Christmas Traditions Around the World by Linda Broday

SantaOn December 24, children here in the U.S. will hang their stockings (or usually weeks in advance as my kids did) and put out milk and cookies for Santa Claus. Then, they’ll go to bed and TRY to sleep. That part was always hard because of all the visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Poor kids.

But what about some of the other countries?

HOLLAND St Nicholas arrives a month early in November with his gifts. He is dressed in Bishop’s robes and journeys in a boat with his helper who is called Black Peter and wears Spanish clothes. The pair live most of the year preparing lists of presents and writing every child’s behavior in a very large book. Many people go to Amsterdam docks to greet him. He mounts a snow horse and rides through the streets in a great parade, amid many festivities. I’d really LOVE to see this!

SCANDINAVIA – A little gnome called Julenisse puts the presents under the Christmas tree in the night. The children leave a bowl of porridge out for him.

ENGLAND One of their customs is mummering. In the Middle Ages, people called mummers put on masks and acted out Christmas plays. These plays are still performed in towns and villages. The English gift giver is Father Christmas and he wears a long red or green robe, and leaves presents in stockings on Christmas Eve.

GREECE St. Nicholas is important as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. (I’m sure this image would be very comforting. Not!) Greek ships never leave port without some sort of St. Nicholas icon on board.

xmastreeIRELAND – Christmas lasts from Christmas Eve to the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which is referred to as Little Christmas. Red lighted candles are placed in windows on Christmas Eve to guide Joseph and Mary who look for shelter. Irish women bake a seed cake for each person in the house. After the Christmas evening meal, bread and milk are left out and the door unlatched as a symbol of hospitality.

ITALY – The Christmas season begins eight days prior and is known as the Novena. On January 6, presents are delivered by a kind ugly witch called Befana on a broomstick. The children are told that when the baby Jesus was born missed the Star, lost her way and has been flying around ever since, leaving presents at every house with children in case he is there. She slides down chimneys, and fills stockings and shoes with good things for good children and leaves coal for those who are not so good.

GERMANY – Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle.

FRANCE – On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. In the morning they also find that sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys have been hung on the tree.

In addition to our normal traditions, what are some of your own that involve Christmas? Or maybe you heard a strange tradition that you want to share.


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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

15 thoughts on “Christmas Traditions Around the World by Linda Broday”

  1. Hi Janine…….Thank you for stopping by. I’m glad you found my post interesting. I was amazed to learn of some of these. Everyone seems to celebrate the holiday in some fashion. It is a time of hope and love for all, no matter your religion or beliefs. Without hope, we’d be in a terrible mess.

    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and I hope to see you in 2015!

  2. I have learned about some of the above traditions from a holiday music channel… they list some interesting facts about the holidays. Whether about ornaments, decorations, food, the names of those that deliver the gifts, origins of other traditions… very interesting things.
    Happy Holidays! 🙂

    • Hi Colleen……Thanks for coming by. Glad you found it interesting. How fun that you have a holiday music channel. Sounds fitting for Christmas. Music really puts you in the mood, doesn’t it? I love everything about Christmas.

      Happy Holidays back to you!! May yours be filled with fun and lots of love.

  3. My grandparents were from Sicily and I remember hearing about the old woman from the hills which is close to the kind ugly witch lol. I have a tree trimming party every year which is a tradition I started. Happy Holidays.

    • Hi Catslady……Thank you so much for coming by. Glad you enjoyed my blog. How interesting that your grandparents came from Sicily! I’m sure they brought a lot of those kinds of stories. Wow, a tree trimming party! I’ll be right over. That sounds like so much fun.

      Merry Christmas!

  4. What a great collections of traditions, Linda! So interesting how they are so different and yet kinda the same! Our kids always left cookies for Santa, and a beer…thinking he’d be tired of milk by then LOL. Oh, and water and carrots for the reindeer. My gramma was 100% German and always made the best stollen, a sweet bread with fruits and nut sin it but not at all like a fruitcake. (although I think I am the only person in the world who likes fruitcake.) I never learned her recipe though. Sigh. (I think you have to use yeast, though, and I am terrified of yeast.) Christmas blessings to you and yours! xoxo

    • Hi Tanya!I had to laugh at Santa’s beer! Too funny. Bet your husband appreciated that though. Wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t suggested it. I’ve never had stollen but if it’s anything close to fruitcake, I’d love it. My mama made the best fruitcake. It was simply delicious. I think her secret was the fact that she cooked it sitting in a pan of water in the oven and then wrapped it in a wet tea towel after it cooled. I sure miss that…and her.

      Wishing you a wonderful Christmas!!

    • You are not alone, Tanya. I love fruitcake. I keep some stashed for later in the winter to have with tea by the fire. A friend had a recipe for fruitcake-type cookies that she always made for cookie exchanges because it made 12 dozen. They were moist and delicious.
      Beer for Santa? Uh, no, but my husband did go Trick or Drinking one Halloween when he took the kids Trick or Treating.

  5. Hi Miss Linda, I’m sorry I’m so late getting in, but as you know I’ve been having trouble with my computers. I thought I had it whooped but not so!!!! This is a great blog. I enjoyed reading about different customs around the world and can see some that have filtered into our country. Lots of research here. One of our customs is an Angel for the top of the tree that we always used when we were growing up. Since I’m the oldest of four girls, when I got older, I found the exact same Angel, but of course newer! I got one for all my sisters, so all five trees have an identical Angel top. Have a great evening. Big hugs and love, Phyliss

    • Hi Phyliss! Thank you for coming by. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. It’s been a slow day but I’m sure everyone is out shopping for those special people on their list. In fact, I was also for a bit. I love angels. I have one sitting on my bombe and it’s about the only Christmas decoration I put out. I’ll have to come over and see yours.

      Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

    • Hi Janda! Great to see you on here. I hope you’ve been doing well. I’m glad you enjoyed my Christmas blog and glad you found it interesting. Thanks for coming by.

      Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

  6. Hi from AUSTRALIA.

    In my family we actually put our Christmas stockings at the foot of the bed on Christmas Eve. As a child I remember waking up on Christmas morning EARLY by kicking the stocking. Intriguing sounds in the dark.

  7. We get so wrapped up in Christmas as it is here in the US and Canada, that we forget there are many different traditions around the world. Thanks for letting us know some of them.
    I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines a loooong time ago. The first year was my first time away from my large family and all our celebration traditions. Worse yet was the fact that Christmas was nothing like the way we celebrate it. Their’s has (or it did in the late 60’s early 70’s) a lot that came from spanish influence. The main thing was a festival of paper lanterns the children made. It was more like any Sunday with no large family gatherings and celebrations. No Santa or Santa substitute.
    It is sad so many countries have been westernized. They are losing what is special and unique to their cultures.

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