Christmas traditions: inspiration from around the world

A wooden log with small wooden limbs and a painted-on face is standing as a figurine.
Tió: The traditional Spanish decoration is just one of many international festive customs.

It’s that time of year again! Christmas is coming. But not everywhere in the world celebrates in exactly the same way. And the obligatory Christmas traditions vary from country to country, too. For example, did you know that people in Australia prefer to celebrate Christmas on the beach? Or that gifts aren’t exchanged in Mexico until 6 January? Or what Scandinavians love to eat around Christmas time? Why from 8 December children in Spain place hollow logs with painted-on faces in front of the door and feed them? Or what a glass of whiskey is all about in the UK? Keep reading and discover typical traditions and customs from all over the world.

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O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree

A wooden triangle with three baubles is standing on a table.
A Christmas tree doesn’t always have to have needles. Minimalistic DIY versions are a particular head-turner.

Sparkling tinsel, colourful baubles and a star made from straw on top – this is the image that comes to mind in many western countries in the northern hemisphere when people there think of Christmas trees. But what sorts of decorations adorn them around the rest of the world? A boat is a common sight in Athens, while in Australia the question isn’t whether to get a Nordmann fir or a blue spruce, but whether the tree should be made from plastic or wood. Homemade Christmas trees in particular are very popular Down Under. They’re personal, never too big or too small and don’t leave a mess of pine needles behind to clean up. Try it out for yourself – with our minimalistic wooden Christmas tree .
In India, banana trees are decorated and in Lebanon small trees are grown from bean seeds and balls of cotton wool for people to decorate. People in Cuba make life particularly easy for themselves by buying pre-decorated Christmas trees.

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Christmas treats

A cake and Christmas decorations are on a table.
Panettone: It’s not Christmas in Peru without this delicious cake.

The biggest differences when it comes to Christmas customs and traditions are undoubtedly found on the dining table. In France, ‘le réveillon’ – a luxurious meal held on Christmas Eve – is a traditional Christmas highlight. Dishes include turkey stuffed with chestnuts or capon with a plum filling, while oysters, typical French foie gras – fatty goose or duck liver – and candied chestnuts are also served.
In Peru, it’s all about panettone. Panettone, or Panetón in Spanish, is a cake with fruits in it that is great to eat with hot chocolate.
Christmas in Ukraine isn’t complete without Kutia, a dessert made from wheat, honey, poppy seeds, raisins and nuts.
7 January in Ethiopia sees the traditional ‘wat’ stew form the main course for most people. It is traditionally a spicy dish made with meat and vegetables and is served with injera, a type of Ethiopian flatbread.
The most important meal at Christmas time in the Philippines is Noche Buena. This meal is served late on Christmas evening and features ‘lechón’ (suckling pig), ‘queso de bola’ (Edam cheese) and various pasta dishes.
Risalamande is an example of a typical Danish dish. The delicious dessert is made from rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, chopped almonds and vanilla sugar, and is usually served cold. Enjoy your meal!

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Advent calendars: a new surprise every day

  • A red Advent calendar with several open doors.
  • Several small, numbered parcels are lying on a table, forming an Advent calendar.

They’re filled with chocolates, sweets, toys, makeup or other goodies. We’re talking about Advent calendars of course. Small, large, colourful...everything is possible. Advent calendars are a special treat for children in particular in Central European countries in the run up to Christmas. You can buy them off the shelf or make your own using empty jam jars, handcrafted origami boxes or even wooden cubes. The possibilities for surprising your loved ones with personal, unique items are almost endless.
Advent calendars are not a tradition in countries such as Japan or Russia, however. This is because it would be somewhat more complicated since presents aren’t given out until 7 January in Russia – by Jack Frost and his granddaughter the Snow Maiden.

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The Christmas wreath – the Sunday tradition

A Christmas wreath made from wood with four candles and decorations is on a table.
Christmas wreaths are a traditional part of Advent. But there are a myriad of options when it comes to designing them.

Whether you opt for the classic version made from lush fir branches, a DIY version made from baubles or a minimalist version made from a stave, your own creativity knows no bounds when it comes to making a Christmas wreath.
And if that wasn’t enough, any room is automatically enveloped in a truly special atmosphere once the lights go down and the candles flicker; one that is shaped by warmth, peace and calm. Add a good book and a cup of freshly made tea to the mix and you have perfection! By the way, did you know that the first known Advent wreath had 23 candles, and in Sweden, the candle for the first Advent Sunday is white and the other three are purple?

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Christmas decorations with intricate details

A hanging bricolage made from straw.
The Himmeli: A traditional DIY Christmas decoration in Finland.

A golden decorative angel here, a sparkling snow globe rarely pay as much attention to detail as you do when you’re decorating in the run up to Christmas. This is because the perfect harmony of smells, colours and shapes increases your sense of personal well-being long before any presents are exchanged.
The US and Canada are certainly at the top of their game when it comes to decorating. In these countries, the lead-up to Christmas sees entire streets and neighbourhoods transformed into vibrant, sparkling seas of colour to celebrate Santa and all things Christmassy.
Finland, on the other hand, prefers a more subtle approach. Here is where you’ll find the Himmeli – a popular bricolage decoration made from straw. Although they are somewhat difficult to make, they are definitely a real DIY head-turner.
The Tió, on the other hand, is considerably easier to make. A log with two legs, a smiling face and a cover. According to the Spanish tradition, it should be fed bread and apples each day and if they’re lucky, children will find lots of presents under the cover on 6 January.

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Special traditions

Several candles are on the floor surrounded by colourful sand.
Painting with colourful sand is an Advent tradition in India.

As you can see, Christmas is celebrated in many different ways in a lot of countries. But we still have a couple of smaller, partly regional traditions to show you.
People in many villages and communities in India paint beautiful pictures in front of church doors or even their own house doors on the floor using rice powder or sand. This type of art is called Rangoli.
In Mexico, piñatas are made – mostly out of clay or paper – and then happily smashed in joyful anticipation. With a little bit of luck, there is a bounty of sweets to be had.
In Russia, wishes are written on paper, which is then burned and the ashes are drunk with champagne.
Christmas is neither a traditional family celebration nor an official bank holiday in Japan. Instead, people there prefer to celebrate with friends and colleagues, with roaring parties being a particular favourite.
In the UK, children normally put out a mince pie and glass of milk for Father Christmas, not to mention a carrot for Rudolph (Father Christmas’ red-nosed reindeer). The milk is sometimes replaced by whiskey or brandy, however, depending on which one dad prefers.