While Americans may enjoy Christmas as a day of celebrating the birth of Jesus, caroling, Santa Claus, and exchanging gifts, countries worldwide have a myriad of ways to celebrate this holiday! Whether it’s feasting at KFC or roller-skating to Mass, these 10 countries have unique traditions for the holiday season.
Christmas in Columbia begins on the evening of December 7th, known as Dia de las Velitas or "Day of little candles." Families decorate their homes and neighborhoods with candles and lights, and set off luminous firework displays to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season.
In Eritrea, neighbors will purchase a cow, slaughter it, then share the meat together. This community feast reminds them of the importance of unity over individualism.
In Finland, fishermen try to come ashore before the Feast of St. Thomas on December 21st, to share festivities as a family. Children will await the arrival of Joulupukki, which means “Christmas Goat.” This name comes from the tradition of the Finnish Yule Goat who asked people for presents.
In Great Britain, each family member takes turns stirring the Christmas pudding clockwise and makes a wish. Some children might also write their wishes in a letter to Santa that they throw into the fireplace, and Santa reads the smoke!
In Greenland, Mattak, or the inner layer of skin and outer layer of fat of a whale, seal or dolphin, is served on Christmas day. Greenland also claims to be the site of Santa’s summer vacations, where the jolly St. Nick passes the warmer months in the northern town of Uummannaq!
In Iceland, the magical Jólasveinar, or “Yuletide Lads” come down from the mountains to play little tricks and leave presents for children in their shoes placed on the windowsill. If the children have been naughty, they might receive a potato or a note telling them to be good!
In Japan, people make reservations at Kentucky Fried Chicken, after a successful 1974 advertisement campaign called Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii, or Kentucky for Christmas! became a dining tradition across the country.
In Lithuania, families gather for a Christmas Eve meal called Kūčios of 12 dishes representing Jesus’ 12 disciples. Families light a candle or reserve a chair for those who have passed away. The feast begins when the first star appears in the sky.
In Ukraine, families decorate their Christmas trees with artificial spider webs, and finding an eight-legged friend (real or fake!) on a web is good luck. This tradition comes from Ukraine’s legend of the Christmas Spider who was believed to spin tinsel.
Strap on your skates, and don’t forget your helmet! In Caracas, Venezuela, people roller-skate to church from December 16th to 24th. Across the country, firework displays light up the night sky on Christmas Day.
These fascinating traditions are seasonal reminders of our planet’s incredible diversity. Although many nations worldwide celebrate the Christmas season, no two countries are alike. Each tradition reflects national culture, heritage and character. Whether you’re sitting down to a Kūčios feast or scouring your tree for Christmas spiders, have a very merry holiday and a joyful winter season!
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.