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Unwrap the World: A global journey through Christmas traditions

Christmas traditions
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As we enter December, the world seems enveloped in magic, adorned with festive lights, the scent of warm spices, and an inescapable Christmas spirit.

As we prepare to carry out our own Christmas traditions, millions of people are also busy organizing various celebrations that have been repeated for hundreds of years.

In this article, I’ll take you on a curious journey through some of those unique Christmas traditions from various cultures worldwide.

Christmas traditions around the world

Germany: The heart of the Christmas markets

German Christmas market
®cmophoto.net / Unsplash

Our first stop takes us to the heart of Europe, where Germany’s Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte, enchant visitors with centuries-old traditions. Stroll through the charming stalls adorned with twinkling lights, savor the warmth of mulled wine, and indulge in seasonal delicacies such as stollen and lebkuchen. The lively atmosphere and decorations make these markets a paradise for those looking for a festive getaway.

Explore Europe’s Christmas Markets!

Mexico: Las Posadas

Mexico Christmas procession
®Diego Lozano / Unsplash

In Mexico, the Christmas season begins with Las Posadas. This nine-night procession retraces Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before the birth of Jesus.

Families and friends come together to participate in this procession, culminating each night in a joyful gathering with piñatas, music, and traditional Mexican cuisine.

This celebration is a reminder of the importance of community and family ties.

Japan: KFC and illuminated streets

Japan at Christmas time
®Varun Goregaonkar / Unsplash

Japan, on the other hand, offers a unique view of Christmas. Although it’s not a public holiday, the Japanese have embraced the festive spirit with their own twist.

Christmas Eve is often celebrated with a “feast” in an unexpected place — KFC. The Colonel’s special Christmas meals have become a popular tradition, combining American fast food with the Japanese love of unique celebrations.

On the other hand, the streets of Tokyo and other cities light up with dazzling lights, transforming and giving even more light to this country’s urban landscape.

Explore a new Japan Travel Guide made to use directly on your mobile phone

Ethiopia: Ganna, songs and dances

Ethiopia church
®aben tefra na Unsplash

In what they call “the cradle of civilization,” Christmas is known in Ethiopia as Ganna and presents a vibrant display of cultural festivities.

Watch a traditional Ethiopian religious service, where the faithful wear white robes and engage in joyful song and dance.

The cultural expressions experienced during Ganna reflect this nation’s deep-rooted spirituality and communal celebration.

Sweden: St. Lucia’s Day

Sweden candle festival
®Andrei Stratu / Unsplash

Moving on to the white landscapes of Sweden, we come across St. Lucia’s Day, a celebration of light during the darkest time of the year. Here, the girls dress in white dresses and wear crowns with candles, symbolizing Saint Lucia, who brings light to winter.

The warmth and glow of the candles, combined with the melodic sound of traditional songs, create a truly magical atmosphere.

Australia: Barbecues on the beach

Barbacue Christmas in Australia
®Simone Viani / Unsplash

Swap snow for sand and travel to Australia, where Christmas falls in the middle of summer. Embrace the sun-drenched festivities with beach barbecues, open-air concerts, and annual events such as Carols by Candlelight.

You’ll find that Australians have mastered the art of combining the traditional elements of Christmas with the laid-back, outdoor lifestyle unique to this corner of the world.

Spain: La Nochebuena

Spain at Christmas time
®Emilio Garcia / Unsplash

In Spain, La Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) is a time of celebration for families who come together for a festive meal with various dishes. The streets also come alive with processions, vibrant decorations, and the joyful sounds of Spanish Christmas carols.

Italy: Presepi and the culinary delights of the season

Presepi tradition in Italy
®Myriam Zilles / Unsplash

Italy, with its rich cultural heritage, celebrates Christmas with the tradition of Presepi (nativity scenes), which adorn churches and homes.

Christmas Eve, known as La Vigilia, is marked by a sumptuous feast of traditional dishes such as panettone and pasta. Italians indulge in the culinary delights of this festive season, creating a sensory experience that captures the essence of the country’s spirit.

Philippines: Simbang Gabi and the Parols

Church in the Philippines
®Lance Lozano / Unsplash

In the Philippines, the Christmas season begins with Simbang Gabi, a series of nine masses that precede Christmas Eve. Communities gather to attend these religious celebrations, followed by festive gatherings with Filipino delicacies.

The streets are also filled with Parols (handmade lanterns) that symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. The Filipino Christmas spirit is always characterized by hospitality and a deep faith.

Iceland: The boys of Yule and the magic of Jólabókaflóð

Christmas in Iceland
 ®aiden patrissi / Unsplash

Iceland’s Christmas traditions are as charming as they are peculiar. The Yule Lads, mischievous creatures, visit homes on the thirteen nights before Christmas, leaving presents or potatoes based on the children’s behavior.

Another Icelandic tradition, Jólabókaflóð, consists of giving books as gifts on Christmas Eve, fostering a love of literature and a cozy night of reading.

New Zealand: Pōwhiri and barbecue celebrations

Barbacue Christmas in New Zealand
®Harry Burt / Unsplash

In New Zealand’s scenic landscapes, Christmas is celebrated with Maori traditions and Kiwi culture.

Pōwhiri is a Maori welcoming ceremony, symbolizing the coming together of communities during the festive season.

Kiwis also embrace the warm weather with outdoor barbecues, picnics, and festive events, creating a relaxed Christmas atmosphere.

Ghana: Street processions

Christmas in Ghana
®Z Sarpong / Unsplash

In West Africa, Ghana embraces Christmas with vibrant street processions, music, and dancing. Churches organize lively ceremonies, and communities participate in festive gatherings marked by traditional cuisine.

Ghanaians emphasize charitable donations during Christmas, reflecting the spirit of generosity and community support.

Portugal: The Christmas feast and markets

Christmas in Portugal
®Letícia Pelissari / Unsplash

Christmas traditions in Portugal align with others in Europe at this time of year.

The streets come alive with Christmas lights and markets that sparkle with decorations and vibrant colors, creating a festive atmosphere that invites locals and visitors to share in the season’s joy.

The Christmas Eve dinner is the pinnacle of the celebration, bringing families together for traditional dishes such as codfish.


This kaleidoscope of Christmas traditions reveals the beauty of our world’s diversity. From processions in Mexico to the magical books of Christmas Eve in Iceland, each culture weaves a unique tale of celebration and connection.

This holiday season, consider embracing the richness of international traditions by adding new layers to your own festivities. Happy holidays!

Christmas traditions
Explore enchanting Christmas traditions around the world on this festive journey. From German markets to Filipino parols, unwrap the magic of global celebrations.
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Marlene On The Move

Marlene Marques

Marlene is the creator of Marlene On The Move. A journalist by profession, she created the blog to share her adventures around the world. It is not unusual for her to set off to discover new countries and cultures with a surfboard as luggage.

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