Christmas Traditions Around the World

From the imagery we see in holiday movies and on greeting cards, there are many traditions that we associate with Christmas. These icons of festivity include things like stockings over the fireplace, mistletoe, and more.

Some traditions are more globally practiced than others, such as decorating a tree, or playing or singing Christmas carols. However, it might surprise you to know that some traditions you thought were universally celebrated, are actually specific to certain countries and cultures only.

Read on below to see which of these traditions you have and haven’t heard of, and if you knew exactly where they originated from.

Popping Christmas crackers

Tradition from: England / United Kingdom
Observed in: UK and Commonwealth nations such as Australia and New Zealand

The title of inventor of the cracker goes to a baker and confectioner from London, Mr. Tom Smith. This now-iconic Christmas item was apparently first created as a promotional method to sell his sweets all the way back in 1847.

You may not find crackers as a common Christmas item in other parts of Europe such as in France, Spain or Germany, but they remain a popular must-have for a truly British Christmas.

Today, typical Christmas crackers contain goodies such as a paper crown, a little toy or item, as well as a strip of paper with a (usually Christmas-themed) joke written on it.

Drinking eggnog

Tradition from:
United Kingdom
Observed in: USA and Canada, with various versions observed in a few other countries

While the term ‘nog’ and the drink itself are likely of English origin, this beverage successfully crossed the Atlantic to arrive in the British colonies in the 18th century. In modern times however, it has been widely accepted that this festive beverage and its ties to the Christmas season is very much an American tradition.

Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

This custardy beverage is made with ingredients that typically involve all or some of the following: milk, cream, sugar, eggs (including the yolks and sometimes with whipped whites), and nutmeg. ‘Spiked’ versions of this drink may include distilled alcohol like rum, brandy or bourbon Christmas markets

Christmas markets

Tradition from: Germany
Observed globally in various countries

A tradition from the late Middle Ages, early recordings of Christmas markets have been traced to various German-speaking parts of Europe including Vienna in 1298, and Munich in 1310.

Till today, Christmas markets are typically held in town squares in city centres all over Europe. Typical offerings include seasonal goods by local artisans such as items that can be offered as presents, and food and drink typically associated with December or the festive season such as hot mulled wine.

Other sights you might expect at a Christmas marketplace include: a nativity scene as part of the decorations, Christmas ambiance in full blast with singing and dancing, and possibly the added merriment from a nearby skating rink.

Photo by Humphrey Muleba from Pexels

Placing Christmas stockings out as decoration

Tradition from: Europe
Observed in: Multiple countries (though in varying versions)

It is said that this tradition originated from the German practice of children leaving their boots near the fireplace on Christmas eve, so that St Nicholas (AKA Santa Claus) could reward them for being good. On Christmas day, children woke up to find their boots filled with presents.

This tradition then evolved to its more well-known version of stockings hung in the home, typically over the fireplace, to be filled with small gifts from “Santa” such as toys, candy and even fruit.

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