Christmas Traditions Around The World

Christmas Traditions from 10 (randomly selected) Countries around the World

Antarctica (yes we know, not actually a country)

Christmas in Antarctica is during the austral summer so for three months they are in continuous daylight. There is no day-off in Antarctica, however, there is a festive meal and usually a big party in the evening. It has been said that Christmas in McMurdo Station is more peaceful than anywhere else due to the complete absence of commercialism, the isolation, and the simple beauty of a truly white Christmas.


Christmas trees are very popular in Argentina, however, they are not always the traditional fir trees, any tree may be used. Trees are often decorated on December 8th (the feast of the Annunciation). Like in New Zealand it is warm at Christmas time and some people like to decorate their trees with cotton balls to represent snow. On Christmas Eve night paper decorations with lights inside called ‘globos’ are floated into the sky. After midnight, the sky is filled with them.


Christmas in Brazil has a mix of very traditional and non-traditional. Christmas was introduced to South America in the Seventeenth Century and to this day families will create a nativity scene to honour the birth of Christ. At the other end of the tradition spectrum, major cities will create enormous “Christmas trees” out of electric lights to stand out against the night’s sky.

Christmas Eve is the centre of the celebration with large feasts, gift giving in the evening and midnight mass.


The population of mainland China is 1% unofficially Christian and Christmas is not a public holiday. But as each year passes more people are becoming aware of the significance of Christmas and participating in festive celebrations. Large urban centres are becoming increasingly commercially festive in December.

Christmas trees in China are called “trees of light” and are decorated with bright paper chains, paper flowers and paper lanterns that symbolise happiness (sounds beautiful). The New Year is a much bigger and more importance celebration in China with gifts exchanged, special feasts, fireworks and performers over multiple days.


In Ethiopia Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. The celebrations are less about gift giving and more about going to Church, eating food and playing games. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Christmas is called Ganna, and one of the traditional beliefs is that one of the three wise men that came to visit Jesus was from Ethiopia. On January 19th, the Baptism of Jesus is celebrated, this is known as Timkat and is a 3 day celebration. It is characterised by a procession to Church with music and traditional clothing.


There is a wonderful community spirit in the villages of Greenland during Christmas. Everyone in the village will receive a gift and the children visit the houses singing songs. There is little sunlight during the winter season so windows are decorated with illuminated stars. Trees are imported from Denmark and decorated with candles and bright ornaments, or a driftwood tree is used and decorated with heather.


At Christmas time bakeries across the country offer the Rosca de Reyes – an oval sweetbread decorated with candied fruit. Hidden inside the bread is a plastic figurine of the Baby Jesus. Hiding the baby symbolises the need to find a secure place where Jesus could be born, a place where King Herod would not find Him. Each person present cuts a slice of the Rosca, the knife symbolising the danger in which the Baby Jesus was in. The guests do not want to get the slice with the baby figurine in it, as the person who does must then be the host of a celebration on February 2nd, Candelaria or Candle mass day.

Papua New Guinea

Before Christianity made its way to PNG, as a gesture of peace amongst tribes each chief would exchange an infant son known as the Peace child. The adoptive tribe would take care of this child, and if the child died the treaty would end. Canadian missionaries told tribes of how the Christian god sent his only son to earth, likening the nativity story to the peace child. This was the start of Christmas in Papua New Guinea.


Christmas in Poland takes a much more religious approach than commercial. Families in Poland will gather after a day of fasting for a 12 course feast on Christmas Eve (December 24th). At the beginning of the meal a wafer “Oplatek” with a religious image on it is broken and shared with the guests. The table is often seat with an extra seat in case a stranger or the Holy Spirit appears to share in the meal. Following the feast, gifts are exchanged and then midnight mass is attended to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas day is spend visiting friends. Some regions of Poland will celebrate on January 6th instead of December 24th.


Christmas celebrations in Russia were eradicated during the atheist Soviet period but returned in 1935. Christmas is celebrated on January 7th instead of December 25th because the Orthodox Church uses the older Julian calendar for religious celebrations.

Similiar to Poland, families have a meatless twelve course supper once the first star is seen in the night’s sky on Christmas Eve in honour of the twelve apostles. Many people will fast on Christmas Eve and some will fast up to 39 days.

What are your favourite Christmas traditions?

Fran loves the idea of Antratica’s pure white non-commercial Christmas but will settle for decorating the office at Christmas and organising hilarious Secret Santa swaps.

Julia’s favourite traditions were from when she was little. It was opening her stocking in the morning, and opening presents under the tree after lunch which was spent with her godparents at the Sharella by the botanical gardens. Her godparents would always make her and her sister a basket full of treats and little presents (most of which had been shoplifted by her godfather).

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