preloadIn the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne's Christmas market, a couple's joy shines as they select their very first Christmas tree together. Amidst the twinkling lights and festive charm, their laughter and shared excitement create a magical moment filled with the promise of new traditions and cherished memories.

Seasons greetings, everyone! Looking to learn about some fun (and unusual) Christmas traditions from around the globe? Grab a glass of gluhwein and a mince pie and let’s dive in.

From one nation’s obsession with KFC to another’s habit of carving up radishes, there are so many unique Christmas customs to discover. Fancy mixing up your typical English Christmas traditions this December? Or maybe you want a complete change of season and culture? Here are 12 yuletide traditions to embrace in 2023 from the following nations:

  1. Germany
  2. Italy
  3. Norway
  4. Venezuela
  5. France
  6. United States
  7. Poland
  8. Ireland
  9. Austria
  10. Spain
  11. Japan
  12. Mexico

Christmas traditions to embrace in 2023

1. German Christmas traditions

A clutter of a kid's shoe, gifts, cookies, and Christmas ornaments on wood.

Germans sure know how to make Christmas special, whether that’s by baking cinnamon-spiced stollen, sipping Glühwein or visiting awesome Christmas markets.

There is one tradition in Germany that’s particularly well-known – and it’s particularly fun for kids. The tradition typically sees children leaving their (preferably clean) shoes and boots outside their bedroom door for Father Christmas to fill. If they’ve been good during the year, they get sweets. And if not? They get some wood. Harsh!

Flights to Germany

2. Italian Christmas traditions

Typical Epiphany scene in Italy with a Befana hanging on a cable

While Santa Claus may not be quite as well-known in Italy as other European nations, he still makes an appearance here and there. However, one local tradition sees Santa outsourcing some of his gift delivery services to an ‘ugly yet kind’ old witch named Befana (‘giver of gifts’).

On the night before January 5th (Epiphany), children and parents leave a plate of spiced sausage and a glass of wine out for Befana. It’s believed she’ll devour these gifts after arriving on a flying broomstick and entering each house through the chimney.

Flights to Italy

3. Norweigan Christmas traditions

Broom close-up with pine branches and light bulbs

In Norway, folklore suggests that evil spirits and witches visit on Christmas Eve to scare families. How festive! So to deter them, it’s customary for people to hide all the brooms in the house. This is to act as a deterrent and to stop witches from flying around the area and visiting other people’s houses.

Another Norweigan Christmas tradition (which is much more festive!) is ‘Little Christmas’. This takes place on the 23rd of December and sees people prepping for the big day. Everyone has their own unique ritual for the day, whether that’s putting up twinkling decorations or making delicious gingerbread houses.

Flights to Norway

4. Venezuelan Christmas traditions

Inline skate,Rollerblade,Sport

A fan of getting around town on your roller skates? Then you’ll love this highly unique Venezuelan tradition. In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, it’s customary for people to travel to Christmas church services on roller skates. Well, it certainly beats sitting in a traffic jam!

Throughout the week before Christmas Day, the city hosts a popular daily church service called Misa de Aguinaldo (Early Morning Mass). So many people now roller skate to these services that some roads around the city stay closed until around 8 a.m. to provide everyone with a safe route. The tradition has become so popular that many people consider roller skating as Venezuela’s version of sledging.

Flights to Caracas

5. French Christmas traditions

Photo series of Japanese mother with her son preparing for Christmas holidays - sending Christmas letter to Santa Clause.

Searching for a Christmas tradition with a little French flair? Few are more charming than the Pere Noel postcards – a festive activity that takes sending letters to Santa to new heights.

Since 1962, France has had a law that says every child who writes a letter must receive a reply. Supposedly, a little army of elves (aka postal workers and volunteers) work tirelessly throughout November and December to reply to every letter with a festive postcard. Then, France’s postmen return Santa’s ‘replies’. Pretty sweet, right?

6. American Christmas traditions

If there’s one country that really goes all-out at Christmas, it’s the United States. The locals love to decorate their homes, shops and streets with lights, tinsel and more. Carolling, sipping on Eggnog and baking Christmas cookies are all other traditions that many families follow. But a more unusual activity? California’s annual Surfing Santa competition.

This charity event takes place at Dana Point and sees dozens of surfers dress up in Santa suits to ride the waves. It’s certainly a sight you won’t want to miss! The date of the event changes every year, but it was hosted at the end of November in 2022.

7. Polish Christmas traditions

Christmas white wafer on table

The stars really do have to align for one particular Christmas tradition to take place in Poland. Locals kick off their festive celebrations on Christmas Eve when they gather together to share oplatek. This is an unleavened wafer that’s been made and eaten for over 300 years.

Before the wafer can be broken into pieces and handed out, night must fall and the first star must appear in the sky. Typically people wish each other Merry Christmas as the wafer is devoured. Then, dinner is officially served and Christmas can begin.

8. Irish Christmas traditions

A Wren perched on a bramble in full song.

Yep, Ireland has a few of its own festive traditions too. Perhaps the most famous is Wren’s Day. It’s hosted on the 26th of December (also known as St Stephen’s Day) and has been celebrated for centuries.

Wren’s Day is thought to originate from Celtic mythology and historically saw people heading outside to hunt for a wren bird (aka the ‘king of the birds’). Once caught, it would be fixed to the top of an ornately decorated pole. Then, a group of mummers would dress up in straw outfits and parade the bird about town. They were often called ‘wrenboys’ and would form groups to sing and dance. They’d go door to door in their villages, collecting money to donate to good causes.

A form of the tradition is still popular today in Dingle, Co. Kerry.

9. Austrian Christmas traditions

A statue of Krampus and other horned figures under a canopy of string lights.

In Austria, the children are told to be on their best behaviour in case Krampus, a horned and hairy beast takes them away in his wicker basket during the festive season. The mythical creature was created as a counterpart to Father Christmas who rewards good children with sweets and toys.

On December 5th Krampusnacht sees dozens of men parade through the streets of Austria (and some neighbouring countries) dressed as the half-goat demon holding sticks and scaring children. It is particularly popular in the alpine villages around Salzburg and Tyrol. How lovely!

Flights to Austria

10. Catalonian Christmas traditions

A display of small chopped-up tree trunks decorated with stick stands, smiley faces, and red hats.

Spain‘s Catalonia province (which has Barcelona at its heart) loves to have its own identity. And that definitely extends to its Christmas traditions. Perhaps the most bizarre involves a wooden log with a face on it that poos out presents while children sing to it.

Known as the Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log), it’s traditionally brought out after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. Kids are then encouraged to give the wooden log bits of food to eat and a blanket to keep it warm.

When Christmas Eve arrives and little Tió has digested all its snacks, the children then beat him with sticks. After this ritual, the log is supposed to poo out candies, nuts and sweets.

Flights to Barcelona

11. Japanese Christmas traditions

Japanese family wearing Santa hats and sharing food at home.

There’s no national holiday for Christmas in Japan, but the Japanese have developed a Christmas tradition of their own. In 1974, KFC ran an ad campaign in Japan called “Christmas Chicken”. It was dreamt up after a group of visitors ended up in KFC in Japan on December 25th because it was so difficult to find a turkey.

The campaign was a huge success. Ever since, KFC restaurants across Japan have sold a full Christmas dinner featuring chicken, champagne, cake and wine. The tradition is now so popular that there are even KFC Christmas parades through the streets and you have to make a booking at least two weeks in advance.

Flights to Japan

12. Mexican Christmas traditions

So you’ve probably heard of Mexico‘s Day of the Dead. What about the Night of the Radishes? On the 23rd of December each year, the Mexican city of Oaxaca hosts this oddly named event where locals compete in a vegetable carving event.

It all gets rather competitive, with nativity scenes, Christmas trees and even monsters carefully constructed out of giant radishes! The event draws big crowds from nearby towns and villages to witness the scenes. The tradition dates back to 1897 and was inspired by local market vendors who used to carve their veggies in different shapes to entice people to buy them. Why not swap radishes for a swede or potato and have your own carving contest this Christmas?

Flights to Mexico

Craving an adventure this December? From the very best Christmas holiday destinations around the globe to which UK festive markets to visit, KAYAK’s got plenty of inspiration.

About the author

Jemima Forbes Jemima is a full-time travel and lifestyle writer and part-time explorer. While she feels most at home on a tropical beach or in the Scottish wilderness, she also can’t resist the pull of tasty street food or a good museum in the world’s best cities. When she’s not globetrotting, you’ll find her reading or working on her debut fiction novel.

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