Christmas and New Year Customs Around the World

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

✦ Andy Williams had it right when he proclaimed Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year and, as soon as his song hits the airwaves each year, we know that the festive season is well and truly underway.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, featured on Brilliant-Online
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

This year may be slightly different in how or even where we celebrate but, ultimately, it is the season of good will when families can reconvene to share gifts, love and indulge in a feast of fine food and drink.

Here we take a look at how Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world, closely followed by New Year’s Eve festivities - some traditional, some a bit wacky but all filled with joy and cheer!

Light it up!

Decorations are a given during the festive season as individual homes, city streets and town centres are adorned with an impressive array of items and light displays. However, one would have to go some way to outdo the city of San Fernando in the Philippines, dubbed the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” Here a Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) is held each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve featuring dazzling parols (lanterns) that consist of thousands of spinning lights that symbolise the Star of Bethlehem. Competition is fierce to construct the most impressive parol and visitors flock from far and wide each year to witness the occasion.

Fright night!

Krampus, St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, featured on Brilliant-Online
Krampus, St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice

One might be forgiven for thinking residents of Austria have confused Christmas with Halloween as each year during the first week of December a beast-like demon creature known as Krampus comes out to play, roaming city streets, frightening kids and punishing the bad ones. People dress as Krampus, St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, and frighten children by clattering chains and ringing bells, threatening to whisk the naughtiest ones away in their sack!

Sticking with the supernatural theme we head to Norway where a slightly odd traditional is witnessed each Christmas Eve as families hide their brooms! This centuries-old tradition initially came about due to the superstition that witches came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. It may be somewhat unorthodox but it is still hugely popular today as families continue to hide their brooms to prevent them being stolen.

Finger lickin’ good!

Kentucky Fried Chicken, featured on Brilliant-Online
Kentucky Fried Chicken

While Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in Japan (indeed, December 25th is classed as a normal working day), it has taken on nostalgic tones in recent years. Rather than gathering around the dining table to tuck into the traditional Turkey dinner, revellers in Japan head to their nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken! The tradition started in 1974 and has grown in popularity to the extent that some pre-order their food boxes months in advance and multi-hour queues are frequently seen snaking around city blocks each year. The Colonel would be proud indeed!

Food is also the order of the day for families in Finland who traditionally consume a bowl of porridge made of rice and milk topped with cinnamon, milk, or butter. There is an almond hidden within the gruel and whoever finds it is declared the winner – to prevent family squabbles and resentment, many parents hide more than one almond to ensure everyone is a winner! Afterwards, the family head to the sauna to warm up together.

’Tis the season to be jolly!

Tamales, featured on Brilliant-Online

In Caracas, Venezuela, another less-than-traditional festive meal is consumed as families indulge in a steamed wrap made out of cornmeal dough and stuffed with meat known as ‘tamales’. Many are consumed on Christmas Eve following the days’ exertions when the city’s residents head to church in the morning on roller skates! Roads across the city are closed off to ensure a smooth, safe route for the myriad of skaters!