15 Christmas Traditions to Steal From Around the World
From games to decorations to (of course!) the food, you’ll want to try these global Christmas traditions for yourself.
There are so many Christmas traditions in the United States that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Whether you call it a White Elephant gift exchange or a Secret Santa, it’s even more exciting to know that Christmas is celebrated around the world. From China to Italy, and France and Greece, here are the Christmas traditions that once you know you’ll want to bring into your own homes. Here’s the history of a few favorite Christmas traditions in the United States to get started.
Candy-filled calendars in Germanyistock/lsannes
The only thing better than a countdown to Christmas is a chocolate-filled one. In Germany, children receive calendars (often made of cardboard) filled with 24 squares decorated with festive drawings. Starting on December 1, they peel one open each day and gobble up the piece of chocolate hiding behind the flap. Buy one online or try making your own version—like these simple DIY advent calendars.
Spruce up the house like in JamaicaiStock/Geber86
Forget spring cleaning, Jamaicans get in the holiday spirit by doing a bit of winter cleaning (sans the ice and snow). Many families give their homes a fresh coat of paint, trim the hedges, or hang new curtains before decking it out. This Christmas, give your house a mini makeover before hanging lights or decorating the tree—a top-to-bottom vacuum, freshly laundered drapes, and shiny floors might make the season even more enjoyable! Now, here are things you never knew about Kwanzaa.
Send letters from Santa like the FrenchiStock/inarik
The French government takes Christmas very seriously. Since 1962, any letter to Père Noël (Santa Claus in French) must be answered with a postcard from Monsieur Noël himself, according to the law. Have your kids write letters to Santa and place them in the mailbox; sneak it out later that day and replace it with a handwritten response of your own. They’ll get a dose of Christmas magic when they find a note from Santa, addressed to them! We bet Santa would appreciate these hilarious holiday party jokes. As your kids get older, make sure you know what to say when they ask, “Is Santa real?”
Reward carolers like the Greek doiStock/Juanmonino
Christmas carolers in Greece go from house to house spreading music and Christmas cheer (often with small instruments like a triangle or harmonica), and when they’re done singing they’re rewarded with holiday sweets and even loose change. Keep a basket of chocolate or candy canes near the front door to hand out to carolers next time they ring the bell. Feeling nostalgic? Don’t miss these photos of what Christmas looked like 100 years ago.
Eat an apple like in China
An unusual tradition has popped up in China. The word “apple” sounds like the word “peace” in Mandarin, so many families eat an apple at Christmas as a symbol of goodwill and harmony in the coming year. Have sliced apples or warm apple cider (spiked for the grown ups!) as a Christmastime snack and say a wish for peace. Then, try these family Christmas games everyone will enjoy.
Break a piñata like they do in Mexico
It seems like no celebration in Mexico is complete without a piñata. Many Christmas parties south of the border include a star-shaped piñata (the traditional piñata shape) for guests to whack at until it spills open with sweets. Let loose this holiday season with a Christmas piñata of your own. Fill it with candy and little trinkets or small gift cards, then watch your guests scramble for the best stuff! These are the most popular vacation spots in Mexico that you’ll want to visit.
Kiss under the mistletoe like the BritsiStock/gpointstudio
Stealing a smooch under the mistletoe was first started years and years ago in England. Refusing a kiss was viewed as bad luck, and one version of the tradition even required the kissers to pluck a berry from the mistletoe bunch with each kiss, not stopping until they were all gone. Hang a real or artificial sprig of mistletoe from a high-traffic doorway in your home and spread even more love this holiday season. Then find out why Christmas is on December 25.
Decorate an Italian Christmas “tree”iStock/franckreporter
The Italian version of a Christmas tree isn’t actually a tree at all. Called a Ceppo, it’s a ladder-like structure with gifts and decorations on each level. Make a makeshift one of your own by hanging little treats from a smaller fir tree—traditional ornaments toward the top, ribbons or garland in the middle, and candy canes or other hangable treats toward the bottom. Here are a few things Americans can learn from Italians about living life with passion.
Set off fireworks like they do in Latin AmericaiStock/oatawa
Many Latin American countries like Argentina and Brazil ring in the season with fireworks and a toast at midnight on Christmas Day. If fireworks are legal where you live, set a few off or light up the night with sparklers, then sip on champagne or eggnog. Don’t miss this list of the best-ranked Christmas songs.