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Family Christmas Traditions Around the World

Christmas is one of our absolute favorite times of year! I can already hear the Christmas music playing, smell the cinnamon candle burning, and see the lights twinkling on the tree. Our family Christmas traditions make the season EXTRA special. 

The first tradition of the season starts the weekend after Thanksgiving. All three of us go to pick out a REAL Christmas tree. It gets wrapped up and thrown in the back of our SUV (sometimes partially on Austin’s lap), and we haul it home to decorate together! I can almost smell the fresh pine scent! 

Bo and I also have the tradition of watching The Holiday, making Christmas fettuccine, and building a tent (just like the little girls have in the movie) in our living room to watch it in. Oh…and you can’t forget the hot chocolate! 

Now we even let Austin join us for a little while in the tent before his bedtime rolls around. It’s one of our family Christmas traditions that we look forward to every year! 

Christmas is celebrated in many countries around the world, and each country has their own distinct family Christmas traditions. Check out how families with kids all around the world are celebrating Christmas; maybe you will find a new family Christmas tradition to adopt as your own this year!

Family Christmas tradition of watching the Holiday in a tent
Family Christmas tradition of little boy at christmas tree farm

Germany

Have you ever used an advent calendar filled with sweets? That is a German family Christmas tradition that has now become popular worldwide. However, since the celebration of Christmas starts on December 24th in Germany, their calendars only have 24 doors instead of 25 like we often see in the USA. 

On December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day, Saint Nicholas visits children’s homes to find out if they have been naughty or nice (sound familiar?) to determine if they are deserving of little gifts. The children are often prepared with a poem to recite for Saint Nicholas when he arrives. 

Just in case Saint Nicholas doesn’t come into their house, children leave their shoes or stockings outside. This way he can leave them some fruits, nuts and sweets if he doesn’t have time to come inside. 

Another German tradition that I witnessed as a child (my grandparents had german ancestry), was that of a traditional Christmas pyramid (Weihnachtspyramide). It was originally a low-cost alternative to a Christmas tree but has now become a little piece of German Christmas culture.

The pyramid is made of wood and has many levels, often with angels and a nativity scene. There are candles at the bottom of the pyramid, and when they burn the heat from their flames rotates the propeller on the top. As the propeller turns, it spins the carousel-like levels creating lovely rotating scenes. 

German Advent Calendar box of chocolates

Italy

The Christmas season doesn’t officially kick off in Italy until the Day of Immaculate Conception–December 8th (aka–my birthday!). Once this day hits, all the Christmas decorations go up in families’ homes and in public piazzas. While many of their decorations are similar to what we display in the USA, ornate nativity scenes (presepi) are a vibrant tradition in many parts of Italy, especially Naples. 

During the 8 days leading up to Christmas, you will hear the sound of carolers filling the neighborhood streets every night with traditional songs. It must look and sound like Christmas everywhere you go–how delightful!

On Christmas day many families host a fancy lunch celebration with friends and family, which usually lasts all day. Many families continue celebrating on December 26th when they pull out the leftovers and feast again. 

Italy’s family Christmas traditions keep going until January 6th (Day of Epiphany and the 12th day of Christmas). On Epiphany Eve, Children who were nice receive candy and children who were naughty receive coal (black sugar). Families, once again, dine together to close out the end of their Christmas season. Gotta love all that Italian food!

Vatican Piazza at Christmas
Italian Family Christmas food

Philippines 

If you are one of those people who would love to celebrate Christmas for months on end, then the Philippines family Christmas traditions will get you pretty doggone close! They have the longest Christmas celebration in the world, lasting from September to January!

The Filipino culture is all about family, so this long season gives families enough time to prepare to be home for Christmas. There are plenty of parties and festivities to enjoy over the few months. All the celebrations and time together gives them the opportunity to focus on what matters most — spending time with family. 

One of the most popular festivals in the Philippines occurs in the city of San Fernando. The Giant Lantern Festival has many colorful lanterns (parols) built with lights that are programmed to music. Families eagerly wait for the sun to set, so they can watch the beautiful light display in awe. 

The Giant Lantern Festival lantern

Iceland

While Iceland celebrates Christmas like many other countries with delicious food and giving gifts to family and friends, there is one significant difference — Iceland has no Santa Claus.

Instead, their family Christmas traditions revolve around 13 mischievous Yule Lads. Considering 62% of Icelanders believe elves are real, this is not a surprise. 

Each night leading up to December 25th a different Yule Lad comes down from the mountains to visit children’s homes. Children place their shoes in their bedroom window and wait to see what today’s Yule Lad will bring them. Whether the children were naughty or nice the day before will determine if they receive a nice gift or a rotten potato in their shoes. 

Little Christmas gnome on snow
Iceland mountains

Mexico

While you may be familiar with Christmas pageants or plays, Mexico takes their pageant on the road with their 9 night Christmas festival of Las Posadas. Children dress up in robes like biblical characters and are led by an angel, Mary, and Joseph. 

Las Posadas means the inns in Spanish, so they stop at different houses (inns) to read scripture and sing songs.  At the end of each evening, the children burst open a piñata filled with candy and toys. 

Christmas Eve, nochebuena, is the final night of Las Posadas. This evening is typically the culmination of Christmas celebrations with an elaborate meal and Christmas mass. In some places in Mexico, they shoot off fireworks to celebrate the season on nochebuena

Many family Christmas traditions in Mexico incorporate the viewing of their nativity scenes (nacimiento) in homes and public squares alike. They are known to have extravagantly large displays of all the characters in the nativity scene, but baby Jesus (although the main character) does not appear until December 24th. 

Mexico fireworks
Christmas poinsettia

Norway

When you think of Scandinavian countries at Christmastime, you may initially think of their Christmas markets. While those are incredible, there is another family Christmas tradition in Norway that sounds like fun for everyone.

Many Norweigans hang little Yule Goat (julbukke) ornaments made of straw on their Christmas trees. While this originated as a method to protect your home from evil spirits, today the tradition has evolved into something far more amusing. People dress up like goats and go from door to door entertaining people with songs (julebukking) and ask for treats or food in return. 

Is it just me, or does this sound like a way to mesh Halloween with Christmas? 

Outside of the julbukking tradition, they enjoy plenty of meals on Christmas Eve and the following days up until New Year’s Day. Whether it be business parties or family parties, there is an abundance of opportunities to enjoy traditional food and festivities as a family in Norway. Just be ready to feed some goats along the way!

Christmas Norwegian house in the snow

Your Own Family Christmas Traditions

It is beautiful to see what traditions each country carries on each year as the Christmas season arrives. There is immense joy and celebration all around the world during the most wonderful time of year.

Family Christmas traditions make magical memories. I enjoy carrying on old traditions, but I especially love creating our own new traditions as a family of three. 

Hopefully these global traditions inspired you to adopt one of theirs or create one all your own. Whatever it is, may your family Christmas traditions be filled with joy and celebration year after year. 

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