The Global Citizen's Guide to 11 Christmas Traditions Around the World

December 21, 2016 / by Jillian Rodriguez

A Christmas tree among palm trees.

The winter holiday season is upon us, and there’s magic in the air. For those who celebrate Christmas, its traditions and customs are held close to our hearts: the warmth of a crackling fire, exchanging gifts with loved ones, and the sweet smells of a Christmas feast. All around the world, people are gearing up to celebrate the big day in their own special way.

Christmas celebrations across the world reflect a unique landscape of cultures, languages, and customs that give us a glimpse into their daily lives. As language learners and cultural junkies, we love to explore how these celebrations play out from the shores of Southern France to the icy vistas of Greenland. From the food on their tables to their preparations for Santa’s arrival, let’s explore some of the world’s most interesting Christmas traditions.


1. Ukraine

Spider webs on tree branches.

In Ukraine, you might be surprised to find some homes looking more like Halloween night than Christmas Eve. Some people decorate their Christmas tree with fake spider webs or web-inspired decorations because of an old legend about a poor widow. As the story goes, the woman was too poor to afford decorations for their family’s Christmas tree. But when they woke up in the morning, the children found the tree decorated with beautiful, intricate webs that shone silver and gold in the light.


2. Ireland

A can of Guinness Ale.

Forget milk and cookies — in Ireland, families leave mince pies and Guinness Ale for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Some families might also prepare a Christmas pudding made with Guinness or Irish Whiskey — any way you slice it, Santa’s getting a bit of a buzz once he hits The Emerald Isle.


3. Czech Republic

A  bride wearing shoes.

Single on Christmas Eve? This tradition in Czech Republic will give you a glimpse into your future. On Christmas Eve, single women will stand facing away from the front door, throw a shoe over their shoulder, and see how it lands. If it lands with the toe pointing towards the door, she will marry in the next year. But if the heel is facing the door, she’s going to have to wait longer to find her perfect mate.


4. Spain 

Spanish dessert turron.

In Spain, expect to be served turrón around the holidays, a traditional Spanish dessert that dates back to the 16th century. This sweet treat is made from honey, egg whites, sugar, and toasted almonds, but each family puts their own special twist on this classic recipe. Around the holidays, turrones are sold in shops and bakeries at nearly every turn.


5. Norway 

A broom leaning against a brick wall.

Hide your brooms — and not just because you don’t want to do any cleaning! Nordic tradition dictates that witches and evil spirits take to the streets on Christmas Eve, stealing brooms from homes to take a wild ride in the night sky. Families will hide their brooms and cleaning supplies on Christmas Eve to keep the skyways clear of these evil spirits!


6. Japan

Fried chicken.

Ever heard the phrase 'Kentucky for Christmas!' or Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii? In the 1970s, the popular fast-food chain KFC launched a massively successful marketing campaign in Japan encouraging families to get a bucket of 'Christmas chicken' for their holiday dinner. The idea really stuck — today, many families still opt for a KFC chicken dinner, placing their order months in advance to avoid the massive lines. Today, the fried chicken dinner comes with champagne and cake and costs at least 3,336 yen ($40).


7. Greenland 

A farmhouse in Greenland.

An Inuit Christmas feast will traditionally include kiviak, which ferments auk birds inside the skin of a seal. With as much air removed as possible, it is placed under a flat stone where it ferments for months and is ready to be eaten just in time for Christmas or other winter celebrations.


8. Finland

A bucket in a sauna.

We could all use a little R&R around this hectic time of year. In Finland, people often enjoy a Christmas sauna after a night of feasting, caroling, and drinking ale. As part of the country’s centuries-old tradition of Christmas Peace, stores close down, public transportation slows, and peaceful, respectful observance of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve.


9. Italy 

A fish dinner.

In Italy, families celebrate Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. This special dinner features — as the name suggests — seven different seafood dishes. Most Italians don’t actually call it by this name, they’re more likely to refer to it as La Vigilia [The Vigil]. You might also eat lentils during the holidays in Italy, because they are believed to bring good luck and prosperity in the year ahead.


10. France

A log burning in a fireplace.

In Southern France, many families burn a log in their fireplace from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. This has roots in the traditional Yule log, which farmers would burn to bring good luck to their crops in the coming year. They would take a part of the log and wedge it into their plow for good fortune.


11. Australia

A kangaroo.

In Australia, Christmas takes place during the summer season, so celebrations revolve around outdoor barbecues, trips to the beach, and other fun-in-the-sun activities. While Australians embrace many familiar Christmas traditions — like hanging lights and caroling — they put up Christmas bushes instead of pine trees, and Santa’s sleigh is led by six kangaroos (called ‘white boomers’) instead of reindeer!

Like Santa Claus himself, you’ve just traveled the world of Christmas traditions. Legend has it Santa can speak any language in the world — why not take a cue from the man in red and brush up on your own language skills? With Mango, choose from over 70 world languages from around the globe. Celebrate the holidays and learn how to send season’s greetings in another language! Click the button below to choose a language, then create a profile to start your first lesson for free.


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Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Jillian Rodriguez

Written by Jillian Rodriguez

Jillian is a writer and editor out of Detroit, Michigan. She loves connecting people through new ideas, interesting stories, and good conversation. In her free time, Jillian loves to read, write, and listen to podcasts - in Spanish and in English!

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