Christmas is a beloved holiday widely celebrated around the world. Because of this, there is no single way to celebrate and hold festivities on this very special day.
All countries have different ways of spending the Christmas season with their own cultures and traditions. Learn 14 out of the 195 unique Christmas traditions around the world.
These traditions range from heartwarming to bizarre, but all of them are authentic ways to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. Here are 14 unique local and international Christmas traditions that will make you appreciate the holidays.
1. Colombia’s Day of the Little Candles
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The Day of the Little Candles starts at sunset on December 7th and ends at sunrise on December 8th, the celebration of the Immaculate Conception.
It's half a day of the whole country lit by the small star-like candles and lanterns; everywhere you turn, you witness constellations made by minuscule flames. And when December 8th rolls in, white flags are hoisted in all homes and establishments in Colombia to honor the Virgin Mary. A lot of other events are held during December 7th and 8th, like competitions and even firework display shows.
2. Germany’s Pickle Ornament
Germans have a mini hide-and-seek game during Christmas in the form of the hidden pickle ornament. In this bizarre German tradition, a small wooden pickle ornament is hung on the Christmas tree. When the tree is revealed to the children, they will race to find it. The wooden pickle is painted green not just to look authentic, but also to blend with the color of the tree.
Anyone who gets the pickle ornament will receive either a reward or good fortune for the next year ahead.
3. Austria’s Krampus
Photo courtesy of NickyPe via Pixabay
While children around the world wait eagerly for Santa’s visit to their homes, kids in Austria hold their breath because someone else is coming this Christmas: the evil Krampus.
Austrian myths tell of St. Nicholas’ spooky, counterpart, Krampus. He looks more like a devil with horns and hooves—a half-goat, a half-demon entity that targets naughty children. While Santa rewards kind children, Krampus punishes those who have misbehaved. During the first week of December, young men dress as the Krampus and roam the streets with chains and bells, scaring children.
Although we don’t want any nightmares creeping in the minds of children, it’s probably a good motivator for them to be nice throughout the year.
4. Mexico’s Los Posadas
Mexicans celebrate the Christmas season by reenacting the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of refuge. It’s a long procession led by children dressed as angels, and the people playing Joseph and Mary go from house to house, looking for a place to give birth to Jesus. Although traditionally no house accepts them, as is the story in the Bible, homes now have refreshments prepared for the members of the procession and other visitors.
5. Philippines’ all-around Christmas
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Filipinos are a Christmas-loving people. They start their celebrations as early as September, with lights already hanging on the windows and holiday songs blasting from the speakers. Christmas can also be celebrated everywhere, as long as you’re with your family.
Some families opt to stay home, and some travel to distant provinces to visit relatives. Other families make the most out of the holiday vacation and stay in tourist destinations to spend Christmas. You can have Christmas at the beach—like in Boracay! Party in the white sand shores and enjoy the waves; it’s the perfect Christmas tropical getaway.
6. Indonesia’s Christmas Leather Puppet Show
For a country where its people are mostly Muslim and Hindu, Indonesia celebrates Christmas eagerly, too. In the Yogyakarta area, they host puppet shows, Wayang Kulit, to tell the story of the nativity.
Wayang Kulit is a show of leather puppets, a famous tradition of Indonesia. It tells epics and myths of Indonesian history.
7. Bethlehem’s Processions
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Christmas is even more special in the place where Jesus was born. In Bethlehem, many different denominations of Christians and Catholics celebrate simultaneously by conducting many processions and masses in different languages.
Whether Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic, Protestant, or Ethiopian, Christmas is celebrated heartfully in Bethlehem despite the groups' differences in traditions. What they have in common is their love for Jesus and how this guides their lives.
8. France’s Reveillon
This is the French version of Noche Buena. Friends and families gather on the eve of Christmas, dressed to the nines, to have a big dinner. It’s a whole culinary journey in just a night, with a series of full-course meals and the les treize desserts, the thirteen desserts.
The thirteen desserts represent Jesus and his twelve apostles, and they are an essential component of the Reveillon. The Reveillon can be held at home, or even at restaurants. There is no limit to how many people can attend, and it's an event open to everyone.
9. Pampanga’s Giant Lanterns
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We see your little candles, Colombia; and we give you giant lanterns from San Fernando, Pampanga—the Christmas capital of the Philippines.
Here, the huge parols from different barangays compete every year. It’s a Pinoy tradition to go all out with Christmas lanterns, but people from San Fernando take it much higher. It takes them weeks to prepare for this competition, spending Php500,000 to Php700,000 for just one parol. The winner takes home a whopping Php120,000. But everyone who witnesses the lighting of these gigantic lanterns is a winner.
10. Philippines’ Simbang Gabi
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For nine consecutive nights, churches all around the country hold Simbang Gabi. It’s an important tradition to Filipinos to attend all masses, with a promise of a wish-come-true upon completion.
Even with their busy school and work schedules, Filipinos strive to complete the nine masses to honor the birth of Jesus. It starts on December 16 and ends on Christmas day.
11. Sweden’s Yule Goat
Dating back to Swedish Pagan rituals, the Yule Goat has been around a long time in the Swedish tradition. Every year at Christmas season, a humongous goat made of straw is constructed in Gavle, Sweden.
Strangely, every year since 1966, when the tradition first started, there have always been attempts to burn down the Gavle Goat despite strict security measures. For the last two years, however, the giant straw goat has survived despite attempts to set it on fire.
12. Finland’s Hidden Almond
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During Christmas morning in Finland, families have warm porridge for breakfast. This porridge is made up of cinnamon, butter, and milk. In one bowl, there's always a hidden almond whoever gets the almond in their porridge wins. But to prevent some kids from being upset, parents opt to place almonds in all bowls.
13. New Zealand’s Christmas Barbeques
Although we always associate Christmas with cold weather, some countries celebrate the holidays during the summer. This means their Yuletide festivities are usually in hot weather.
In New Zealand, they celebrate the Christmas season with cookouts on the lawn with their family, basking in the summer sun or chilling under the Pohutukawa tree, the Kiwi version of the Christmas tree.
14. Aklan’s Year-Round Christmas
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In a small corner of Aklan province, every day is Christmas. In New Washington, Aklan there sits a Christmas village where houses are in a festive mood all year round. Each home boasts holiday decorations, and at night time, the streets are bright with long strings of Christmas lights.
It's crazy how a centuries-old holiday has evolved into different interpretations in many countries. Each tradition is unique and unforgettable, each with its history and importance to the people.
Even in their own country, Filipinos haven’t fully grasped the Christmas experience, especially if they're used to spending it the same way, in the same place. Although coming home makes the holidays special, a little adventure during the Yuletide season can’t hurt.
So if you still haven’t got plans for Christmas, you can consider traveling and spending it someplace else because what’s important is that you’re with the people you love.