Christmas Traditions from Around the World


December 22, 2020

Christmas is a season filled with familiar traditions. Whether your holiday routines involve baking Great-Grandma’s cookie recipe, moving an elf from one room to another or caroling throughout your neighborhood, there can be great comfort in knowing what to expect from one year to the next.

Still, it’s good to break out of your routines sometimes. 

Moving outside of your holiday comfort zone helps introduce a little stress into your season — in a good way.

Sure, you might already feel plenty of seasonal stress. Wrapping presents, baking goodies, mailing cards. Your to-do list feels a mile long.

Fortunately, instead of simply adding another task to the pile, the small stress of trying something completely out of your norm has the potential to improve your overall productivity and satisfaction. 

Good stress like this is known as eustress

And thanks to eustress, you may come away feeling more focused, more creative and more motivated to truly enjoy the holiday season.

Where can you find a new holiday idea? Turn to someone on the other side of the world for help.

In countries throughout the world, people observe Christmas in ways that may be quite different from your usual traditions. To infuse your holidays with a taste of something new, give one of these celebration ideas a try.

North America

Piñatas for Christmas in a traditional market in Mexico | image: iStock/Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez


Leading up to Christmas, families in Mexico attend Posada parties in the homes of friends or family. The theme of these celebrations is Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in the city of Bethlehem.

Piñatas are a common activity during posada festivities. You might typically associate piñatas with birthday parties, but why not add one to your Christmas plans this year? 

During any season, young kids are sure to enjoy donning blindfolds, swinging at paper-mache figures and scooping up handfuls of sweets when the piñata bursts open.

Traditional Mexican posada piñatas are shaped as 7-point stars meant to represent sin. While you’re welcome to try your hand at making one of those, it’s also okay to keep your plans simple by picking up a colorful, festive piñata at your local discount store.

Dominican Republic

Cleaning and decluttering are common Christmas traditions in the Dominican Republic. It’s a practical way to embody the end-of-the-year idea of “out with the old, in with the new.”

Now, cleaning might not be your top choice for a holiday activity, but perhaps the Dominican people’s follow-up activity will convince you to adopt this tradition. After finishing their decluttering sessions, they treat themselves to a shopping spree.

You may want to make this shopping session an activity for the week after Christmas so that you can take advantage of post-holiday clearance prices.

South America

Traditional Spanish “buñuelos” on dark background | image: iStock/carlosrojas20


Christmas Eve dinners in Ecuador often feature turkey or suckling pig. Since most homes have small ovens, it’s common to order the meat from a local establishment. If your list of holiday tasks seems too long to tackle, take inspiration from the Ecuadorians and purchase a prepared meal from one of your favorite restaurants.

Rice is another common item on Ecuadorian Christmas menus. It’s usually featured in multiple dishes that range from sweet to savory. 

Plus, the tables are loaded with an impressive array of desserts. Some favorites include chocolate cake and fried balls of dough called buñuelos.


As a predominantly Catholic country, Argentina celebrates Christmas with more religious flare. People here shoot fireworks at midnight on Christmas Eve and may wait until January 6th — Three Kings Day — to give gifts to their children.

Although Christmas is a warm holiday in this country, Argentinians place cotton balls on the branches of their Christmas trees and around their homes to represent snow. And traditional seasonal colors are red and white, as opposed to our red and green here.

A nativity scene, also known as pesebre, is also common among Argentine Christmas decorations.

Christmas Ornament and sheet music | image: iStock/webking



Over 90% of Senegalese people practice Islam. But Christmas is still a big occasion in Senegal. Muslim citizens celebrate this holiday alongside their Christian neighbors. In turn, the country’s Christians often participate in Muslim festivities.

During the Christmas season, people of all backgrounds purchase Christmas trees, decorate with paper snowflakes, hang strands of lights and visit Santa Claus.

Take inspiration from the people of Senegal and invite someone from a different background to one of your holiday celebrations. You could also spend time learning about another faith’s holidays, such as the Jewish observance of Hanukkah or the Hindu festival of Diwali.


If you’re a night owl, think about celebrating Christmas the Kenyan way. People in Kenya traditionally attend a late-night Christmas Eve church service, and bells ring at midnight to celebrate the arrival of the Christ child. 

Afterward, people head home for an all-night party with family or friends.

Caroling is a popular overnight activity, too. As groups of singers go door to door, they are rewarded with small monetary gifts, which are donated to the carolers’ churches in the morning. 

The next time you go caroling, politely ask your listeners for loose change or canned goods that you can donate to a local charity.


Family having Christmas lunch together in their backyard | image: iStock/pixdeluxe


Christmas is a summer holiday in Australia, and Santa is known to enjoy the warm weather while delivering gifts there. While in the land down under, he often wears light clothes instead of the furry suit that he dons while visiting American homes. Santa also takes time to visit the beach for some surfing on Christmas morning.

Australian families suspect that Santa could use a break from the heat, so they leave him a cold glass of beer with his cookies instead.

If Santa is part of your holiday celebrations, consider getting the kids involved in brainstorming new foods for St. Nick. Your kiddos may have fun pairing nontraditional fare with Christmas favorites on the cookie plate this year.

New Zealand

In recent years, families in New Zealand have been known to turn Christmas dinner into a casual affair — an idea you might want to adopt if cooking an elaborate meal sounds more exhausting than enlivening. Many Kiwis even enjoy their Christmas dinners while sitting in the backyard or on the beach.

Grilled foods are just right for a beachfront Christmas meal. 

New Zealanders may barbecue traditional holiday meats like ham or turkey, or they may opt for shrimp and other seafood. Alongside the meat dishes, they often serve vegetables, salads, potatoes, fresh fruit, Pavlova and Christmas cake.

Other families in New Zealand choose hāngi, a cooking method adopted from the country’s indigenous Māori people. This involves digging a hole in the ground and filling it with hot rocks, meat and vegetables. Later in the day, they unearth the food and enjoy a delicious meal.

Christmas fever season at Trivandrum city, Kerala State, India | image: iStock/josephbastin



Among Christian families in India, stars are an important holiday symbol. They represent the idea of Jesus as the light of the world.

Paper star-shaped lanterns light up the streets in some parts of India during the holiday season. These colorful decorations adorn homes and streets. Imagine singing your favorite Christmas carols with family and neighbors under a canopy of bright paper lanterns.

Some people in India purchase their star lanterns at the market, and others craft their own. This year, you can try your hand at making homemade versions using printer paper, a hole punch and a strand of fairy lights. Get started with this free printable pattern.


The Chinese term for Christmas Eve, pinganye, translates to “quiet evening.” The idea comes from the famous Christmas carol “Silent Night.” If your holiday season could use a breath of fresh air, you’d probably relish the idea of a Christmas Eve focused on peace and quiet.

Pinganye sounds similar to the Chinese word for “apple,” and a modern tradition has developed as a result. 

These days, people in China mark the holiday by gifting each other fancy apples. They are often wrapped in bright paper or colorful boxes, or they have elaborate designs stenciled right onto the fruit. Eating these Christmas apples is said to bring peace and good fortune.

You could incorporate this Chinese tradition into your holidays by slipping a paper-wrapped apple into each of your children’s stockings. With a group of teens or adults, you could hold a contest to see who does the best job of carving a holiday greeting into the face of an apple. Afterward, eat the apples for a healthy serving of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants.

Curious grey cat peeking over a wooden table at ornaments | image: iStock/LittleCityLifestylePhotography


Great Britain

If you live in a home without a fireplace, try adopting the British approach to Christmas stockings this year. Rather than using the mantel, families in England hang their children’s stockings on the bedposts. Just be sure to ask St. Nick to tiptoe as he fills each sleeping child’s sock.

Feeling nostalgic for your school days this year? How about getting a group of school friends back together to catch up over the holidays? 

The British tradition of reuniting with schoolmates usually happens on Christmas Eve. But since in-person gatherings are still a no-go this year, try a virtual happy hour with old friends instead.

And for your kids, consider adding Christmas crackers to the holiday meal this year. These noisy tubes pop open to reveal a paper hat, a joke and a small prize — perfect for the young and young-at-heart around your table this year.


Icelandic tradition insists that everyone should receive a new article of clothing and wear it on Christmas. If not, you could be eaten by Jólakötturinn, the Yule Cat! This giant cat is said to stalk the countryside on Christmas night in a search for anyone without new warm garments.

Keep the Yule Cat away from your home this year by gifting each member of your family a new pair of socks or mittens. 

And while you’re at it, make sure that others are safe from the beast — and the threat of bitter winter weather — by donating clothing items to a charitable organization in your area.

During this season of peace and harmony, a Christmas practice from the other side of the world might help you feel closer to the global community, your own family and the meaning of Christmas. Adding multicultural elements to your celebrations may even become your new holiday tradition.