For me, celebrating Christmas was always one of the most magical times of year. I used to live in Poland, where almost every year my town was covered with snow. The most important day of celebration was Christmas Eve, where we would sit down together at the table as a family. After we’d spotted the first star in the sky, we would share a wafer and eat.
According to our traditions, we should have 12 meatless dishes on the table. These included barszcz z uszkami (borscht with raviolis), carp, herrings and pierogies. Of course, in every home it’s different now. My favourite dishes are fish in special Greek sauce, fish in vinegar, pierogies and potato salad. After dinner comes dessert – and lots of it! Polish people love their desserts, so there are several cakes to choose from.
After the meal, we open presents and sing carols until midnight, when we go to church. The first and second day of Christmas we then spend with family.
But that’s not the only way people around the world will be celebrating Christmas this year. Here, we catch up with bloggers from across the globe to find out how they spend Christmas Day. Grab a cup of tea and get cosy, because these Christmas traditions take a while. I’d love to know your favourite at the end? For me, it has to be Australia – Christmas at the beach sounds perfect!
Celebrating Christmas in the summer in New Zealand is a different experience. It is the summer holidays in New Zealand at Christmas time so the kids are off from school. Think BBQs, shorts and jandals, and beach cricket. At the end of the day a walk along the beach or a game of cricket to help you digest all that food is a great way to end the day. In New Zealand we also have a tree we call the Christmas tree as it blooms right around Christmas time and it has red flowers – the Pohutakawa Tree.
An Australian Christmas features all the best things I love about home. Hot summer days, fresh seafood and the beach. Since I was little this was our tradition. You would wake up in the morning and before it gets to hot, we opened our presents. We would leave all the adults to prepare the amazing Christmas meal and we would walk to the beach and spend the next few hours frolicking in the water. We would come home to a feast extravaganza with seafood laden tables and a roast ham. The art of eating then commenced! By late afternoon you are in a food coma and reflecting on a brilliant day with family, friends and food.
Maria from Bulgaria blog
In Bulgaria, Christmas Eve is the more important date. It is when the whole family gathers around a table set with 7, 9 or 11 vegetarian dishes. Stuffed peppers with rice, homemade bread, walnuts, bean stew, and stuffed cabbage leaves with rice are among the festive recipes you will find served. The gifts unwrapping takes place either on 24 December or on Christmas Day depending on every family’s traditions.
Ax from Philippines blog
You know it’s Christmas season in the philippines when you see “Parols” along the streets and houses of barangays and cities. A Parol is star woven decoration made from wood, or steel which is made by everyone in the philippines; Students, Employees, etc. Another tradition that filipino’s have is “Monito Monita” which means “Exchange Gift”. Monito Monita is where we write our names in papers and then whoever we pick, we’ll give him/her a gift! Noche Buena is one of the most exciting one in the list because it is an Open House banquet, whether it be from your neighbour or yours. Everyone is invited and videokes (karaoke) are always present in this one. Simbang Gabi or “Night Mass” is a tradition in the Philippines where people attend a nine-day series of masses. According to the locals, when you complete those nine days, The Lord will grant your wish.
Qetto from Georgia blog
Georgia is so beautiful and we have interesting christmas! Women of Georgia are preparing all the Georgian food like a ‘sacivi’ (it’s a food with meat and nuts),’khachapuri’,’lobiani'(as I know it translates as ‘bread with beans’) etc.When it’s 00:00 there are fireworks on the whole sky and we have special person called ‘mekvle’ (it may be our neighbor or relative) who come to us and wish us all the best.When Mekvle come to our home She/He throws sweets.We continue to celebrate New Year in morning.Guests come and come.We drink Georgian natural wine and eat natural food.Make gifts to each other.I think we have so interesting time
Sally from Spain (Barcelona) blog
Barcelona’s traditional and longest running Christmas Market is the Feria de Santa Llúcia (Fair of Saint Lucia). Since 1786 people have been coming to the market to buy Christmas trees, gifts, and the traditional Caga Tió. Caga means ‘poop,’ and Tio means ‘tree trunk’ so it means ‘pooping tree trunk.’ The Catalan Christmas log appears in homes around December 8th. Children keep the log as a pet, keeping it warm with a red blanket and feeding it traditional Christmas food.
On Christmas Eve, the family gathers around the log singing as the children beat it with sticks. After the beating and singing are over, the children to their rooms and pray for the log to “poop out gifts.” To let the family know it is done pooping out small gifts like dried fruit, nuts and candy, it will poop out a salt herring, garlic, or onion. Parents then call the children back to the room, uncover the log, and enjoy the gifts.
Varsha from Germany blog
The Christmas in Germany is very peculiar with some interesting traditions. Most unique features are Advents calendar, Advents Wreth, St. Nicolas, Christmas markets, food and the Boxing day – second day after actual Christmas day.
The Advents calendar is popular among kids. It has 24 small doors and behind each door, there is a small surprise for kids. Advents Wreth is a decorative arrangement of 4 candles. One candle is lit on each Sunday, starting from 4th Sunday before Christmas day. On this day, family spends time together while singing, movie watching etc.
St. Nicolas is like popular Santa Clause but he comes on 6th Dec to distribute sweets, nuts and fruits among children.
Another important part of Germany’s Christmas celebration is to visit Christmas markets. These markets revive up the dull grey wintery days to festive mood. These markets are the place to buy decoration material, foods, wines etc. Germany has got one extra day for celebration after 25th Dec. On 26th Dec, they have public holiday and this is a bit calm and relaxed day after Christmas party on the previous night.
Each Christmas, Italian streets offer a maze of markets, luminous lights, and the redolence of roasted chestnuts as shop windows fill with decadent delights like panettone, pandoro, panforte, and Torrone!
Italians traditionally decorate for Christmas each year on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; even so, they enjoy celebrating the so-called 12 days of Christmas (Christmas day through the Epiphany) the most.
Dinner on Christmas Eve (known as la Vigilia or “the Vigil”) is the “Feast of the Seven Fishes”. The festive Vigilia involves games (like Briscola or Tombola) and ends at the midnight mass to welcome in Christmas day with joyous celebrations. Gifts are then exchanged at home before bed, rather than on Christmas morning.
The season ends on January 6 with a visit from the Befana, who has brought gifts since long before Babbo Natale (Father Christmas). Legend has it that when the Three Wise Men lost their way, they asked an old woman for directions. She did not know the way and refused their invitation to join their journey. Regretting her decision, she now travels in search of the child named Jesus and leaves a small gift in each child’s stocking, in the hope that one child will be Him. Though, naughty children receive (sugary) pitch-black coal!
Korean Christmas, or 크리스마스, is a sort of American transplant with a twist— it’s actually a couple’s holiday. To complete the switch, New Years is a time to spend with family, though both days are public holidays and Korea celebrates big. From Seoul to Busan to Jeju Island, many stores have holiday sales and decorations, and even the most rural towns are decked out in festive lights by December 1st. Koreans are also big on eating seasonally, including gimmicky Christmas drinks at chain cafes, and the dozens of annual winter festivals which bring out traditional favorites like hoddeok (호떡, massive fluffy rice cakes filled with cinnamon sugar) and gunbam (군밤, roasted chestnuts).
Though most people identify as non-religious or Buddhist-by-tradition, even Korea’s Christian minority attends church with family, before a romantic Christmas dinner with their significant other. There are Christmas specials at restaurants, and many are booked solely with two-person tables way in advance. So everyone else? They tend to gather at friends’ or relatives’ houses and dig in to a Korean feast, pine tree decorations optional.
Andrea from Columbia blog
The big day for Christmas is the 24th of December, exactly at 12 o´clock as that was the time when Jesus was born. Families meet from around 8 pm on this day, have a special dinner and at 12 o´clock they wish Merry Christmas to others. El niño Jesus (Little Jesus) or Papa noel (Santa Clause) normally leave the presents at 12 o’clock, so kids are sleeping and after midnight they are allowed to wake up and open the presents they wished by leaving a card on the Christmas tree in the beginning of the month. The party can go on until next day as it is public holiday, when some families have a kind of soup (Sancocho o Ajiaco) for lunch, cooked on the streets with wood fire, while dancing, drinking and enjoying in family.
Mayowa from Nigeria blog
In Nigeria, Christmas is time for party, a big one at that. As most people live in big cities, for Christmas many families travel to the villages they come from or where they have relatives and organise big family gatherings. The party lasts till very late and it is full of fun, socialising, music that makes you move and lots and lots of food. Any kind of food.
The best part of Christmas in Nigeria is that on that day it doesn’t matter if you are a Christian or a Muslim, we all sit, eat and celebrate together.
Mariella from Bulgaria blog
Bulgaria is a Christian Orthodox country and we have very old, strong and lasting traditions that almost every single Bulgarian follows till today. It is considered a family holiday and it is usually spent at home with the closest people we have.
On Christmas Eve the table is set with 12 different vegan foods to represent the 12 apostles. The tradition also allows the meals to be an odd number (5,7,9) if the family cannot afford the 12. Must-haves on the table are garlic – to chase away evil spirits, walnuts – to give the family prosperity and fertility in the new year, and a special round Christmas bread. The oldest woman in the household makes the bread from scratch on Christmas Eve morning and puts a coin inside. At dinner, the oldest man in the household breaks the bread and everybody gets a piece. Whoever finds the coin is considered blessed and expected to have a very successful year. A log of wood called “budnik” is prepared in a series of rituals and put in the fireplace to burn through the night and Christmas Day. The family gathers around it to ask for forgiveness of their sins and pray that the new year brings more good health, happiness, love and riches. That same evening groups of young men go around houses in villages and small towns, dressed in traditional gowns, to sing Christmas songs and give blessings to each family who welcomes them.
Stefan from Ukraine blog
Unlike many other countries in the world Ukraine celebrates their Christmas on January 7th. This is the Orthodox Christmas holiday and it’s reflected in the traditions that Ukrainians participate in.
Celebrations for the Christmas holiday beginning on December 6th. On this day there is a huge feast, the feast of Saint Nicholas, and presents are typically exchanged afterwards.
There are some customs that make the Christmas Eve Feast unique for Ukrainians. At the table you’ll likely find things like garlic, hay, and an arrangement of wheat that symbolizes a bountiful harvest for the following year. There are also certain foods included such as a sweet grain pudding that’s only eaten for the Christmas dinner.
At the end of the night many families will sing Ukrainian Christmas carols and the whole family comes together to participate. When it comes time to giving gifts It’s usually the oldest male in the family, typically the grandfather, that will hand everything out.
Christmas in Ukraine is the second most important holiday behind Easter. It’s when many families come together and it’s a holiday that the country holds very dear. Just like many traditions around the world, the Ukrainian Christmas traditions are unique and interesting all in their own way.
Like in most countries, Christmas in Portugal means family, gathering those you love around a table, sharing stories, laughs and memories… but the most importantly: sharing food!
Christmas menus get prepared weeks in advance! Endless lists of ingredients, cheeses, “enchidos” – a variety of Portuguese sausages, all kinds of bread and of course codfish!
On the 24th of December most tables will feature a big dish of codfish with potatoes, cabbages, eggs and carrots all boiled. In the North you may find octopus. But the real deal comes after that, dozens of desserts invade the table. Filhós, Sonhos (dreams), Fatias Douradas (golden slices) are different kinds of fried doughs topped with cinnamon and sugar which are almost mandatory. Then, depending on the regions, you can find milk based desserts like Arroz Doce (sweet rice) or Farófias or Egg and Almond sweets once you go South.
The best thing is to wake up next morning for a filhós breakfast and do it all over again in the grandma’s or aunt’s house! You’ll be eating “roupa velha” (“old clothes”) for the next weeks!
There’s a lot more to say about our Christmas traditions like Bolo Rei (King Cake) or the Rooster’s Mass, but the best is to go there and try it all 🙂 .
We used to get a quick 2 weeks holiday during school in Kolkata. The otherwise humid city enjoys few days of chill as the year ends. Kolkata or as the British had named it Calcutta wakes up from the post Durga Puja slumber and smiles with festive lights.
The heart of the city is Park Street where the old school fine dining remain as they are, Mocambo, Peter Cat. The janitor, the waiter are all clad in a distinct dress, not to be found in the new world. Walk for a few steps to find the cake shop, Flurys. Take a bite in their Almond Flake Pastry.
Walk for a few km to reach New Market, erstwhile Hogg Market. The market houses Nizam’s, the first and jewish cake shop of the city, straight out of the book of Europe during WW2 or earlier. The Fruit cake generally gets sold out even before you know it. Grab your piece of heritage. You can walk to the Maidan area now, fondly renamed Gor er Maath. Sit here with leisure, see all the people, smiling, making merry, buy a balloon or two. Christmas, these day in Kolkata are essentially celebrated with friends, in one of the posh restaurants or house parties.
Though I miss my childhood christmas events. My Maa would bake a cake at home. We shall prepare a small picnic. We shall visit the huge church the next day. Gone are those days from my life, but I am sure somewhere someone must be celebrating christmas the same way. Take for example Kerala (the small town of Kochi celebrates Christmas with much galore), Manipur, Nagaland and of course the capital city, Delhi! The festival gets amplified with local culture’s influence.
Jill from United Kingdom blog
Christmas in the UK is full of tradition. The season starts in November, with decorations appearing in the shops and Christmas pop music piped everywhere you go – we have some terrible classics which are rolled out every year! Office Christmas parties are a tradition, but the holiday itself is for family.
We celebrate on Dec 25th, so Christmas Eve (Dec 24) is a quiet day spent wrapping presents, listening to Christmas carols and maybe a trip to the pub. Churchgoers will attend a service on Christmas Eve, in the early evening for families and at midnight for the adults, as well as on Christmas morning. The majority wake up to open their presents from Father Christmas, then prepare for a meal of turkey, roast potatoes, sausages wrapped in bacon and Brussel sprouts – all washed down with gravy. Traditional Christmas pudding follows for dessert, served with cream or brandy butter, and Christmas crackers are pulled, jokes read out and party hats worn. At 3pm the Queen’s Christmas speech is broadcast, before a light tea including traditional Christmas fruit cake. A few drinks and a snooze in front of the TV Christmas specials rounds off the day nicely.
26 December is also a holiday in the UK, spent visiting extended family and friends. Then it’s time for a rest before New Year!
Hsieh from Indonesia blog
There used to be a time when Indonesia could be a name of the furthest planet from our solar system. Yes, Bali is a smaller island with a big personality but don’t forget the other 8400 Indonesian islands. And with each of them isolated by kilometers of sea water, the Christmas celebrations are as unique as the local traditions.
Let’s start with the name. Christmas is Natal (Nuh-taal), a word which is taken from the same Portuguese word. Then Sinterklas is riding a rickshaw or bike, whichever available at the time. While we’re waiting for him, let’s taste the small cookies called Kastengel (cheese stick) and Putri Salju (Princess Snow/Snow White) with us.
In other places such as Ambon, the locals celebrate the day with “Nation Cleaning”. It is to symbolize love and liberation while they cleanse the old city well, traditional old house, and the old ancestor rock. In the other side of Maluku during Christmas eve, people would simultaneously turn on the ship sirens and church bells. In Yogyakarta, home of the Wayang Kulit (leather puppet doll), Natal means the puppets are teleported to Bethlehem for the nativity story for Christmas season. How about Bali and its fireworks? Whoa, isn’t it for new year? Not in Bali! Christmas day celebrations wouldn’t be complete without watching the sky light up. So next time you saw an Indonesian around Christmas, go ahead and greet them with “Selamat Natal!” and maybe they’ll give you some Kastengel to try.
We already start feeling the holiday spirit on the 1st of December, when all the streets get dressed up in multicoloured lights and every pole gets to have a flag on its top, because the 1st of December is our national day. After the national day celebrations, it´s not long until we have a new reason to celebrate. On the night of 5th of December, each kid must wash their boots and put them in the window, because during that night, Saint Nicholas is known to go around town filling children´s boots with sweets and fruits.
Even I woke up on the 6h of December to this ( see photo below )
We have a lot of culinary traditions. In the counryside, they still make sausages at home and a lot of pastry sweets, the most popular being called ”cozonac”, wich is traditionally made with walnuts. Each self-respecting mom makes a huge pot with what we call ”sarmale”, cabbage leaves filled with meat, vegetables and rice, made in the shape of a pillow and cooked for many hours, until all the flavours simmer through.
When people go caroling, on the night of 24th december, they are served with all these goodies by the host. So that all this food goes down smoothly, we make mulled wine with lots of spices. That also helps with the caroling –either to give you courage to sing, or to make the noise bearable, if the carolers aren´t too talented.
Natalie from Croatia blog
On 24th December is “Badnjak” or “Badnji dan” (Christmas Eve). The Croatian name for Christmas Eve is derived from the word “badnjak” – a log lit on Christmas Eve in the evening, usually by the father of the family. The log is sprinkled with wine upon being lit and it supposed to be burning during the whole Christmas Day. Traditionally, this is the most important part of an entire Christmas celebration.
The traditional menu for Christmas Eve includes cod fish and “uštipci” – traditional Croatian doughnut-like festive pastries. These delicacies are usually not eaten before evening. People on Christmas Eve don’t eat at all before dinner time. Many people like to go to a Midnight Mass service on that day.
The Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas Eve and underneath people put fruits – mostly apples, plums and pears. Also on Christmas Eve, woman bake lots of cakes and desserts that will be served for Christmas.
On Christmas, the family is gathered to celebrate. We exchange gifts and have huge dinner. The dinner consists of “sarma” (sauerkraut rolls, stuffed with meat and rice), and all kinds of roasted meat. Eating sauerkraut on Christmas believes to bring good health and prosper year. After dinner, cakes, that were made on Christmas Eve, are served.
Addie from USA blog
For many in America, Christmas Day begins with Midnight Mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus, followed by an excited night of sleep. In the morning, children in their pajamas gather around to open stockings and find out what Santa has brought. Extended families then usually come together for a great breakfast.
The afternoon is spent in different ways – relaxing, napping, visiting other family members, playing with presents or doing a family activity such as building a puzzle. In the evening, the whole family gathers for a nice dinner with Christmas Ham. The rest of the night is family time usually with drink in hand.
Monique from Jamaica blog
Christmas in Jamaica has many of the familiarities of Christmas around the world. It’s a time of family, food and fellowship. As a mom, I feel as if new life was breathed into Christmas for me. I grew up loving Christmas because of the gifts and the games we would play at Christmas dinner. I have very fond memories of helping my mom with her signature dish, macaroni and cheese and helping my grandma to bake the traditional Jamaican Christmas pudding. Now with my own little one, I am so happy to be able to create new traditions with her while passing down some of these very same favourites. I never recreated my grandma’s recipe of Jamaican Christmas pudding because it’s not my favorite thing in the world, being a rich, dark fruit cake soaked in rum. But I did take my mom’s mac n cheese and make it even better. Now this dish is my signature dish and my mom marvels every year at how good it is.
A tradition I am particularly fond of is my dad’s sorrel making and the bond he shares with my daughter as they make it together every year. Sorrel is a drink made of red hibiscus leaves, spiced with pimento seeds and ginger and sometimes spiked with rum. I never expected my little one to like it so much since the ginger can be strong but she asks for it every Christmas and she loves to make it with her grandpa. It can be a long process with the steeping of the sorrel leaves and ginger together so it gives them time to share stories and playtime while making the drink.
Sorrel and Christmas pudding is our equivalent to milk and cookies for Santa. It’s offered everywhere as the “would you like something to snack on” offering during a visit around Christmastime. It may be our equivalent to hot chocolate too since it’s always warm in Jamaica. I mean that literally and figuratively. Jamaica was once voted as the happiest place on earth and I think we get extra happy around Christmastime. I hope you’ll get a chance to share a spiked sorrel with a Jamaican one Christmas!
Ana from Lithuania blog
Lithuania was the last country in Europe which accepted Christianity, and during the Christmas you can still feel a little influence of pagan traditions. The evening of the 24th of December – the Christmas Eve – is usually spent together with the family.
Traditionally, you would not eat any meat on that day, but you have to have 12 dishes on your dinner table. Those usually include some herring, stewed cabbage, potatoes, cranberry kissel and sweets. My favourite though is the poppy seed milk with kuciukai – small, slightly sweet pastries. Before you set the table, you put a handful of hay underneath the table cloth as a reminder that Jesus was born in a stable.
The next day – the Christmas day – you usually open your presents and visit some other family members around the country. When you are done with the family visits, normally you would go for a stroll to the city centre, admire the main Christmas tree on the main square and have some mulled wine.
Festive ideas for celebrating Christmas from Stylish Traveler:
Want some magical ideas for celebrating Christmas? If you’re in the UK, head to London for a luxurious weekend away and spend an evening spotting all the Christmas lights. Use my photo guide to find the prettiest lights to see. Or, how about a short-haul hop to Germany, where Berlin‘s brilliant Christmas markets await?