

Noche Buena

In the tropical lands of Venezuela, the main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, or "Noche Buena" and revolves around food. Families typically start preparing the main dish a week before hand. This dish, hallaca, is made up of corn stuffed with mixed meats, olives, and raisins, wrapped in plantain leaves.

Other classic foods include a puff pastry packed with ham, a potato and carrot salad, and a creamy rum drink. The catch with eating all of this tasty grub is that they don't get to start eating until after midnight, which they countdown to by eating 12 grapes during the last 12 seconds.

Feliz Navidad

On December 25th, children awake to gifts around the Nacimiento or the Christmas tree. As a predominantly Catholic country, they believe that it is Jesus who brings gifts to the children rather than Santa Claus.

Aguinaldos

Music plays a very important role in Venezuelan culture throughout the holidays. The traditional songs during this time are called aguinaldos and are of the folk genre - composed of sounds from instruments such as the maracas, a small four-string guitar, and small drums. Aguinaldo music is often performed by parrandas, a group of people, who merrily go from house to house singing these carols.

Day of the Reyes Magos

The Christmas festivities come to an official closing on January 6, the Day of the Reyes Magos, or The Three Wise Men Day. This celebrates the day when the three wise kings followed the star to Bethlehem to visit Mary and the infant Jesus. On this day, children again receive toys and candy.

Philippines

Philippines

Early Festivities

Filipino households don’t waste time when it comes to Christmas. Decorations and lights go up and Christmas tunes start playing as early as… gasp… September! Roads also get super congested during the holiday season, so shopping for gifts is also often done months in advance!

Giant Lantern Festival

The Philippines is home to an impressively dazzling tradition known as the Giant Lantern Festival, or locally, Ligligan Parul Sampernandu. Brightening up the country every year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve, Filipinos prepare lanterns to hang or even send off into the air.

The festival marks the dawn of Christmas season and takes place on a large scale in 11 different villages, with the city of San Fernando leading the way. In a celebratory fashion, participants compete by trying to construct the most standout and creative lanterns they can. People from all over the world regularly come to observe the bright spectacle lit up in a kaleidoscope of colors.

Simbang Gabi

In the Philippines, the third largest Catholic nation in the world, the faithful majority wake up at the break of dawn to attend early morning mass from December 16th until Christmas Eve. This tradition is known as Simbang Gabi.

Japan

Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken Feast

Since there are few Christians in Japan, none of the religious traditions of Christmas are practiced and it isn’t recognized as a national holiday. Nonetheless, it is still a festive time of year for the novelty factor. Eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas has been a popular Japanese tradition since 1974, when KFC Japan began to promote it as a Christmas meal, with its long running Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii! advertising campaign. Now that’s a tradition we could get around!

Australia

Australia

Barbie on the Beach

Christmas is not nearly as big of a deal in Australia as it is in America. Because Aussies celebrate Christmas during the middle of their summer, when it’s near 32° C (90° F for you Americans), many of their traditions center around a "barbie." Families and friends gather for a laidback cookout of fresh seafood followed by swims in the ocean and just relaxing and drinking on the beach.

These distinct Christmas time traditions are merely a taste of the variety of ways in which people around the world celebrate this holiday. Check out Conquest Maps for detailed maps of all of these spots. Merry Christmas!

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