Christmas is a time of celebration for Christians around the world. Traditions, old and new, are a huge part of any celebration, and vary greatly in different countries. Traditions around the Christmas holiday vary around the world - and can even differ from one family to the next! We're here to share 12 of our most favorite Christmas traditions from all over the globe.
Christmas Traditions From Around the World
1. St. Lucia Day – Sweden
December 13th is known as St. Lucia Day in Scandinavian countries and started in Sweden. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas season, called "little Yule." A main focus of the day is light, as this day occurs near the shortest day of the year. There are many St. Lucia Day traditions, but the most common in Sweden is described in this History.com article:
Traditionally, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and wakes each of her family members, dressed in a long, white gown with a red sash, and wearing a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles. For the day, she is called “Lussi” ...The family then eats breakfast in a room lighted with candles.
Light is a main theme of St. Lucia Day as her name, which is derived from the Latin word lux, means light. Her feast day is celebrated near the shortest day of the year, when the sun’s light again begins to strengthen.
One way you can celebrate St. Lucia Day is by eating your meals by candlelight or having a bonfire after twilight.
2. A Day at the Sauna – Finland
In Finland, it is a Christmas tradition for families visit the sauna on Christmas Eve before their Christmas meal and visit gravesites of deceased family members who are no longer with their families to celebrate Christmas. We're not sure about you, but the trip to the sauna sounds like a wonderful start to Christmas festivities!
December is also the month to celebrate Finland's Independence Day. Traditionally, the Finns listen to the “Peace of Christmas” national radio broadcast and place two candles in the windowsill to honor those who have passed in the war to gain the country's independence.
3. Love Offering – Congo
The most important part of Christmas church service in the Congo is the love offering, a gift given in honor of Jesus. In this Christmas tradition, every person who attends the service brings a gift to lay near the Communion table at the front of the church.
4. St. Nicolas’ Day – Belgium
In Belgium, instead of Santa Claus, children are visited by Pere Noel, in this Christmas tradition. They are not brought gifts on Christmas Day, but instead on December 6th, which is St. Nicolas’ Day. Good children receive chocolates and other treats, but naughty children get sticks. Jesus’ birthday is celebrated separately on December 25th.
5. Parade in Jesus’ Birth Town – Israel
In Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity stands over the traditional site of the stable where Jesus was born. On Christmas, a massive procession is led by horseback through the city and a flame is passed throughout the crowd to light onlooker's candles.
6. Christmas Trees – Germany
Ever wonder where the tradition of putting a Christmas tree up in your home comes from? We can thank the German! The Christmas tree in your living room is actually a tradition that originated in Germany. According to History.com:
Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first “Christmas trees” explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday, appeared in Strasbourg, in Alsace in the beginning of the 17th century.
German settlers brought the Christmas tree tradition over to American during the 19th century.
7. 'Christmas Old Man' – China
In China, Santa Claus is called Dun Che Lao Ren which means "Christmas Old Man.” Christian children decorate Christmas trees and hang muslin stockings they hope for Dun Che Lao Ren to fill with gifts and treats. Non-Christians celebrate the Spring Festival during this time of year to honor and remember ancestors.
8. Banana Christmas Tree – India
It's easy to forget that Christmastime isn't in winter for every country around the world. The southern hemisphere celebrates Christmas during their summer season, where different crops and plants are likely to be in season than those in the winter. For example, instead of pine trees, Christians in India decorate banana or mango trees for Christmas as tradition, giving their celebration a tropical feel.
9. Babushka – Russia
In Russia, the traditional Christian Christmas season is being replaced by the secular Festival of Winter, but some Christmas traditions remain, like the Babushka:
Babushka is a traditional Christmas figure who distributes presents to children. Her name means grandmother and the legend is told that she declined to go with the wise men to see Jesus because of the cold weather. However, she regretted not going and set off to try and catch up, filling her basket with presents. She never found Jesus, and that is why she visits each house, leaving toys for good children.
10. Christmas Poetry – Italy
In other parts of the world, you don't go door to door singing carols, but rather, reciting poems. In Italy, it is Christmas tradition that children go from house to house reciting hymns and poems in exchange for money to buy presents. The Christmas season is three weeks long, starting eight days before Christmas and extending until Epiphany on January 6th. (I wonder how much toy money the children have by the end of the three week Christmas season?)
11. Beach Barbeque – Australia
In yet another southern hemisphere country, Australia, the only white Christmas is one with white sandy beaches. Christmas occurs in the middle of Australia’s summer and can be one of the hottest days of the year. Beach visits and outdoor barbeques are common and seafood is often a Christmas dish. Ever pictured Santa on a surfboard and catching the waves?
12. Epiphany – Ireland
Christmas in Ireland is very religious and focuses on feasts and church services. The celebration begins on Christmas Eve and extends until Epiphany (Jan. 6th), which is when the Wise Men’s visit to baby Jesus is celebrated.