Christmas traditions from around the world

Learn how other cultures celebrate

15 December 2021

Christmas is nearly here, and we’ve been finding out what countries across the world do to celebrate at this time of year. From Christmas goats to roller-skating, there are lots of interesting traditions to discover. 

One of the cosiest Christmas traditions takes place on Christmas Eve in Iceland, when people exchange books and spend the rest of the night reading them and eating chocolate as part of a season called Jolabokaflod, or ‘The Christmas Book Flood’. 

Another warming tradition comes from Finland. On Christmas morning, families will eat porridge made of rice and milk and topped with cinnamon, milk or butter. In one of the bowls is a hidden almond and whoever finds the almond wins.  

A chillier Christmas tradition comes from Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. In the morning, people grab their roller-skates and go to church. So many people take part that lots of city streets get closed so everyone can skate safely. 

Another tradition you’d need to wrap up warm for is visiting the Gävle Goat, a 12-metre tall goat made of straw that was created in 1966. The goat is a Swedish symbol coming from pagan festivals, but the goat made in the 1960s has given the tradition a new lease of life. Each year, the massive goat is constructed in Gävle and there’s even a livestream from the first Sunday of Advent until after the New Year when it's taken down so people all over the world can see it! 

Lots of traditions take place in the runup to Christmas Day. In Iceland, children are visited by the 13 Yule Lads each night before the big day. After placing their shoes by the window before bed they wait until morning to see if they have received candy (if they've been good) or shoes full of rotten potatoes (if their behaviour has been bad). 

Shoes are also included in a Danish Christmas tradition. In the days leading up to 5 December, children place their shoes by the fire in hopes that Sinterklaas will fill them with small gifts and treats in the night. Traditionally, carrots are left in the shoes for Sinterklaas’s white horse, Amerigo, so he has something to nibble on during their journey. 

One very interesting tradition that takes place in the runup to Christmas Day comes from Catalan. Tió de Nadal is the Christmas log which gets fed sweets and given water each evening between 8 December and Christmas Eve. The hollow log has a red hat and is tucked underneath a blanket each night to keep it warm. 

On Christmas Eve, things get a little bit strange. Children are tasked with beating the log with sticks while singing traditional songs and is properly beaten, the log magically poops out presents and candy - he is then considered useless and thrown in the fire for warmth. 

And that’s not all the traditions there are – in southern Italy you’ll find shepherds playing bagpipes, Norwegian people will hide their brooms on Christmas eve and hanging spider webs as decoration in Ukraine. 

There are so many fun events to learn about from countries and cultures around the world. Not everyone will celebrate Christmas and there are lots of other winter traditions to discover from other faiths and cultures too. Why not take some time to learn more about what different people do at this time of year?