SERIES Discover the Christmas traditions from around the world (1/5)

Christmas is just around the corner! It’s the perfect time to have a look at how different cultures celebrate Christmas in each of the five continents around the world.

Europe 🎅


No Christmas cleaning on Christmas Eve. In Norway it is custom to hide all the brooms in the house on this day. December is the darkest time of the year and it’s a long-held belief that mischievous spirits and witches roam the lands during the period ready to steal a broom for their traditional Christmas night-ride.. 


The main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening and is called “Kolacja wigilijna” (Christmas Eve supper). It’s traditional that no food be eaten (or sometimes the first present opened) until the first star is spotted in the sky! 


The Irish leave a tall red candle in a front window overnight, a welcoming symbol of warmth and shelter for the holiday season. The cead mile failte (one hundred thousand welcomes) that is Ireland’s trademark.  Further back in history, it was said to welcome the Holy Family and a house without a candle was seen as unwelcoming as the innkeeper who refused Joseph and Mary a room. Sometimes three candles are used to represent Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus.


Each night before Christmas, Icelandic children are visited by the 13 Yule Lads. After placing their shoes by the window, the little ones will head upstairs to bed. In the morning, they’ll either have received candy if they have been good. The Yule Lads are the 13 sons of Gryla and Leppaludi, vicious trolls. They each have funny names that often refer to their preferences in food or interest: Spoon Licker, Door Slammer, Sausage Swiper… The best time of the year to meet them is in December when they are busy preparing for Christmas.


For hundreds of years, people in northern Europe had big festivals in December called Yule. Those traditions became part of Christmas celebrations in places like Sweden. One of those traditions was the Yule goat. The Yule goat was supposed to help deliver presents. However, in 1966, Gälve came up with the idea of making a giant straw goat, now referred to as the Gävle Goat. The first Gävle goat actually made it all the way to New Year’s Eve before being burned down, but goat statues in other years haven’t been so lucky. In the past 50 years, the Gävle Yule goat has been destroyed 35 times!


St. Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century, in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. Many countries, especially ones in Europe, celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day on 6th December. In Germany, as well as some other European Countries, children leave clogs or shoes out on the 5th December (St. Nicholas Eve) to be filled with presents. But in the 16th Century in northern Europe, after the reformation, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became unpopular. But somebody had to keep delivering presents to the kids. So that’s when Santa Claus appeared.

And you? How do you celebrate Christmas in your country?

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