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17 Best Christmas Traditions Around the World (You Can Do at Home)

I'm so excited to not only share these Christmas traditions around the world with YOU, but to share them with my own family!

My husband, son, and I just LOVE learning about different cultures, traveling, and introducing unique traditions to our lives.

I'll bet your family does, too.

two hands pulling a cracker tube open in front of Christmas tree, text overlay "best Christmas traditions from around the world"

That’s what this article is all about – sharing new holiday and Christmas traditions from around the world that you can mesh with your own family traditions.

Christmas Traditions Around the World

Ready to sprinkle some Stroopwafels, Galette des Rois, and perhaps a little Krampus over your holidays this year?

Alright! Keep reading.

1. Try Stroopwafels with Your Hot Cocoa (or Coffee)

Two Christmases ago, our family went to where I grew up to spend the holidays with my family – Lancaster County, PA.

We went to the Reading Market, and on the way there, smelled this amazing aroma. In a tent, a Pennsylvanian Dutch teenager (what we call the Amish) was making Stroopwafels from scratch. These are cookies that originated in the Dutch city of Gouda.

He let us taste one, and told us that they were a traditional cookie that you put on top of your mug of coffee or hot cocoa, and the caramel inside melts.

I was soooo stoked to find out that Amazon sells them, online!

stroopwafel on top of white mug with Christmas tree and stockings in background

Absolutely delicious, and such a fun new tradition to add to your Christmas celebrations (I’m envisioning Christmas Even mugs of hot cocoa and Stroopwafels!, or even on Christmas morning!).

2. Hide a Pickle in Your Tree

German Christmas pickle glass ornament on tree and green background

The family of an old boyfriend of mine introduced me to this really fun, and quite unique, German tradition (at least people think it came from Germany) – hiding a pickle (not a real one) inside your Christmas tree.

The idea is that the parents hide a glass German pickle ornament (the weihnachtsgurke) while decorating the tree. On Christmas Eve, the child who finds it gets an extra present!

3. Scare the Kids with Krampus

Well…maybe this one’s for the adults.

Imagine this – my husband and I are on our honeymoon in Austria. We’re in Salzburg, and after a day of sightseeing, he would like to visit a pub and talk to the locals (one of his favorite things to do when we travel!).

I’m tired, so I stay in the hotel, eager for some reading time to myself (I am an introvert, after all).

Then my husband, Paul, comes rushing through the door two hours later, and excitedly describes to me how a man dressed in a bull costume came barging into the pub as part of the Christmas celebrations!

It turns out, this beast’s name is Krampus and it’s a tradition from Central Europe. It’s a half-goat, half-beast, who punishes kids who misbehave (and let me tell you – it’s scary!).

Several years after our honeymoon, we were scrolling through the television one night and noticed a new movie called Krampus. Apparently, the tradition is beginning to show up in the U.S.!

Psst: The movie, Krampus, is actually much better for adults to watch…look here for more 17 Christmas Eve Traditions for Adults.

4. Feed a Christmas Log (and Hope It Poops Candy)

This one is quite funny.

A Catalan Christmas tradition, the ‘Tió de Nadal' (Christmas Log) sits on your kitchen table or in your fireplace, and you’re supposed to feed it. The hope is that your log will “poop out” candies (specifically, turrón, which is a nougat traditionally made of egg white, honey or sugar, and almonds – you can find them here) and not onions or something else that’s undesirable, on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, singing and dancing take place around the Christmas log as well as prayer, they spank it with a stink, and then the red blanket on its rear end (I cannot make this up) is lifted to reveal the candies!

I couldn’t find an actual log that is sold here in the U.S., BUT, you can click through here to see what one looks like (it seems quite easy to make).

Here’s a bunch more info on this holiday tradition from an article on NPR.

5. Snap a Cracker Tube

An English tradition is the ‘Christmas Cracker’, or a three-tubed creation shaped like a piece of traditional candy. There’s a tiny SNAP that occurs when two people play tug-of-war with it, and then from the mini-explosion pops out candy (and possibly some other trinkets).

Then, everyone wears the paper crown hats afterward (there’s a part of Bridget Jones’s Diary where she’s wearing one).

You can buy your own set of Christmas Crackers here, and add this to your Christmas meal tradition as a fun way to get the meal started, or at the end when everyone’s stuffed and needs a pick-me-up!

6. Try Hot, Mulled Wine at a Christmas Market

While on our honeymoon in Austria, we also stumbled upon something we had never known existed – Christmas markets. I mean, there are Christmas markets here in America…but they pale in comparison.

Think rows and rows of gorgeous wooden huts lined with woodland creatures, hand-blown glass ornaments, sausage huts, and hot wine!

While you head out to a Nutcracker market here in the U.S., perhaps bring some Glühwein (hot mulled wine) in a mug to sip on. If it’s not allowed? Be sure to try some over your Christmas holiday. It’s actually quite tasty.

Use these German Mulled Wine spices – they’ll get you the closest to tasting an authentic mug of Glühwein!

7. Press Intricate Patterns into Cookies

author holding intricately detailed cookie presenting the nativity scene

While checking out a German Christmas market IN Texas, we came across something we had never seen before – Christmas cookies that looked like art.

These cookies had the most intricate designs on them, from patterns, to an entire nativity scene. They were so gorgeous, that we asked the bakers all about them (plus, I bought one for my grandmother and shipped it to her).

They were happy to share their wooden cookie molds, and said that the tradition was Scandinavian.

Find a collection of Springerle presses boards, and rolling pins here – you’ll be delighted just looking at them!

Give these as gifts, and include a funny holiday card message with it.

8. Eat a Bowl of Risalamande (and see Who Finds the Whole Almond)

The Danish eat this half-part-whipped cream, half-part-boiled rice dish, that's topped with a hot cherry sauce and finely slithered almonds (here's a recipe for your own attempt at it), at social events near Christmas.

Here's the interesting part: hidden in one person's bowl is one whole almond. The person who happens upon this gets a present. Hiding that you're the one with the whole almond until everyone's guessed is half the fun!

9. Make Christmas Woven Hearts to Place on the Tree (Julehjerter)

Thanks to Hans Christian Andersen, a Denmark native who created the first woven paper heart in 1860, your kids can craft their own woven hearts to hang on the Christmas tree this year.

First read a Hans Christian Andersen book to them, such as The Fir Tree.

10. Do an Advent Calendar

Did you know that the origins of Advent calendars – something that helps countdown to Christmas by revealing something each day, whether that's a small gift, or a phrase, or a devotional – can be traced back to the late 1800s in Germany?

Gerhard Lang is the one credited with making the first printed Advent calendar, which he based on his childhood experience of his mother sewing 24 cookies into the lid of a box and allowing him to eat one per day as a lead-up to Christmas.

11. Help Kids Create and Play Out the Nativity with Puppets (Ukrainian Vertep Performance)

Kids in Ukraine reenact the nativity scene with Vertep, or portable puppet theaters. Here are free printable nativity puppets they can use, including the Star of Bethlehem, which is critical to include in their culture.

12. Order a Bucket of KFC Chicken (Japan)

Colonel Sanders statue outside KFC wearing Santa costume in Japan

The exact origins of why a bucket of KFC chicken (the party bucket) became synonymous with Christmas in Japan is a bit fuzzy (I've read three different sources, saying slightly different versions). But there's no doubt about it – eating KFC on Christmas day is a definite Japanese Christmas tradition.

You can pair it with a homemade Japanese Strawberry Christmas Cake.

Psst: while you may not want KFC as your lunch or dinner on Christmas day, you could do a bucket of chicken and the Japanese Christmas Cake one night leading up to it. New tradition!

13. Eat from Les Treize Desserts (the Thirteen Desserts)

In Provence, France, there's a tradition where thirteen desserts (representing the 12 apostles and Jesus) are served traditionally on Christmas Eve. They remain out until December 27th, and everyone is supposed to try at least a nibble of each for good luck in the New Year.

Psst: to be honest, it feels like I bake 13 desserts leading up to Christmas anyway…so it might not take much to incorporate this tradition in our own home!

Traditional desserts include:

  • “les quartre mendiants” (the four beggars): walnuts/hazelnuts, raisins, dry figs, and almonds
  • pompe à l’huile (olive oil flatbread with grape jam)
  • nougats
  • dates
  • etc.

14. Crown Someone King or Queen for the Day (France)

Galette des Rois cake with golden pretend crown on top

Bake a Galette des Rois (King's Cake) to celebrate la Fête des Rois (Feast of the Kings), which happens on January 6th. The French celebrate the Epiphanie (The Revelation) at the conclusion of Christmas.

These cakes are typically sold with a crown, and baked with a fava bean inside. Whoever gets the bean in their slice gets to be King/Queen for the day! Here's a recipe to bake your own.

15. Receive a Law-Mandated Response to Your Santa Letter

Did you know that France has a law (since 1962) where each and every Santa letter submitted by a child must get responded to? WOW. I'm impressed.

Letters must have ‘Père Noël’ written on the envelope, with the name and address of the child on the other side. Read more about it, here.

16. Have a Gourmetten Dutch Christmas Dinner

Gourmetten Dutch Christmas Dinner tradition setup with Raclette table grill in center

Instead of a feast you cook by yourself in the kitchen and present to everyone…why not do your Christmas dinner “Gourmetten” Dutch-style this year?

You need something like a raclette table grill with little grill pans for each person. You'll prepare meats, vegetables, dipping sauces, and pancake batter. Then, everyone sits around the table and cooks their food themselves.

Kind of like a trip to the Melting Pot.

Here are recipes and a how-to to put one together for you + your family.

17. Give a Lage Chocolate Letter in their Stockings

Move over, Santa Claus: in the Netherlands, a large chocolate letter of the person's first name in a brightly colored box is left in the shoes or boots kids leave out for Sinterklass.

You can find your own large chocolate letters from Holland, here.

18. Fill Your Shoes with Candies, Nuts, and Fruits

I just love how Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated early in December (December 6th) each year in many European countries. Based on St. Nick (yes…the same one), it celebrates the generosity and giving nature he had.

One specific tradition you can introduce to your own family is by having everyone leave a pair of shoes by the front door (or wherever you'd like) and fill them with candies, nuts, and fruits.

three pairs of shoes filled with Justin's almond butter, dark chocolate, granola bars, etc.

Which of these best Christmas traditions around the world are you going to try this year with your own family?

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.