From Italy To Japan – 10 Amazing Christmas Traditions From Around The World

A family, according to their Christmas tradition decorates their tree at night, lifting their little girl to put a star on top

The festive season is officially here and whilst many of us have our traditions that we stick to year after year, it’s often very different for everyone across the world. Many in the UK often dream of a white Christmas and Australians are known to enjoy their Christmas whilst on the beach with a BBQ!

Travel Department have put together a snapshot of how cultures around the world celebrate the festivities. Take a look below.

1. Italy & Befana the Witch

Whilst Italy celebrates the holiday season with delicious food on both Christmas eve and Christmas day, they also have an extra holiday tradition. On the eve of 6th January, called Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas), children will excitedly leave their stockings out in the hopes it will be filled with sweets and presents.

2. Italy & No Meat on Christmas Eve

Even though Christmas Eve is cause of a family feast in Italy, unlike the following day, it’s traditional that no meat (and sometimes no dairy) is consumed. It’s often a meal consisting of seafood before people go to Midnight Mass services.

3. The Netherlands & Shoes by the Fireplace

In the lead up to 25th December, the children of The Netherlands place shoes by the fire in hopes that Sinterklaas will fill them with small gifts in the night. Similar to how we would leave a cookie and a drink for Santa and a snack for his reindeer, the Dutch leave carrots in the shoes for Sinterklaas’ faithful steed, a white horse named Amergio.

Whilst we’re used to naughty children receiving coal in their stocking, children who misbehave would traditionally receive a potato in lieu of gifts.

A room with Christmas tree all decorated, a fireplace that is not lit, gifts and fairy lights - various traditional colours and decor give a warm cosy look

4. Ukraine & Festive Cobwebs

Usually, we associate Christmas with wreathes, tinsel, baubles and more; Ukrainians often use decorations that mimic a spider’s web shimmering in the winter dew. This tradition stems from a folktale about a widow who could not decorate a tree for her children, so spiders took pity on the family and spun beautiful cobwebs all over the tree for Christmas morning. 

Additionally, spider’s webs are considered to be lucky in Ukrainian culture.

5. Japan & Fried Chicken Feast

In 1974, KFC undertook a holiday marketing campaign in Japan. The straightforward phrase “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) started a national custom that is still popular today. Despite the fact that Christmas is not a public holiday in Japan, families from all across the nation gather there for a special Christmas Eve supper.

Kentucky Fried Chicken with Japanese letters - a Christmas tradition and advert from their official site

6. South Africa & a Barbeque

While the festivities vary by area and culture in South Africa, most families get together for a barbeque known as a braaing. The main course includes marinated steaks and boerewors sausages, while the traditional dessert is malva pudding served with custard. Christmas trees made of traditional fir are adorned with a variety of ornaments, including hand-beaded African decorations.

Barbecuing meat is a tradition in South Africa, and it is done for Christmas - here hot steam is lifting off the meats as they simmer and cook on an barbecue

7. The Alpines & Krampus Joins Santa

According to mythology, the Krampus, a devil-like monster, joins St. Nicholas celebrations on 6th December in Alpine nations like Austria. A list of their good and bad deeds is requested from the kids: children who behave well receive treats like candy, apples, and nuts, while those who don’t behave well worry about what the Grinch might bring on Christmas morning.

White stockings over a fireplace and a tree that is also decorated in white fur - traditional customs and decor for a house along with nativity scene in white figurines too

8. Egypt & Christmas in January

In Egypt, Christmas Day isn’t celebrated on the 25th December but on the 7th January! Coptic Orthodox Christians observe a specific fast during the 43 days leading up to Christmas (Advent), from 25 November to 6 January, during which they essentially follow a vegan diet. They don’t consume anything made with animal products (including chicken, beef, milk and eggs). It is referred to as “The Holy Nativity Fast.” However, people can be forgiven if they are too weak or ill to fast properly.

9. Philippines & Four Months of Christmas & Parol

Philippines is known for celebrating Christmas for four months – Festivities begin in September! However, formal celebrations begin on 16th December with the first of nine pre-dawn early morning masses. Whilst Filipinos have adopted many western traditions such as Christmas Tree, Santa Claus, and Christmas Carols, they still enjoy some native traditions.

‘Parol’ is traditionally a bamboo pole or frame with a paper star lantern on it. The decoration symbolises the star that guided the Wise Men and is one of the most popular decorations in the country.

10. Ireland & A Single Red Candle

A tall red candle is traditionally left in a front window by the Irish overnight as a warm-weather sign of safety and protection. In Ireland, homemade roast goose, veggies, cranberries, and potatoes are a common holiday cuisine. There’s also the ‘little Christmas’ or ‘Women’s Christmas’ – January 6 is a special day in Ireland when the women of the country are celebrated. It’s to cheer their efforts – all women who worked so tirelessly during the holiday period. The day falls on January 6, and is also known Nollaig na mBan, or The Feast of the Epiphan.

Have you visited any of these beautiful counties and their cultures during the festive period? Or perhaps you’re looking to adopt your own family tradition? Regardless, Christmas is celebrated across the world in a variety of ways – each as beautiful as the last!

If you’re looking to visit any of these countries, why not try a guided tour holiday? Travel Department offer plenty of discounts and have holiday deals all year around.


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