Austria – Krampus
Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure, in Alpine folklore, who during the Christmas season scares children who have misbehaved, assisting Saint Nicholas (the first of three good December figures; the other two being Santa Claus and Ded Moroz). The pair visit children on the night of the 5th December, and Saint Nicholas rewards the well-behaved children with modest gifts such as oranges, dried fruit, walnuts, and chocolate whilst the badly behaved ones only receive punishment with birch rods.
Australia – Santas ‘sleigh’ the waves
Christmas traditions in Australia, like Christmas in New Zealand, have many similarities to British, Irish, American and Canadian traditions, including traditional Christmas symbols featuring winter iconography. This means a red fur-coated Father Christmas or Santa Claus riding a sleigh, songs such as “Jingle Bells”, and various Christmas scenes on Christmas cards and decorations. However, the timing of Christmas occurring during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer season has resulted in the development of some local traditions as a result of the warmer weather.
Traditional Santas wear bright red fleecy suits, lined with white fur and big black boots to fight off the northern winter. In Australia, it’s summer at Christmas time so you’re much more likely to see a boardshorts-wearing Santa on a surfboard.
Canada – The Cavalcade of Lights
Cavalcade of Lights is an annual event highlighting the lighting of the City of Toronto government’s official Christmas tree at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The event has been held annually since 1967. The event falls on the final weekend of November to kick off the holiday season with the official illumination of the square and Christmas tree. The lighting display features the official Christmas tree and more than 300,000 energy-efficient LED lights that are illuminated from dusk to 11:00 p.m. every night throughout the holiday season.
Colombia – The Day of the Little Candles
Little Candles Day (Spanish: Día de las velitas) is a widely observed traditional holiday in Colombia. It is celebrated on December 7 on the eve of the Immaculate Conception, which is a public holiday in Colombia. This day is the unofficial start of the Christmas season in the country. On this night, people place candles and paper lanterns on windowsills, balconies, porches, sidewalks, streets, parks and squares; in short, everywhere they can be seen, in honour of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception. On December 8 it is customary for houses to hoist a white flag with the image of the Virgin Mary all day. They also hold numerous events, from firework shows to competitions.
France – Burn a Yule Log
In Provence (in France), it is traditional that the whole family helps to cut the log down and that a little bit is burnt each night. If any of the log is left after Twelfth Night, it is kept safe in the house until the next Christmas to protect against lightning! In some parts of The Netherlands, this was also done, but the log had to be stored under a bed! In some eastern European countries, the log was cut down on Christmas Eve morning and lit that evening.
Germany – St. Nicholas Day
St Nicholas Day is a favourite holiday with German children. On the night of December 5, children clean and polish their boots and leave them outside the door before going to sleep. The next morning, they find their shoes filled with nuts, candy, and small gifts from St Nicholas.
Iceland – The Yule Lads
Icelandic Christmas folklore depicts mountain-dwelling characters and monsters who come to town during Christmas. The stories are directed at children and are used to scare them into good behaviour. The folklore includes both mischievous pranksters who leave gifts during the night and monsters who eat disobedient children.
Italy – La Befana
In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St. Nicholas or Santa Claus.
Mexico – Las Posadas
Las Posadas is a novenario (an extended devotional prayer). It is celebrated chiefly in Latin America, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, Spain, and by Hispanics in the United States. It is typically celebrated each year between December 16 and December 24. Latin American countries have continued to celebrate the holiday, with very few changes to the tradition.
Netherlands – Zwarte Pieten
The Zwarte Piet character is part of the annual Feast of St. Nicholas that is celebrated on the evening of 5 December (Sinterklaasavond, which is known as St. Nicholas’ Eve in English) in the Netherlands and Aruba. This is when presents and sweets are traditionally distributed to children. The holiday is celebrated on 6 December in Belgium. The Zwarte Piet characters appear only in the weeks before the Feast of Saint Nicholas, first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (generally by boat, having travelled from Madrid, Spain). The tasks of the various Zwarte Piets (Zwarte Pieten in Dutch) are mostly to amuse children and to distribute kruidnoten, pepernoten, and other strooigoed (special Sinterklaas-themed sweets) to those who come to meet the saint as he visits schools, stores, and other places.
Norway – The Julebord
Julebord (Norwegian; Danish julefrokost Swedish julbord'”‘) is a Scandinavian feast or banquet during the Christmas season where traditional Christmas food and alcoholic beverages are served often in the form of a buffet. Originally, the julebord belonged to Christmas itself, i.e. the period from Christmas Day and onwards. Today julebord is often organized by employers or organizations for the employees or members.
Philippines – The Giant Lantern Festival
The Giant Lantern Festival (Kapampangan: Ligligan Parul) is an annual festival held in mid-December in the City of San Fernando in the Philippines. The festival features a competition of giant parol lanterns. Because of the popularity of the festival, the city has been nicknamed the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines”.
Poland – Kolacja Wigilijna
Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland, held on December 24. The term is often applied to the whole of Christmas Eve, extending further to Pasterka – midnight Mass, held in Roman Catholic churches all over Poland and in Polish communities worldwide at or before midnight. The custom is sometimes referred to as “wieczerza” or “wieczerza wigilijna”, in Old Polish meaning evening repast, linked to the late church service, Vespers from the Latin.
The word Wigilia derives from the Latin vigil. The associated feasting follows a day of abstinence and traditionally begins once the First Star has been sighted. Christmas is also sometimes called “Gwiazdka”, “little star”.
Sweden – The Gävle Goat
The Gävle Goat is a traditional Christmas display erected annually at Slottstorget (Castle Square) in central Gävle, Sweden. It is a giant version of a traditional Swedish Yule Goat figure made of straw. It is erected each year by local community groups at the beginning of Advent over a period of two days.
Switzerland – Sinister Sidekick
This is not the Santa Claus known to English-speaking countries but the Swiss version – who is normally accompanied by a strange-looking individual with a blacked-out face.
The Swiss Father Christmas was based on Saint Nicholas, whose feast day was celebrated on Saturday – his Swiss-German name, Samichlaus, alludes to that. But the origins of his sinister companion are less easy to make out.
Ukraine – The legend of the Christmas spider
The Legend of the Christmas Spider is an Eastern European folktale that explains the origin of tinsel on Christmas trees. It is most prevalent in Western Ukraine, where small ornaments in the shape of a spider are traditionally a part of the Christmas decorations.
United Kingdom (UK) – Christmas Crackers
Christmas crackers are a traditional Christmas favourite in the UK. The Christmas Crackers that are used today are short cardboard tubes wrapped in colourful paper. There is normally a Cracker next to each plate on the Christmas dinner table. When the crackers are pulled – with a bang! – a colourful party hat, a toy or gift, and a festive joke falls out! The party hats look like crowns and it is thought that they symbolize the crowns that might have been worn by the Wise Men.