10 interesting Christmas traditions from around the world


Father and daughter build a gingerbread house

You may find that having a Christmas routine to repeat each year is sacred to the special festive day. 

But not everyone necessarily wants to snooze on the sofa for the rest of the day after a colossal turkey dinner, even though a fair amount of us probably will anyway!

So, whether you want to learn how the rest of the world does it or you’re looking for new ways to spend your holidays, discover these 10 unique Christmas traditions from around the world.

1. Hiding a pickle in your tree in Germany

Germany is widely considered to have started the trend of indoor trees at Christmas, so it’s only right that they’re the ones to spice up the festive habit.

The true origin of the pickle in the tree is up for debate. However, this doesn’t stop many German households from hiding a pickle within the branches of their Christmas tree each year. 

Then, on Christmas morning, the first child to locate the pickle’s whereabouts in the tree is rewarded with a gift.

While it’s not completely clear whether real pickles were ever used, or where the practice originated, the modern version has people hang an ornamental pickle in the tree – a sacred Christmas decoration for many German families.

2. Roller skates in Venezuela

In and around the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, festive revellers make their way to Christmas morning mass on roller skates.

The combination of extreme sports with Christmas isn’t too rare when you consider people’s affinity for winter skiing holidays. However, the addition of roller skating on Christmas Day is sure to be the wackiest of the bunch.

Nevertheless, it has become so popular that, at 8 am, roads are closed around the capital each year to clear traffic and give way to the skaters gliding their way to church.

Children of Venezuela are even said to tie the lace of their skates around their toe while hanging the other end out of their bedroom window. This way, their friends can yank it to wake them up should they accidentally sleep late. 

3. Shoes by the fire in the Netherlands

On Christmas Eve, in the Netherlands, it’s tradition for children to leave their shoes by the fire for Santa Claus to deposit gifts in overnight.

As part of this, carrots are often left in the shoes by the children for the hardworking reindeer that make the delivery of their presents possible – that’s if you’re lucky…

This is because naughty children may get the nasty surprise of potato-filled boots if they haven’t behaved well throughout the year.

4. Befana the witch in Italy

For Italians, the real Christmas fun doesn’t start until 5 January.

On this day, while much of the world still struggles to digest their Christmas dinner, Italians get excited for the return of Befana – a mythical, old lady of witch-like appearance who gifts sweets and other local delicacies to children.

Just like Santa, she arrives through chimneys to gift young ones their sweet, Christmas goodies.

Despite being popularly portrayed as an archetypal witch – often wearing a black pointed hat, cloak, and with a spiky nose – this is said to be a pure misunderstanding, and Befana is simply a generous old lady.

5. Yule Cat in Iceland

Not every culture’s Christmas traditions are as light-hearted as each other’s, and this is especially true for Iceland’s fabled “Yule Cat”.

The tale of the Yule Cat has been used by farmers in Iceland for years and is a unique way for them to get the best out of their workers.

The tradition alleges that, while the farm’s hardest workers are gifted warm clothes, others are devoured by the giant, mythical cat.

As a result of this chilling tale, it’s now customary in Iceland for people to get new, warm clothes for Christmas.

6. Fried caterpillars in South Africa

Christmas dinners are one of the most highly regarded aspects of the festive day and what ends up on your plate will differ from country to country.

In Sweden, you can expect a cold buffet, called “julbord”. In Spain, you’re likely to be served a mixture of ham and seafood.

However, in South Africa, a crucial part of their Christmas dinner is fried caterpillars.

These aren’t just any ordinary caterpillars – the pine tree emperor moth is the protein of choice and is considered a delicacy. 

The caterpillars aren’t just a nice snack, they’re also considered to grant good fortune for the new year – perhaps this explains their popularity better than their taste does.

7. Donald Duck in Sweden

One part of Swedish Christmas tradition is sitting your family down for the televised Donald Duck Christmas address – yes, really.

The title of the video translates as “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas” and has been a staple of the Swedish family Christmas since the 1960s.

Each year on Christmas Eve, at exactly 3 pm, families gather around their television to watch Disney’s vintage Christmas special. In fact, according to Slate, around 40% to 50% of the country tunes in to the cartoons every year.

8. Saunas in Finland

In order to bear the country’s brisk climate, it’s fairly common for Finnish homes to have saunas built into them. So, it’s no surprise that they somehow form the backbone of the Christmas holiday in Finland.

On Christmas Eve, the sauna becomes the go-to place for Finnish families – as if it wasn’t already!

A sauna is a spiritual place in Finnish culture, and it’s believed to connect them with distant ancestors. While, around Christmas, it’s considered to be the home of the “sauna elf” – somewhat less of an imposing figure than Iceland’s deadly Yule Cat.

After warming up in the sauna, it’s common for families to head out for food and drink with friends.

9. Cleaning in Guatemala

You may be familiar with spring cleaning but not so much the Guatemalan tradition of Christmas cleaning.

Locals believe that evil spirits gather in the dark and dusty corners of your house, making it imperative to undertake some serious deep cleaning to purify the home in time for Christmas.

Because of this, much of Guatemala spends the week leading up to the festive day cleaning every inch of their house.

The rubbish is then collected into a pile outside where an effigy of the devil is placed on top. Finally, to ward off any evil spirits that may be lingering, the pile is then set alight and burned.

10. Decorative cobwebs in Ukraine

In Ukraine, it’s a Christmas tradition to decorate your tree with cobwebs.

This comes from an old legend that tells the story of a poor, elderly lady who had no money to decorate her tree.

However, as the tale goes, the tree had been laced with a shiny cobweb when she woke up in the morning.

Now, because of this, much of the Ukrainian population adorn their Christmas trees with sparkly, synthetic spiderwebs for decoration.