The holiday season varies in different parts of the world, with many traditions probably similar to your own, and others very different.


In fact, many people don't even know where holiday traditions in the United States came from. According to World Holiday Traditions, the United States is characteristically a melting pot of different holiday traditions. Most of these holiday traditions come from Europe, and even different parts of the United States carry different holiday traditions including certain foods eaten during the holidays.
  • Christmas carols from England and Australia
  • Christmas trees from Germany
  • Santa Claus, or St. Nick in a red suit originated in Scandinavia
  • Santa's arrival through the chimney to fill stockings is reminiscent of the Netherlands.
  • Santa's sleigh drawn by reindeer began in Switzerland
  • Christmas parades may be a carry-over from Latin processions.
Many countries, including the United States, has the traditional feast during the holidays, but many countries have their own variations and traditional foods. On par with the rest of the United States' traditions, we tend to have taken a little bit from ancestors who have immigrated here. One commonality seems to be that most countries have created a similar image of Santa. "We have fattened up the jolly old man in the red suit and blended all the traditions until he comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve, leaves gifts and stockings filled with treats and departs in a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. The media has helped to make this a universal Christmas image," says the World Holiday Traditions website.

One unique thing that the United States has to offer in its holiday traditions is the different holiday traditions within the country according to the region. Here are some according to the World Holiday Traditions website:
  • American Indians have held religious dances to coincide with the winter solstice. Thirty-five miles south of Santa Fe, in the San Felipe Pueblo, is held perhaps one of the most unique Christmas Eve dances. Women carry a sprig of HAKAK, the sacred spruce tree, which represents eternal life and which they believed helped to create mankind.
  • From the Appalachian mountains came one of today's most popular Christmas songs, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
  • Downtown shopping centers in Hawaii display Santa's helpers as "menehunes," the legendary little people who are supposed to have been the first inhabitants of Hawaii before the Polynesians seized the islands.
  • Pennsylvania's Moravian population embrace Christmas with a "Love-Fest." These are musical services in which the congregation partakes of simple food while the choir sings appropriate hymns and anthems.
  • The greatest variety in the traditions, however, comes in the taste of Christmas feast:
    • New England has Lumberjack Pie
    • Pennsylvania Dutch serve Sand Tarts
    • North Carolina features Moravian Love-Feast Buns
    • Baltimore serves Sauerkraut with their turkey
    • Virginia gives us oyster and ham pie.
    • Southern states have Hominy Grits Soufflé and Whiskey Cake
    • Louisiana's treat is Creole Gumbo
    • New Mexico has the Empanaditas-
    • Hawaii does Turkey Teriyaki marinated and cooked over an outdoor pit.
Interested in learning more about holiday traditions around the world? Here are a few more!

In Yemen, at Hanukkah, Chana and her seven sons are celebrated

Jean-Baptiste de Vignaly​

1. Yemen: Chana and her seven sons.

In Yemen, Jewish women observe the seventh night of Hannukah in specific celebration of women. In the book of Maccabee, Chana was the mother of seven sons. They all lived when Antiochus IV Epiphanes reigned, and he was determined to destroy Judaism. He tried to force pork on her family (forbidden by Jews) and when they refused because of their faith, he tortured the boys, one by one while Chana remained faithful.

After the last died, all remaining faithful as well to their last breath, she also died. While it doesn't necessarily fit the festivity we think of the holiday season being, it is a time of strength and inspiration to Jewish women.

Befana is a witch who gives presents to children in Italy at Christmas

James Lewicki​

2. Italy/Europe: Befana, the witch of Epiphany.

Italians who celebrate Christmas Day on December 25th add the Feast of Epiphany, which begins at midnight on the 26th. It lasts until January 6th, and honors a little old lady who was visited by the Three Wise Men when they were looking for baby Jesus. She didn't know where to look, but she was hospitable, and took them in to rest. They asked her if she wanted to come, but she declined. Changing her mind later, she gathered gifts for the baby too but by that time, the snow tracks the men had left disappeared and she didn't know where to go.

Legend has it that Befana traveled from house to house in Italy, leaving her presents for the children of Italy instead.

Related: 5 Children's Books About Holidays Around the World

3. Netherlands.

In The Netherlands, the time period between November 22nd and December 6 is more like what most think of traditional 'Christmas' would be like, with a visit on December 5th from Sinterklaas and his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters). Sinterklaas brings presents to children who leave their shoes out on December 5th in the evening, and they celebrate and open their gifts on the 6th. On Christmas Eve, the Dutch Children believe that Santa Claus (who is different--he's also called Kerstman so as not to confuse with Sinterklaas) comes from Finland to bring the children more presents. Christmas day then usually includes a church service and family meal.

4. Croatia.

Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, but the Advent season traditionally brings baking and preparing for Epiphany. Real celebrations begin on St. Lucy's Day, which is December 13th, and the day that mothers/female heads of houses plant wheat seeds in a dish for germination by December 24th. These seeds grow and then are tied together with trobojnica (red, white and blue ribbons for the Croatian flag) and spread around the floors and table for Christmas dinner.

It is believed that the light you can see through the wheat represents souls within everyone, and if the wheat grows strong by Christmas, a prosperous new year is coming. Presents are exchanged, but typically not in great quantities, and differently in different places. In some parts, St. Nicholas delivers gifts on the 6th of December in shoes, and in others, it's St. Lucy. On the 24th, Santa and baby Jesus are also known to visit homes and leave things for children.

5. Iceland: Jolabokaflod

Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world, and traditionally between September and November. That's because they exchange books on Christmas Eve, and then the entire night is spent reading the books together while eating chocolate. The season of this tradition is called Jolabokaflod, or "The Christmas Book Flood."

6. Mexico: Los Posadas

In Mexico, the Christmas season is celebrated from December 12th through January 16, with December 16th through Christmas Eve being the time of Los Posadas.

There are nine Posadas, and in Spanish, Posada is inn or lodging. The Posadas celebrate the looking of someplace Joseph and Mary could stay, and houses are decorated festively. Posada parties are held at different places each night and Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, is the night of the final Posada with a special meal. Christmas gifts are delivered on the 24th of December as well.



7. Austria/Germany: Krampus

While Austria and Germany are magical places to be at Christmas time, they're also known for having what is being called the "anti-Santa," during this time of the year. The legend of Krampus goes back even before the Christian celebrations of Christmas in Alpine communities. He appears as a goat-demon on Dec. 5th, the Feast of St. Nicholas. Krampus goes on what is called his Krampusnacht, where he runs around looking for "bad" children that he takes back to hell with him, and if he's feeling especially mean, he eats them.



8. India: Pancha Ganapati

Pancha Ganapati is a relatively new holiday story for modern Hindus, and is a five-day festival that is devoted to the Hindu god Ganesha. On December 21, the days of the festival celebrates various spiritual practices of Hinduism. Ganesha's levels of love and friendship are celebrated--from within the family directly to Ganesha.

Related: 5 Tips to Beat the Holiday Blues

9. Norway: Little Christmas Eve

In Norway, December 23rd is known as Little Christmas Eve and families celebrate with traditions like making gingerbread houses or decorating the tree. They also enjoy risengrynsgrot, which is a hot rice pudding that has butter, cinnamon and sugar. Much like a King Cake for Mardi Gras, a small almond is hidden somewhere in the pudding and if you find it, you win a marzipan pig! Then on Christmas Eve, families attend church or rush around finishing shopping.

Presents are opened after dinner on Christmas Eve.

10. Ethiopia: Ganna

Ethiopia (particularly those in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) use the Julian calendar, which has Christmas celebrated on January 7th of each year. The Ethiopian Orthodox church service celebrating Christmas is called Ganna, and most people have spent the previous 43 days (starting November 25th) feasting as part of a "Fast of the Prophets." On the morning of Ganna, people dress in white thin cloths with bright ribbons, worn like togas. Men and boys play a stickball game, also called Ganna.

Image: Kraft74/Shutterstock