Christmas cultural traditions

Christmas cultural traditions

With the buzz of Christmas in the air we are delving into how different cultures celebrate Christmas. All around the world people celebrate with their own traditions at Christmas and others don’t celebrate it at all. Take a look at what Christmas cultural traditions some countries do on the day and leading up to it.


Lantern Festival- Philippines

On the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the city of San Fernado in the Philippines, the giant lantern festival occurs. San Fernado is known as the “Christmas capital of the world” because of this.

The lantern festival builds a fierce competition as people from all over the country try to create the best lanterns to parade on the day. When the festival first started, the lanterns were small and were made of Japanese origami paper (paper de hapon). Now, due to the popularity of the Christmas lantern festival, they can be around six metres in size and made from various materials.


Gavle Goat- Sweden

From 1966 a 13-metre-tall Yule goat has been built in the centre of Gavle’s castle square during the lead up to Christmas. The goat will be in its place from December 1st until the end of Christmas. This Swedish Christmas tradition has led to another tradition which is trying to burn it down. Since the Yule goat has been erected it has been successfully burned down 29 times.


Krampus- Austria

This is one of the craziest Christmas cultural traditions that takes a darker turn on the festive spirit. Krampus is a creature who is St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice. Krampus goes around to collect all the naughtiest children and takes them away in their sack.

In the first week of December, men dress up as the Krampus. They walk around and frighten children and adults with chains and bells. This sets a reminder for children to make sure that they behave so that Santa comes and rewards them instead of Krampus.


St Nicholas day- Germany

All over Germany they celebrate St Nicholas day on the 6th of December. St Nicholas travels by donkey in the middle of the night and leaves treats like coins, chocolate, oranges and even toys in children’s shoes. In exchange for the treats each child must recite a poem, sing a song or draw.

Yet, St Nicholas isn’t always just bringing treats for children as he often brings along Knecht Ruprecht. A devil creature dressed in dark clothes covered with bells. He carries a stick in hand to punish any children who are naughty.


Cavalcade of lights- Toronto

To mark the start of the Christmas holidays, Toronto holds the annual cavalcade of lights. Beginning in 1967 in Nathan Phillips Square, the cavalcade of lights illuminates the square and a Christmas tree with more than 300,000 energy-efficient LED lights.

Plus, there is a firework display that is put on and people can have fun with outdoor ice skating in the square too.


Day of the little candles- Colombia

Día de las Velitas (little candles day) kicks off the Christmas season across Colombia. People place candles and paper lanterns in their windows or front gardens in honour of the Virgin Mary. This Christmas tradition has now grown to where entire towns are lit up with detailed displays.


St Lucia’s day- Sweden

A special Christmas tradition for Sweden, Finland and Norway St Lucia’s Day celebrates a woman who is one of the first Christian martyrs. The eldest girl in each family dresses in white gowns and has a wreath on her head like St Lucia. Candlelit processions take place as well as the girls serve their family Lucia buns with coffee or mulled wine.


Christmas processions- Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, people celebrate Christmas at a different time to most of the world. They hold Christmas on January 7th in line with the Ethiopian orthodox calander. Celebrations begin with candlelit processions during mass where people wear white shawls and walk around the church three times before the service.

Also, gifts aren’t really given like most of the world’s Christmas. For Ethiopians, Christmas is a time for church and food whilst spending time with loved ones.




Cobweb Christmas- Ukraine

This tradition is based on folklore about a widow who couldn’t afford to decorate her families Christmas tree. Therefore, the spiders in her house felt sorry for her family and spun lovely webs across the tree in time for Christmas day.

Due to this, Ukrainians use decorations that look like spider webs for their Christmas tree instead of baubles. Spider webs are seen as something that brings good luck to you in Ukrainian culture too.


Roller skating- Caracas

This is one of the most fun Christmas cultural traditions that occur in the world. Every year in Caracas, capital of Venezuela, people roller skate their way to mass on Christmas morning. This Christmas tradition has become so popular that they now close the roads in the morning so that people can roller skate safely to church!


Festive sauna- Finland

In Finland, most homes have a sauna. At Christmas time, these saunas are a space associated with dead ancestors. During Christmas Eve, people relax in the sauna which is home to the ‘sauna elf.’ After their time in the sauna, Finnish people go out to celebrate whilst the spirit of their ancestors take their place within the water of the sauna.


Shoes by the fire- The Netherlands

Much like St Nicholas Day in Germany, children in the Netherlands place their shoes by the fire in hopes that Sinterklaas will leave small gifts and treats in them. Although naughty children don’t receive treats, they will receive a potato instead. Within their shoes, children leave some carrots for Sinterklaas’ horse named Amerigo.


Befana the witch- Italy

Italians celebrate Christmas like most of the world where family and loved ones give gifts, eat together and go to church. But the celebrations start earlier on the 8th of December with the feast of immaculate conception. This Christmas period ends on the 6th of January with the Epiphany.

This is where the folklore of Befana the witch gets celebrated just before the end of the Italians Christmas period. On the eve before the Epiphany, Befana visits houses through the chimney and leaves presents and sweets for good children.


Fried caterpillars- South Africa

One of the more unusual Christmas cultural traditions occurs in South Africa. Children and adults look forward to eating caterpillars as part of the festive food for Christmas day. They are perceived to give you some extra luck in the coming year if you eat them.


Alternative Christmas tree- New Zealand

In New Zealand they have a different type of tree that is linked with Christmas. The Pohutukawa tree is native to New Zealand with bright crimson flowers. The first mention of this tree came around in 1867 where an Austrian geologist described locals decorating churches and homes with this tree’s branches to add colour in their festive decorations.

Today the Pohutukawa tree is seen as a symbol of Christmas in New Zealand. It features on Christmas cards, decorations, and Christmas carols that children sing.


Fun Extras

Here’s a few fun extras of Christmas cultural traditions from all over the world that you may not know about:

  • In Japan Christmas is quite newly celebrated. Most people order KFC for their Christmas dinner instead of cooking.
  • Every year on Christmas a message from Donald Duck that first aired in 1958, is played in Sweden.
  • In Germany when they put a Christmas tree up, they hide a pickle in the branches. A gift is given to whoever finds it.
  • Even though the story of Christmas took place in Israel, Christmas isn’t widely celebrated, and it isn’t a public holiday. Only 2.5% of the population are Christians in Israel.
  • Sri Lanka start their Christmas celebrations on December 1st where they light firecrackers at dawn. Even though most of the population are Buddhist, Christmas is still a public holiday and celebrated by most.



These Christmas cultural traditions are a small snapshot of just a few countries. Use these different traditions as a fun lesson for your pupils to learn about the world and different cultures. You can also get children to share their personal Christmas traditions with the rest of the class too.

How do you celebrate Christmas? Tell us on our Facebook, we would love to know.

For more Christmas fun take a look at our Christmas card crafting blog!

<a href="" target="_self">Amber Vaccianna</a>

Amber Vaccianna

Hope blog writer

5 December 2022

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