This is the season that spikes our curiosity for the the world near and far. What are the holiday celebrations and Christmas traditions of cultures around the world? Here are a few of our favorites, discovered ourselves during our own travels or learned about from expats who have lived in exotic spots around the world.

Christmas traditions around the world include the Capitol tree in Washington DC.

This was the Capitol Christmas Tree outside the White House in 2004. Photo from Wiki Commons

Christmas Traditions Around the World:
Caribbean and South America

First stop, South America.  While this hemisphere is usually lumped together as one homogeneous body, it couldn’t be father from the truth. Sometimes locals have trouble understanding one another even though they speak the same official language! Here are a couple of unique holiday traditions that take place:

Puerto Rico: La Trulla Parrandera

If you ask me, I have no idea what that means. Luckily my Boricua friend explained that it is the island’s version of caroling. Voices and  instruments like maracas or tambourines are essential. In reality, banging a pot with a spoon will do.  Anything that can carry rhythm and make loud noises is welcomed to accompany traditional tunes and have a great fun time with plenty of Caribbean flare.

Traveling or not, ready to learn about Christmas and holiday traditions around the world? You might love one or two and make them part of your own family celebration.

Venezuela

Specifically in Caracas, the capital city, people in this very Catholic country go to Christmas morning mass in skates.  The city closes off roadways so people can safely skate to church.  Apparently this tradition started when one of the top 10 gifts for the season were roller blades!

Morro in San Juan Photo credit: Bruno Fabregoul

Morro in San Juan
Photo credit: Bruno Fabregoul

Brazil

If you are in Brazil, I encourage you to leave a sock near a window.  That is because if Papai Noel (Santa Claus) finds it, he will exchange it for a present.  He won’t care what sock he takes, so make sure you don’t leave a favorite of yours at the window.  No one knows where the tradition came from or where it started, but if you are getting a present in return, you just do it, right?  My kids have been saving their mismatched socks.  This year they are going to test the tradition. They want to know if Papai Noel will leave one gift for every sock, or if it is only one gift regardless of how many socks you leave. I am guessing it is the latter, what do you think?

Christmas Traditions Around the World: Europe

Holiday decoration in the strees of Verona, Italy; photo credit: Bruno Fabregoul

Austria

No one wants Krampus around. Believe me, my kids don’t want a half goat-half human demon after them for their bad deeds either. Oh, and it is not just about being on the Krampus’ nice list.  You must make sure the Christmas spirit is kept alive.  If you decide to say you don’t believe in Christmas anymore…..well, let’s say I don’t be around to find out what happens.  “Mom, can we have Christmas everyday?”  That is what my little one said the moment he heard about Krampus.

Serbia

St. Nicholas, or Sveti Nikola is the local version of Santa Claus. With a large Orthodox celebrating populations, Serbs commemorate St. Nicholas Day on December 19th. Similar to what is done in Brazil, shoes instead of socks are left out on windowsills on St. Nicholas Eve.  The next morning kids will find sweets, small toys, or dried fruit in their shoes.  A variation of stocking stuffers if you ask me.

Photo credit: Manuela Pradilla

Photo credit: Manuela Pradilla

Norway

Witches are out and about on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to fly on.  What are you to do if you are visiting Norway?  Why ask the children to hide all the brooms in the house, of course!  Oh, and also, don’t forget to help the kids set out a bowl of porridge for Nisse.  He is a three feet tall gnome in charged of farm animals.  If he doesn’t find his porridge on Christmas Eve, he will be sure to play tricks on the children the next day.

Holiday Traditions Around the World: Asia

China

I called the Chinese consulate to find this one out.  It turns out that gifting apples has become increasingly popular in China around Christmas time.  “Are you serious?” asked my son incredulously.  Turns out that wrapped apples in colorful paper are a thoughtful gift because in Chinese Christmas Eve is “Ping’an Ye” (平安夜) peaceful or quiet evening.  This meaning was taken from a translation of Silent Night ( The Christmas Carol) and paired to the Mandarin word for apple “píngguǒ” (苹果) which sounds like the word for peace.

Nativity in Barcelona Photo credit: Taty Pradilla

Nativity in Barcelona
Photo credit: Taty Pradilla

Japan

Christmas celebrations take on a Valentine’s Day feel as couples exchange gifts on Christmas and go on special dates.

Holiday Traditions Around the World

OK so my little man has his socks ready and my princess is making sure Krampus is kept at bay with all her holiday decorations.  Inspired by our virtual travels around the globe learning about holiday traditions around the world, I am working on something entirely new of our own.  I am planning a  new tradition.  It will be a contest to see who can come up with the most designations for Santa Claus in the least amount of time.

Want more holiday traditions around the world? Check out these New Year’s food traditions around the world.

What is your favorite holiday tradition from a different country?