Holiday Traditions Around the World

Christmastime is when families across generations come together to celebrate the season and to pass down many traditions to the younger ones in the family. Traditions at Christmas vary from not only family to family but also across cultures. This season, we thought it would be neat to highlight some of the traditions seen around the globe this year. What better way to start and share traditions than with food! From eating at certain times to sharing certain meals, around the world there are some fascinating traditions that are held at this time.
We start off in China – here, while Christmas itself isn’t officially observed, there is a tradition that may surprise most people. The Chinese word for apple, pingguo, sounds a lot like the Chinese word used for Christmas Eve, ping’an ye. Apples are bought and then packaged rather exquisitely in special boxes or colorful paper with Christmas or New Year’s messages written across them.
Moving West, we reach Ukraine where you’ll sit down to – get this – a TWELVE COURSE meal. Can you imagine? This meal is traditionally held on January 6 with each course is called a fasting meal, meaning food prepared sans butter, milk, eggs, sour cream, and meat.

Some of these meals include: Kutia, the most important of the meals, and eating it is the harbinger of good harvest, livestock and procreation; another dish, one that many might be familiar with, is borshch, typically prepared with prunes, mushrooms and fermented with beet kvass; and the final dish of the twelve is bread, the symbol of life and nourishment.
Finally, on our traditional food journey, we reach Poland where no one eats until a family member spots the first star in the sky. Can you imagine waiting that long to eat? I don’t know about you, but if I were smelling the delicious aroma of Christmas dinner on the table, I don’t know if I could hold myself back!
Not only is food something that tends to hold traditional meaning around the world, but the way cultures decorate for the holiday season. And there are some interesting decor options out there, here are just a few!
Back in Ukraine, while you’re filling yourself with those twelve meals, you might be looking at a decorated Christmas tree with trimmings that look like…spider webs? Legend has it that a poor widow couldn’t afford to decorate her tree and the spiders who took residence in and around her home took pity on her and decorated the tree with their webs. But they weren’t just any webs, but webs made of pure gold and silver. The children woke to find this glimmering tree the next morning and the poor widow never had to want again.
One popular tradition that might be familiar to some, is the Swedish Yule Goat. First appearing in 11th century legend alongside St. Nicholas – though some legends say the Yule Goat was St. Nick (more on that below) – the goat would ward off the devil. Nowadays, you can see the Yule Goat on family’s trees or as large yard ornaments! In 1966, this tradition got even bigger – on the 1st of December, a 13-meter high, 7-meter and 3-ton goat was placed in the Castle Square in Gävle. Need to see it to believe it? Here is a link to a live webcam where you can keep an eye on the massive goat in the square.
In the warmer regions of the globe, Christmas always looks a little different. From decorating palm trees to surfing Santas, you’ll see all sorts of interesting traditions played out. India is no exception. Since there aren’t many, if any, pine trees to be seen in the warm country, families will decorate mango or banana trees to celebrate the season. They’ll even decorate their homes with mango leaves!
And what would Christmas be without fun and games! Even Charles Dickens included games like Blind Man’s Bluff in his holiday story. Well, wait until you hear about some of the traditions around the globe that get people into the Christmas spirit!
On Christmas morning in Caracas, Venezuela, a well-established tradition of roller skating to Mass on Christmas morning has officially shut down many of the streets in town. Some even say that kids tie a lace of the skate around their toe and hang their skate out the window so their friends can give a gentle tug in the morning to get them up.
This next one might give your kids some ideas, so proceed with caution parents!
In Serbia, two weeks before Christmas, kids tie their mother to a chair and demand gifts. She must pay her ransom in those gifts if she wants her freedom. A week later, the same thing happens to dad!
In sunny Mexico, piñatas aren’t just for birthdays and Cinco de Mayo – they get pulled out and glitzed up for Christmas too! The shape may also be different at this time of year, usually coming as a seven-point star to represent the Seven Deadly Sins. The stick, which represents God, is used to break the sins, or rather the piñata, and out from it spills candies, nuts and fruits!
Finally, one that we know sets our booklover’s hearts aglow, is a tradition done in Iceland. Jolabokaflod, or Christmas Book Flood, is a well-cherished tradition where families will exchange books with one another on Christmas Eve and then spend the evening cozy by a fire reading aloud to each other. If you ask us at HAI, everyone should do this!
However you and your family celebrate the holiday season, we at HAI want to wish you a happy one filled with lots of fun, great food, and warm fires.

Works Consulted:
Christmas Traditions Around The World
25 Christmas Traditions Around the World That Will Surprise and Delight You
Christmas dinner and meals
20 Unique Christmas Traditions Around the World That May Surprise You
How People Celebrate Christmas in Different Countries
Unusual Christmas traditions from around the world
7 Aussie Christmas traditions we all love
15 Unusual Christmas Rituals From Around The World

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Stephanie Webster

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