It doesn’t matter where you live, Christmas is a magical time of year. Each country has its own traditions that are unique to them. Here are the top ten Christmas traditions from Britain – and beyond.
Here in Britain, we celebrate Christmas with great enthusiasm! Lots of good food and drink, the exchanging of presents and a tree decorated with lights and coloured glass baubles. If it snows outside, that is a bonus. Christmas seems to start earlier each year, but officially, it only lasts for the 12 days of Christmas, beginning with Christmas day and ending on the 5th of January.
These are the top ten Christmas traditions from the UK.
1. The Christmas Tree: Whether you prefer a real tree or an artificial one, this is one of our most treasured traditions. The tree is given pride of place in the house and lovingly decorated with delicate glass baubles, glittery tinsel, bundles of cinnamon sticks tied with ribbon, and not forgetting a fairy or a star on top.
Real trees smell wonderful but the needles that are shed from the branches are a disadvantage. Artificial trees are better in lots of ways, but you don’t get that lovely, fresh pine smell that comes with a real tree.
2. Pantomimes: These are a kind of musical play, set on a stage with larger-than-life colourful characters. The female lead is often played by a man dressed in ‘drag’ with heavy make-up and an extravagant wig. Families will go to pantomimes every year as they are geared towards people of all ages, and can be enormous fun.
3. Christmas Decorations: Tinsel, paper chains, bells and stars made from shiny foil, bunches of mistletoe. Some people like to put up the decorations early, while others wait until the first night of Christmas. I loved the decorations and was always sad to see them taken down and put back in their boxes for another year. But my mum insisted that it was bad luck to leave the decorations up beyond the 5th of January. So down they came.
4. Christmas Dinner: No Christmas celebration would be complete without the turkey. And the various trimmings that are so important, such as roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and gravy. This enormous meal is followed by Christmas pudding, a rich, dense steamed pudding made with dried fruit, spices and brandy, served with brandy butter. Usually followed by a mid-afternoon nap.
5. Mince Pies: Once filled with a mixture of minced meat and dried fruit (hence the name) these little pies are now filled with a mixture of dried fruits, suet and spices, known as ‘mincemeat’ and wrapped in buttery shortcrust pastry. They are eaten a lot during the Christmas period. Some families leave a couple of mince pies out for Santa to enjoy.
6. Christmas Gifts: Christmas is a time for giving, but also for receiving. Families and friends exchange beautifully-wrapped gifts, often opened while sitting around the tree. This was my favourite part of the day as a child; I couldn’t wait to find out what was inside those intriguing packages. And I was never disappointed.
7. Christmas Crackers: These are a novelty table decoration, usually ‘pulled’ during the main meal. The wrapping conceals a small gift, a joke printed on a slip of paper and a paper hat. Two people hold each end of the cracker and when pulled it makes a loud bang. They vary from basic to luxury versions.
8. Christmas Cards: Even in our modern times, where the internet is king, Christmas cards are still sent each year. This tradition was invented by Sir Henry Cole, who didn’t have time to send out personal messages so he hired an artist to design a card which could be sent out to everyone. This was in 1843, and Christmas cards have been a big thing ever since.
9. Carol Singing: This old tradition seems to be dying out, which is a shame. I remember the Salvation Army band playing in our local town centre and can still remember the words to the carols. My friends and I used to knock on neighbour’s doors and sing a few bars of a well-known carol song. Sometimes we would get sweets, and other times nothing. But it was fun anyway!
10. Mistletoe: This is a parasitic plant that anchors itself to trees to extract nutrients from the host. It has pure white berries with green foliage and is traditionally hung above doorways. It is said that any man who finds a woman standing beneath the mistletoe can steal a kiss, and if the woman refuses, it will bring her bad luck.
So, that’s how we celebrate Christmas here in Britain. But what are the traditions in other parts of the world?
In many parts of the world, kids are familiar with Santa Claus or Father Christmas, but in Austria they have a ‘bad Santa.’ This scary creature is called Krampus and is said to wander the streets searching for children who have been misbehaving. During December, masked figures roam the streets scaring adults as well as kids. They wear terrifying masks and behave in a threatening manner. But it’s all for fun.
This one is not for those who have a phobia about spiders; Ukrainians have a novel way of decorating for Christmas; spiderwebs. The decorations resemble spiderwebs glistening with dew and look very effective. The charming story that accompanies this tradition is a folk tale about a widow who couldn’t afford to decorate the Christmas tree for her kids so the spiders did it for her. Spiderwebs are thought to be lucky in Ukraine.
In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday, but on Christmas eve, the Japanese head out to their local KFC for a special meal. This began in 1974 when KFC released a Christmas marketing campaign with a catchy slogan and the tradition is still thriving today.
Again, Christmas is not a public holiday in china, as in Japan, but they do celebrate Christmas and a favourite tradition is the gift of apples. The apples are not just plain old apples, however; these are intricately carved with positive messages and wrapped in colourful paper before being presented to the recipient. The apples represent a wish to the recipient for a safe and peaceful night.
Germans have many ways of celebrating Christmas. The ever-popular Christmas markets – usually held outdoors – bring travellers from all over the world. But one of their traditions is called pickle in the tree, and it involves hiding a pickle in the branches of the Christmas tree. Whoever finds it is given a gift as a reward.
In the days leading up to Christmas, Dutch children leave their shoes in front of the fire, hoping that Sinterklaas will fill the shoes with gifts and treats during the night. Also, they leave carrots in the shoes for Sinterklaas’ white horse, named Amerigo, to eat. Naughty children would get a potato left in their shoes. Now there’s an incentive to be good!
Midnight mass is one of the most popular Irish Christmas traditions, with families bundling up against the cold and heading for church. Once back home, a pint of the famous Irish stout, Guinness, is left out for Santa to fortify him for the long night ahead. The Irish usually have turkey for Christmas dinner, but alternatives are roast or boiled ham, duck, or goose.
High on the list of Christmas traditions in Poland are midnight mass, known as Pasterka, and carol singing. Polish people have thousands of carols and they love to sing. Food includes various fish dishes, pierogi and a compote made from dried fruits which is served as a drink.
I hope that you enjoyed this article, what are your favourite Christmas traditions where you live? If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
Are you curious about how other countries celebrate Christmas? Have a look at holiday traditions in Italy
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8 thoughts on “Top Ten Christmas Traditions”
I kept your site bookmarked after reading your afternoon tea recipes (you probably don’t remember). Idling away today with the rain outside and making my plans for Xmas! So far, I’ve watched Michael Buble on YouTube and read your post, so not much Christmas shopping done so far lol.
I spent Christmas in Slovakia one year (with a sadly missed ex-girlfriend). I was there for a month in fierce cold but the snowy carpet of the small town I stayed in sings of Christmas to me still (better than Buble, hehe). Christmas Day is on Christmas Eve there, and we had carp as the main Christmas meal. My girlfriend’s mother (mamka, she called her) put a dab of honey on my forehead before we ate. It was a tradition.
Reading your article brought these memories back for me, so my time hasn’t entirely been fruitless 😊. Thank you so much for bringing some Christmas cheer nice and early.
I’m sure I’ll be back soon.
Hi Russell, I do remember you, you wanted to make the little sponge cakes with strawberries and cream. Did you make them and were they tasty?
I’m so happy that you’ve bookmarked my site. I did a post on edible Christmas gifts, maybe that could give you some ideas for presents? It features chocolate truffles, pate, chutney and cookies.
That sounds like a lovely holiday, snow at Christmas makes it magical. Your memories will always be with you, and they’re good ones. I am not a fan of Michael Buble!
I’ve got the idea of writing in more detail about Christmas traditions in other countries, so look out for more…
Thank you so much for this post! I never knew there were so many Christmas Traditions around the world. As someone who wanted to go teach English in China, I find that the Chinese Tradition is absolutely beautiful. I love the idea of picking apples and carving messages in to them. It’s a nice little gift that comes from the heart.
Hi Jessie, it is a lovely idea isn’t it? This would be such a personal offering, it would be nice if more countries gave such unique gifts.
I’m going to do a series of posts where I will go into more detail on the different traditions in other countries. I’m learning as I write these posts, as well as those who read them being educated. So fascinating. I hope your Christmas is a magical one 🙂
It’s only the last week of October but the spirit of Christmas is already in the air. Actually, here in the Philippines and for Filipinos all around the world, we start playing Christmas songs on the first of September. This is what we call the start of the “ber” months which signals that Christmas will be here soon.
Wow, your Christmas traditions in the UK are almost the same as ours. Every family here would love to have a Christmas tree and decorations in their homes which we usually set up on the first of December and take it down after Three Kings Day, that is January 6 ☺. Rich families have the tallest and most beautiful Christmas trees while most families opt for regular-sized ones; some even improvised.
We used to go caroling but not anymore and only a few people give out Christmas cards unlike when there were no e-Cards. But Christmas dinners which we call “Noche Buena” and gift-giving are Christmas traditions that will surely remain for Filipinos.
It’s interesting to know that some countries have different Christmas traditions. I didn’t even know that Japan does not celebrate Christmas but they eat KFC on Christmas eve.
But no matter how we celebrate Christmas, or whether some countries celebrate it or not, the Christmas season will always remain to be one of the most celebrated holidays.
Hi Alice, thank you for sharing your country’s Christmas traditions, isn’t it funny how different countries and cultures share some of the same customs? It’s fascinating!
I’m going to do a series of posts about Christmas traditions around the world and I would love to include the Philippines. Perhaps you could give me some more details on how you celebrate this holiday? Meanwhile, enjoy your pre-Christmas festivities!
Yea, Karen, this was a nice reading. At least I have started to make sense of what I have been seeing. Here at home Christmas came along with Christianity and many of the traditions are adopted from European countries especially, where the first Missionaries came from to introduce religion to our countries. You may find, for instance, Uganda had missionaries from the United Kingdom, the USA, and Italy. So you find now an amalgamation of what you have described and what others countries where other missionaries came from in the way Christmas is celebrated. All in all, Christmas gifts cut across. Thank you for sharing these traditions especially as we approach the season.
Hi Hawumba, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Thank you for your comments, I have learned something new today! And it’s good to know that Christmas gifts are popular in your country too. Wishing you a very enjoyable Christmas!