December is that time of year when we brighten those short, cold days with gatherings, sparkly lights, hearty food, carols, ribbons, movie marathons, cookies, mulled wine, presents, and decorated evergreen trees in our living spaces. Christmas is one of the most anticipated and loved holidays, and people worldwide celebrate it with their unique traditions that vary from country to country. In this blog post, we’re channeling Santa Claus to take a journey around the globe and explore Christmas traditions: from hiding almonds in rice puddings to thoroughly cleaning homes and singing Christmas carols on the streets, each country has a set of its own Christmas traditions – and we find them a nice inspiration for celebrating Christmas this year.


1. Saint Nicholas and Krampus in Austria 

During the Advent time in Austria, folkloristic characters appear: friendly Saint Nicholas and his scary companion, half-man, half-goat Krampus, visit homes searching for which children have been good this year. The good children are then gifted with small gifts – traditionally fruit, nuts, and sweets, and the bad children with a lump of coal (and a warning to behave better next year). Saint Nicholas is celebrated on December 6th, but already in the evening before the children leave their cleaned boots outside the front door, hoping that Saint Nicholas will fill the boots with gifts. In many Austrian cities and villages, adults dress as Krampuses to scare children or participate in a Krampus run through the streets.

Saint Nicholas procession on a street - a child posing together with a man with a horned mask representing Krampus

Procession of the Krampus on Saint Nicholas day


2. Noche de las Velitas in Colombia

The Colombians start the holiday season with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 7th. On this occasion, they light up their homes and streets with millions of candles in paper lanterns. This atmospheric tradition was once celebrated in a family circle; however, the celebrations have become grander over the years, with public displays of sophisticated lights, music, food stalls, and fireworks.

Candles burning on the pavement on a square in South American town

Noche de las Velitas is a Christmas tradition in Colombia


3. KFC Christmas Feast in Japan

Even though Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, it is widely celebrated – and the most sacred Christmas tradition in Japan is indulging in a Christmas feast from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)!

It all started with the 1974 marketing campaign slogan ‘Kentucky for Christmas’, launched by the popular franchise. Since then, around 3.6 million Japanese people sit down to eat KFC fried chicken every year as part of the Christmas celebration.

The “KFC Christmas Bucket” has become a staple part of Japanese holidays, so much so that the orders for it need to be placed six weeks in advance, and the line on Christmas day is so long that people wait for hours to get their meals.



4. Advent Calendar in Germany

Advent Calendars are one of the most popular Christmas traditions worldwide: from simple pieces of card with tiny doors hiding tiny treats to brands selling luxury gifts in the form of an Advent calendar. The tradition originated in Germany in the 19th century, when German protestants began to count the 24 days until Christmas by burning a candle a day, marking the doors with chalk, or hanging a devotional image each day. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first printed Advent calendars appeared, and in 1920, German publisher Gerhard Lang produced the first calendar with doors, an Advent calendar that we know today- inspired by a childhood memory of his mother sewing 24 cookies into the lid of a box as a daily treat for him.


5. A Day at the Beach and Carols by Candlelight in Australia

In Australia, where Christmas falls during the summer season, the celebration is a bit different: let’s say White Christmas is not on their repertoire, but a day on the beach is. Many people in Australia celebrate the holiday on the beach, where friends and family gather for a day in the sun. Another popular tradition is “Carols by Candlelight,” which was introduced in Melbourne in 1938 by radio announcer Norman Banks. As he was walking home one evening, he saw an older woman through the window, singing a Christmas song playing on the radio by herself, her face lit by candlelight. Thinking of how many other people spent Christmas alone, he came up with the idea to gather a large group of people to sing Christmas carols together. That idea turned into an annual Christmas tradition, held throughout Australia, where people gather in parks to sing carols, lit by candlelight.

Christmas tree with lights on on a sandy beach at sunset

The Australians traditionally go to the beach on Christmas day

6. Christmas Sauna in Finland 

On the other side of the world, the Finns celebrate their way: having a Christmas sauna, or joulusauna, is an old Finnish tradition. On Christmas Eve, families celebrate with a visit to the sauna, where they gather to laugh, unwind, cleanse, and connect, fostering intimacy. Part of the tradition is to clean the sauna thoroughly and put crisp towels, oils, candles, and lanterns to create a festive atmosphere.
Then, on Christmas morning, Finnish families eat rice porridge with cinnamon and milk, hiding an almond in one of the bowls. Whoever finds the almond will have a good fortune!


7. Lucia Celebration in Sweden

Rice porridge is not exclusively a Finnish tradition: the Swedes prepare it for Christmas, too, and the porridge also hides an almond inside. Julens Kokbok from 1963 said the porridge was traditionally cooked with barley and milk, “only recently” switching to rice. The cookbook also lists things you could hide in the porridge – from almonds and brown beans to coins, each with a different meaning for a person who finds it.
The Lucia celebration is one of the most recognized Swedish December traditions and an integral part of Swedish culture. This atmospheric, 400-year-old tradition honors Saint Lucia, the bearer of light, on December 13th. Leading the procession, Lucia is followed by handmaidens, wearing all white with lighted-up wreaths on their heads, candles in their hands, star boys, and gingerbread men, singing together and bringing light and song to their homes, schools, and communities. The Lucia procession symbolizes hope and brightness during the darkest time of the year in Sweden.

Teenage students holding candles in a procession in the dark, celebrating Lucia

Saint Lucia procession in Sweden

8. Waiting until Christmas Eve to put up the Christmas Tree in Croatia

Croatians also celebrate Saint Lucia by sowing wheat on December 13th in a pot or soup plate. The wheat sprouts and grows until Christmas Eve, when it is adorned with candles and a festive bow and displayed on a Christmas table as a symbol of life and hope. Traditionally, Croatians wait until Christmas Eve to put up and decorate the Christmas tree and leave it in the house until Epiphany (January 6th). After a festive dinner on Christmas Eve, those who go to church attend the traditional midnight mass: in some towns and villages, people walk to the church in a procession, singing Christmas carols.

Closeup of a Christmas tree decorated with cookies, dried oranges and bows

Croatian tradition is to put up the Christmas tree on the Christmas Eve


As we explored these diverse Christmas traditions from around the world, one thing became clear – while the traditions may differ, the universal theme of togetherness makes Christmas special. Whether it’s opening the tiny doors on the Advent Calendar, diving into a plate of fried chicken, chatting in a sauna together, or finding an almond in a bowl of porridge (for good fortune!), each tradition adds a unique flavor to the global celebration of Christmas. We found some inspiration for celebrating Christmas this year (hello, fragrant porridge), and we hope you did, too. We’d love to hear about the Christmas traditions in your part of the world in the comments below.