Christmas Around the World


While unique in celebration around the world, the magical and happy theme of Christmas remains constant.

Sofia Siqueira

The sleigh bells are ringing, and soon enough, Santa Claus will be coming to town! Christmas day was officially introduced as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, and because it shared such a close association with the winter solstice festivals, Christmas soon became a global phenomenon by the end of the eighteenth century. Through the years, the holiday’s traditions and practices were developed to fit the cultural background and rich heritage of countries across the world. 

With the holidays just around the corner, billions of people around the world are getting ready to celebrate a seasonally diverse and wonderful time of year with an assortment of unique traditions. From fried chicken to a “demonic Santa,” here’s a look into how different parts of the world choose to commemorate Christmas!


In Japan, people celebrate December 25th with a bucket of fried chicken. In a country where only 1% of the population is Christian, Christmas traditions were quite scarce; this was, of course, until KFC entered the picture. Ever since a marketing campaign was launched in 1974, the American chain KFC has been the most popular food choice for the Japanese during Christmas; it’s cheap, romantic, delicious, and now, it’s also a national token!


For Australians, the winter season is a perfect excuse for a tropical getaway. On December 25th, people head to the beach, place a Christmas tree in the sand, and celebrate vivaciously under the blazing sun. Foods like cold turkey, ham, and salad are a popular favorite for the beach picnic. Some even say that Santa likes to turn up in shorts to greet the children!


In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas—St. Nicholas day—is the centerpiece of the holiday season. The 300-year old saint is a cultural icon for both children and grown-ups across the country. The legend states that on December 5th, St. Nicholas and his helpers sail from Spain all the way to the Netherlands on a mission to bring presents for the children. Stefan Lanslots, a Dutch native, says about the holiday “I like it a lot better than Christmas! Christmas is just food…St. Nicholas is unimaginable, it’s a big part of everyone’s childhood, and now that I have kids, I get to relive that joy once more.” Every year the arrival of St. Nicholas is broadcasted on TV for the whole nation to watch. 


In Sweden, people thrive on the Yule Goat tradition. It’s essentially a 43-foot goat statue made from straw that has been exhibited annually at Slottstorget (Castle Square) since 1966. However, there’s more to this custom than meets the eye. Every year, a person attempts to burn down the goat before Christmas day, while the rest of the community waits with bated breath to see if the arsonist will succeed. Over the years, the goat has been destroyed 35 times! Swedes have a lot fun trying to find ways to protect their beloved goat, from security guards to flameproof chemicals!

South Africa

South Africa also deviates from your run-of-mill Christmas menu. Instead of turkey, they have fried worms for dinner. Mopane worms are caterpillars of the emperor moth—Gonimbrasia belina—that surface aplenty in winter. Towards the end of the year, protein sources, such as red meat, are very thin on the ground, hence worms, that happen to be a great source of protein, are consumed to fill the void. 


Home to the first Christmas tree to ever exist, Latvia is said to have decorated a tree with artificial roses in 1510 for the first time in history. Latvia upholds some of the most unusual gift-giving traditions. The official Christmas logo for Latvians is “a gift, a poem;” it’s customary for people to recite poems, sing, play an instrument or dance before receiving a present. Kids memorize short poems with this very intention in mind. 


St. Nicholas gives presents and treats to nice children, while Krampus punishes the naughty ones. Half-demon, half-goat, Krampus is an Austrian Alpine Region mythical figure that’s meant to keep children on their toes all year; legend has it that if you misbehave, Krampus will pay you a visit on Christmas night. He has continuously gained a lot of popularity; nowadays, it’s traditional for adults to dress up as Krampus and give the kids a good scare; Krampus has also become a familiar face in horror movies because he’s so in character with the genre.

These are just some of the many special traditions out there, but there are many ways people choose to spend the Christmas season around the world. Feel free to explore them with the holiday cheer!