Holiday Traditions Around the World

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Scroll down to read about holiday traditions around the world.


New Year’s Eve in Copacabana
New Year’s Eve in Copacabana is world famous, as millions of people come to Rio to enjoy summer and to see the fireworks spectacle in, while refreshing themselves in the sea. It is a tradition to dress in all white clothes during New Year’s Eve, because it is associated with harmony, calm and peace. White also represents Brazil’s Goddess of the Sea, Iemanjá, a central deity in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion, which many people are devoted to. Followers of Iemanjá leave gifts for her by the sea, in gratitude for their achievements.

St. Nicholas Fills Boots in Germany on December 6th
Every child in Germany looks forward to St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6th. The day before, children select the biggest boots and clean them carefully, so that “Nikolaus”, (as he is called in Germany), will secretly fill them with as much candy as possible during the night. The children’s biggest fear is that they will find a birch rod in their shoes in the morning. Dirty boots or misbehavior might be disciplined with a birch rod instead of candy. Parents and children don’t always agree on which goodies should be placed in the boots – parents (who are the ones placing the goodies in the boot – shhh!) might favor fruit rather than sweet treats!

Consoada – Traditional Portuguese Christmas Dinner
Traditionally, Portuguese families gather on December 24th to have the traditional Christmas dinner, Consoada. At the dinner table you will find codfish, roast turkey or octopus dishes depending on the traditions of each region. For dessert, there is always King’s Cake, stuffed with candied fruit or nuts, as well as delicious traditional fritters. There is also an older tradition that consists of not clearing the table so that it is left set during the night in honor of deceased family and friends.

Salerno Hosts Unique Le Luci d’Artista Light Show Event
Each year during the Christmas holidays, the city of Salerno organizes its unique Le Luci d’Artista event featuring amazing lights along the streets and public squares, and attracting thousands of visitors. This year’s event runs from November 15 to January 19 and will feature floral decorations and reproductions of Vietri ceramics. A nearly 100-foot Christmas treemarks the center of Piazza Portanova.Another important Salerno Christmas tradition is the “Aperitivo” on December 24th, when locals and visitors get together at the historical fish shops and trendy coffee bars in the pedestrian city center, to enjoy the king of Salernitan street food, the Cuoppo (a cone filled with fried “paranza”, prawns, squids and anchovies). It is believed that if you do not enjoy a Cuoppo, Santa will not be good to you!!!

Children Write Letters to the Père Noël (Santa) in France
Letters from French kids to Father Christmas don’t just disappear into dustbins or drawers in France. Since 1962, France has enacted a law that stipulates any letter to Père Noël must be responded to in the form of a postcard. The law has no doubt helped boost the myth of Santa Claus among France’s children, although it’s doubtful the postal workers appreciate all the extra work. Each year, Père Noël’s secretaries – all 60+ of them – work tirelessly in the post office in Libourne (France). Last year close to 1.4 million letters were delivered to Père Noël.

Sandmen Adorn Hawai’i’s Beaches
Hawaii may not have snow on all its islands, but there is sand! Did you know that the islands of Hawai’i have 10 out of the world’s 14 climate zones, including snow? You could make the trip up Mauna Kea on Hawai’i Island and find snow for a snowman, but the rest of the islands celebrate the tradition of snowman building by making “sandmen” on the beaches.

Prikle – A Traditional Christmas Donut Recipe in Croatia

Ingredients: 2 eggs, 1 cup solid yogurt, 1 ¼ cup flour, 2 tsps. Vanilla, 1 tbsp. baking powder, 1 tbsp. rum, 4 tbsps. sugar

Preparation: Mix all ingredients into a batter. Drop rounded half-full tablespoons of batter in hot oil and fry in a deep pot, until golden, about 4-5 minutes. Fry on low temperature. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Tiny Nut-boats Predict the Future in the Czech Republic
Each person creates their own tiny boat from the shells of walnuts, complete with a little candle inside. When left to float in a water basin, the direction the boat sails and its position in the basin (or if it sinks!) will predict the person’s future for the coming year, relating to family, love and travels, etc.

Poppy Seeds Bring Good Luck in Hungary
In Hungary, poppy seeds (mákos) are believed to bring good luck and fortune in the new year. That’s why poppy seed desserts are a common feature of the holiday season. One of the most famous poppy seed desserts is mákos retes, a rich poppy seed strudel, or poppy seed beigli (a traditional Hungarian nut roll). These poppy seed rolls have two traditional filling varieties: poppy seeds, symbolizing richness and good health; and walnuts, which are believed to protect against bad luck.

Chanukah is Celebrated in Israel
In Israel Chanukah is celebrated to commemorate the miraculous removal of the Greek Empire from their country by a few pious Jews, and to highlight the lighting of the Menorah in the Holy Temple, which stayed alight for 8 days until a new supply of untainted oil could be made. The Chunukia (pictured) is lit, dreidel games are played (a special spinning top), and jelly donuts are eaten.

The Holy Crib is on Display in Malta
This tradition clearly has its roots from nearby Italy. However, the Maltese, as always, put their own twist on it. Rather than having a stable as the holy birthplace, it is depicted as a cave. The scene would consist of the cave, surrounded by little houses that seem to be made of the local limestone with a watermill and palm trees being common features. In the weeks before Christmas one may find displays of cribs in many local villages like Qormi, Rabat or B’kara.

Wheat is a Symbol of Abundance & Fertility in Turkey
Cooking rice of wheat grains (bulgur pilaf) is believed to be a symbol of abundance and fertility in Turkey. Bulgur pilaf is prepared during the holiday season because people think that wheat will bring prosperity during the coming new year.

Ireland’s Candle in the Window
A tradition that was very widespread in the 1970’s but which seems to be dying out somewhat and especially in urban areas is the “candle in the window”. Symbolically the candle represented a welcome to Joseph and Mary as they wandered in search of lodgings. The candle indicated to strangers and especially to the poor that there may be an offering of food in the house within. During the Penal Times in Ireland, Catholic priests were forbidden to perform Mass so the candle acted as a covert signal that the occupier was a Catholic believer and that mass could be held on the premises.

Poland’s Traditional Christmas Eve Dishes
Traditional Christmas Eve foods consist of carp, borscht, kutia made of groats, poppy seeds, cabbage with peas, Silesian gingerbread and fish head soup. Dishes in Poland vary depending on which part of the country you are in, but almost all dinners on this special day consist of 12 dishes and dried fruit kompot. Throughout history, Polish Christmas Eve suppers included a soup based on the fermented product, kutia, or noodles with honey and poppy seeds, and fish. Uszka, which are small pierogi (dumplings) and served with borscht or with sauerkraut and mushroom-filled pierogi have become popular in more recent times. Enjoy Polish cuisine for Christmas!

Christmas in Tahiti – Santa, Sand, Sea and Sun!
Imagine…relaxing in the sun with a cocktail, the air fragrant with Tiare flowers, ukuleles strumming, and Santa arrives on a jet ski to deliver presents. Tahitians are surrounded by sand rather than snow! They feel the magic and spirit of this season wearing handmade Tahitian dresses. The small villages throughout the islands of French Polynesia all have vibrant Christmas markets. There are rides and games for the children and you can find a wide selection of fantastic gifts. Church services are very popular, and all the ladies wear beautiful homemade hats for the occasion.

Lion Dance a Tradition During the Chinese New Year
One of the traditions in China during the Chinese New Year is to play Lion Dance, which has a recorded history of more than 2,000 years. Usually two people act as a lion: one waving the lion head and the other waving the lion body and tail; or one performer acts as a cub, while the other holds a silk ball to play with, dancing in tempo to the music. In Chinese tradition, the lion can bring good luck and historically, people regarded the lion as a symbol of bravery and strength, which could drive away evil and protect humans and livestock. Performing the lion dance at festive occasions became a custom where people could pray for good luck, safety, and happiness.

A Celebration of Light in Sweden
In Sweden, the Christmas holidays start the beginning of December, when houses are ablaze with lights all through the otherwise dreary winter nights. A special celebration of light is held on December 13th with choirs and walks in honor of Saint Lucia from Syracuse. Girls carrying long white frocks, glitter or red ribbons around their waists and lights on their heads or in their hands, parade in churches, schools and workplaces on this special day. Boys parade as well, dressed as gingerbread cookies or as Staffan, the stable boy.

Eating Grapes on New Year’s Eve in Spain
In Spain, December 31 is a very special celebration, where the fun and partying go on well into the early hours. Spaniards welcome in the New Year by eating twelve grapes, one by one, in time with the striking of the clock at midnight on the 31st of December. If you manage to eat all the grapes in time, you are in for a year of prosperity and good luck. In many cities and towns in Spain people go to a central square or an iconic place where there is a large clock, to eat the grapes together and share the last minutes of the old year. The definite hot spot for this tradition is Puerta del Sol, the central square in Madrid where thousands of people gather every New Year’s Eve.

A Special Chilean Cake at Christmas – Pan de Pascua
Pan de Pascua is a Chilean cake traditionally eaten around Christmas time. Although “Pascua” primarily means Passover or Easter, it also may mean Christmas. In Chile both “Navidad” and “Pascua” are used to refer to Christmas. Despite its name, it is a cake made from batter, and not a true bread. It is like a sweet sponge cake flavored with ginger and honey. It usually contains candied fruits, raisins, walnuts and almonds. Pan de Pascua was originally introduced to Chile by German immigrants. The Chilean version combines characteristics of the German Stollen (fruit bread) and the Italian Pandoro (golden cake).

Families in Costa Rica Create Nativity Scenes
During the first days of December, Costa Rican families get together to assemble and recreate “El Pasito or Portal” which is a model of a nativity scene. Ticos usually include models of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the wise men, the ox and the mule but often families explode on creativity and competition with other families in their neighborhoods and add extra houses, animals and even build miniature villages. Costa Ricans traditionally keep el pasito during December and until January 6th, which is Reyes Magos or Three Kings Day.

Egypt Celebrates Al Mouled Al Nabawy (Birth of Prophet Mohammed)
Al-Mouled Al-Nabawy (the birth of Prophet Mohammed), falls on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar, Rabi’i Al-Awal. In the weeks before the event, stores begin selling “Halawet Al-Mouled”, Middle Eastern sweets usually made from different types of nuts and honey. These celebrations date back to the Fatimid era (10th – 12th century) when the ruling families organized large feasts for the poor and needy and handed out large amounts of Halawet Al-Mouled sweets. Of course, this is still a religious celebration and Sufi circles take to the streets to sing religious chants near Al-Hussein Mosque, where it is believed the grandson of the Prophet is buried.

Piñata has Religious Significance in Mexico
The traditional Christmas piñata is shaped like a seven-pointed star, or a ball with points. It has religious significance as each point represents one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The bright colors represent temptation while the blindfolded person represents blind faith and the stick represents the will to overcome sin.

Fireball Ceremony is Famous in Stonehaven, Scotland
Scotland is famous for its electrifying Hogmanay celebrations, engulfing the nation in festivities and tradition. Hogmanay refers to the final day of the year, and nothing symbolises the historic occasion quite like Stonehaven’s Fireball Ceremony. Traditionally a cleansing ritual to burn away bad spirits before the new year, watch in astonishment as daring locals swing balls of fire above their heads at the stroke of midnight.

Panama Celebrates Posadas de Navidad
As in many countries of Central America, the Christmas Posadas teaches children the details of the birth of Jesus Christ. This tradition consists of 9 consecutive nights of processions re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. Una Posada is an inn or lodge in Spanish. Neighbors chose a boy and a girl and dress them as Joseph and Mary who, together with their families, process from house to house singing Christmas songs and requesting lodging. In each house, after reflecting on the gospel, the host family offers soft drinks and snacks to the participants.