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  • Writer's pictureJulie Van Praet

BEST Christmas Traditions

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year everywhere! That’s why The Walking Parrot has rounded up the world’s most unique Christmas traditions. Whether you will implement these, oftentimes strange, customs under your own Christmas tree remains up to you!

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🌍 Europe


BEST Christmas Traditions


Netherlands and Belgium: Sinterklaas

The Netherlands and most of Belgium kick off Christmas with Santa’s long-lost cousin from Spain. Every 6th of December the faithful man ankers his boat near the North Sea to grant all the good kids their wishes. Sinterklaas’ helper Pete climbs down the chimney to deliver these children their wishes, in return kids leave a carrot in their shoe for his horse.

Surprisingly that carrot will be found the next day in the classic Dutch dish of stamppot.

BEST Christmas Traditions

Norway: Porridge for Nisse

Scandinavia has a whole array of cheeky elves to choose from. In Norway, Nisser are little gnomes that guard the house. To remain in good faith with them Norwegians will put a bowl of rice porridge on their doorstep in time for Christmas Eve: Julaften. To find out what other traditions grace the Christmas table in Norway, check out our Food Guide.

Call Norwegians superstitious because even brooms, mops, and brushes get locked safely away on Christmas Eve. In the olden days, people believed witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas to have a joyride on these brooms.

BEST Christmas Traditions

Sweden: The Yule Goat

BEST Christmas Traditions

Every year, cities and towns throughout Sweden build huge goat statues called Julbock. These giant straw goats are built on the first day of Advent and get lit up to signal the start of the holiday season.

A more solemn celebration takes place on the 13th of December, with girls and boys clad in white gowns singing songs together on St. Lucia’s day. This candlelit procession of singing children brings light to Sweden’s dark winters.

Slovakia & Czech Republic: The Golden Pig

Those who fast on Christmas Eve in the Czech Republic and Slovakia will see a golden pig in the evening. Like many traditions, this one dates back to pagan ancestors who celebrated the end of the shortest day of the year with roasted pork. Rebranded as a Christian tradition and eventually commercialized into an ad for a Czech soda.

Austria: Krampus

While many other countries have their own rendition of Santa Claus, Austria interpreted the jolly man a bit differently. While the nice kids still get a visit from Santa and get rewarded with presents and treats. Bad ones get a bit more than a lump of coal, they’ll have to face the wrath of Krampus.

Krampus is half-man and half-goat, and unlike its straw Swedish counterpart, Krampus will drag you to hell. In Alpine Austria and some parts of Germany, December 5 is known as Krampus Night where some audacious fathers will dress up as the Christmas demon to scare their children.

On the 6th of December, children wake up to treats and gifts, while others nurse their trauma.

Ukraine: Cobwebs

One of the greatest joys of Christmas is decorating the Christmas tree. In Ukraine, they ornate the tree with peculiar cobwebs. With a backstory far more wholesome than expected, it is to be said that considerate spiders decorated the bare Christmas tree of a poor widow. These days spiderwebs adorn Christmas trees to bring good fortune and luck in the upcoming year.

At Christmas dinner, Ukrainians go all out with a 12-course meal referencing all 12 apostles. With Kutya being a traditional Christmas wheat berry pudding served on the faithful eve.

BEST Christmas Traditions

Germany: Pickle in the tree

BEST Christmas Traditions

While Ukrainians put cobwebs on their Christmas tree, Germany thought of a more creative alternative.

An ornamental pickle is hidden in the Christmas tree, with the finder receiving either a reward or good fortune for the upcoming year. We would advise you to stick to the glass-blown variation and not to the actual vinegar vegetable.

Finland: Festive Sauna

A far more relaxing way to spend Christmas is in the Joulusauna. A traditional sauna taken in Finland for centuries and a place where family meets on Christmas Eve. Certainly, a more relaxing way to meet family members on Christmas day, the goal of this meet-up is to wash and purify your body and calm your mind.

Did we forget to mention that after sunset gnomes, elves, and spirits of the dead come to bathe in the sauna?

Italy: Befana the Witch
BEST Christmas Traditions

While in most nations a joyous bearded old man drops Christmas gifts off. Italian children get a visit from a Christmas witch in January.

La Befana is a far more wholesome figure than expected from its caricature. The witch buckles under a heavy sack overflowing with toys, chocolates, and candies. She’ll fly over roofs and comes down chimneys to fill stockings. The kids on the other hand leave a tangerine or orange and a good Italian glass of wine for her.

Iceland: The Yule Cat

BEST Christmas Traditions

As everyone over the age of 22 can agree, new socks are in fact a great Christmas gift. Anyone who hasn’t received a new clothing item on Christmas Eve gets a visit from the Jólakötturinn, Iceland’s Christmas cat. Much like the frightening Krampus, the Yule Cat takes Christmas enforcement seriously. All kids who finish their chores before Christmas get new clothes in return, and those who don’t have to face the fearless cat.

A more charming tradition on Christmas is Jolabokaflod where the people of Iceland gift a flood of books to each other.

Portugal and Brazil: Midnight Mass
BEST Christmas Traditions

As dictated by the Catholic church: before Christmas Day comes a period of fasting only to be broken by Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Also known as Missa do Galo or Rooster’s Mass, an exuberant mass is held at midnight all over Portugal and Brazil.

Traditionally Christmas supper is supposed to consist of Bacalhau and other Portuguese dishes. In the south of Portugal, a pig is killed days beforehand and turned into a variety of delicacies. During festivities the famous Bolo-Rei is eaten, a cake made in the shape of a crown, filled with dry fruits.

Check out our guided Portuguese Food Tours in Lisbon and Porto to learn more about these culinary traditions.

Rest of the World

Japan: Colonel Santa

BEST Christmas Traditions

In Japan, it’s customary to eat chicken at Christmas. Ever since its arrival in the 80s, Colonel Sanders has welcomed many Japanese into its establishment to celebrate the holy day.

On Christmas Eve the American fast food chain sells about 10 times more than on other days. Japanese queue neatly in line to pick up their red-adorned bucket.

Venezuela: Roller skate mass in Caracas

Perhaps the most fun Christmas tradition on this list takes place in the Venezuelan capital. In Caracas, it is customary to strap on your roller skates and glide to Christmas mass. A peculiar legend tells the tale of Venezuelan children going to bed with a string tied to their shoes. As skaters roll past they give it a gentle tug to let children know it’s time to head to church.

The tradition got so popular that the capital closes down streets so families can safely skate past food stalls and decorated houses.

BEST Christmas Traditions

New Zealand: Pohutukawa
BEST Christmas Traditions

Surprisingly, it is not the jolly man that connects Christmas traditions, but the Christmas tree. The Pohutukawa is New Zealand’s alternative Christmas tree. These striking trees grow up to 10 meters tall and flower red in December.

As Christmas falls in the middle of summer in the southern half of the globe, plants will blossom and parades flow.

Philippines: Giant Lanterns

BEST Christmas Traditions

The Philippines holds the record for the longest Christmas celebrations. Giving new meaning to the term Holiday Season by having over four months of festivities.

If you have a hard time embracing the holiday cheer, save yourself on a trip to the archipelago in September. As the first Christmas commercials start popping off and Filipinos drive to Manilla’s shopping malls, streets will get adorned with bright lights. A Parol is an ornamental lantern displayed during the festive season. Designed in many different forms, these lanterns light up the 9-day Christmas procession.

For some, this might be a bit of a Christmas overload, but Filipinos embrace this tradition happily. Any reason to celebrate and prepare food, sing, and dance is a good one.

Mexico: Las Posadas

From December 16 to Christmas Eve, Mexicans perform Posada processions. There are nine processions reflecting Joseph and Mary’s Christmas journey. Houses get decorated, lighting the way for these posadas. Each night a different house will hold a Posada party accompanied by a sinful pinata. On the 23rd in the town of Oaxaca, there’s even a whole night dedicated to radishes. The nativity story gets reimagined with tons of carved radishes, some weighing in at 3kg.

Radishes aren’t the only food gracing Mexican Christmas. Tamales are a traditional staple on many Mexican Christmas tables, symbolizing unity, celebration, family, and community.

BEST Christmas Traditions

You might say that all of these traditions have a bit of a snowball effect. From naughty to nice kids and from cobwebs to pickles. Check out our guides on Finland and Austria to learn more about what not to miss in time for Christmas. Stay updated on everything through @thewalkingparrot.

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