Giant straw goats and shoes in the window: The best Christmas traditions from around the world

Discover how Christmas traditions vary around the world.
Discover how Christmas traditions vary around the world. Copyright Unsplash
By Sarah Palmer
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This Christmas Day, explore the festive traditions that shape cultures around the world.


Unbelievably, it’s that time of year again, when family and friends come together for good food and good cheer.

Thankfully, COVID restrictions have remained at bay and across Europe we are able to celebrate Christmas 2022 with friends and family.

While gifts and fairy-lit trees are relatively universal, some countries go their own way when celebrating the festive season. Here, we’ve wrapped up some of our favouriteChristmas traditions from around the world.

Day of the Little Candles, Colombia

On 7 December, Colombians traditionally light candles in their homes, churches and squares. It’s a nod to the deep Catholic roots of the country, and symbolises Pope Pius IX defining the date as the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.

More recently, it’s become a day in the calendar when towns and cities turn on their Christmas lights: the official beginning of festivities.

Colombians light candles to mark the day of immaculate conceptionUnsplash

Optalek, Poland

Optalek, or ‘the Christmas wafer’, is a way for Polish families and friends to share memories of the past year and wish each other well for the year ahead.

Before sitting down for Christmas Eve dinner, many families from Poland and other eastern European countries take part in the tradition.

It’s believed that the sharing of unleavened bread (bread baked without any raising agents) with other people is to share the good in life.

Krampus, Austria

Krampus is an alarming-looking creature who emerges during Austrian advent.

Deemed the anti-Santa, he threatens to take naughty children away to his lair by stuffing them in a sack.

According to folklore, Krampus shows up in towns the night of 5 December, which is known as Krampusnacht.

Yule Lads, Iceland

The eve before 12 December, Icelandic families will leave a shoe on their windowsills for the Yule Lads.

There it will stay for 13 nights, so the 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses (the Yule Lads) can leave a small gift.

Giant Lantern Festival, Philippines

In the Philippines, Christmas celebrations start mid-December with San Fernando’s Giant Lantern Festival.

This too was originally a religious celebration which took place during the nine day novena - a series of prayers recited before Christmas. Before the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, lanterns were brought to the town church.

Now, the event signifies unwavering hope. The modern day festival showcases new, innovative designs every year, bursting with creativity and originality from local lantern artists.

In the Philippines, the streets are lined with lanternsUnsplash

Yule Goat, Sweden

The Yule goat is a Scandinavian and northern European symbol, believed to help Santa Claus deliver presents. Apparently, sometimes Santa might opt for goat-back instead of his usual sleigh method.

In the town of Gävle, Sweden, a giant Yule goat as a means of decoration for the main square seemed like the perfect idea. However, opting to build it out of straw and wood means that locals trying to burn the goat down has become as much a tradition as the original concept.


It’s reported that in the last 56 years, the Gävle Yule goat has only survived until New Year's Eve 18 times.

La Ribote, Martinique

The French Caribbean island of Martinique fills its streets with song to ring in Christmas time.

The idea is friends and neighbours go from house to house, singing Christmas songs and sharing food and drink.

What’s your favourite international Christmas tradition? Tell us on Twitter @euronewstravel.

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