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Christmas Traditions Across the Globe

Posted by on November 11, 2012

Time is passing quickly, it is now only 44 days left until Christmas. You might think that Christmas is celebrated in the same way across the world. But as a Dutch girl living in the United Kingdom I have some first hand experience in how different countries celebrate this end of year festival.

For most countries across the world Christmas is a time to celebrate life, be with loved ones and enjoy fine food and drinks. For many children it’s a time to get presents. But even with these key common characteristics there are some differences. Even for those countries that are not following catholic religion, Christmas has become a major festival in their yearly calendar.

United Kingdom

There is one thing that the Brits will talk about for days when it comes to Christmas, and that is the Turkey. Pretty much everyone will have turkey for Christmas dinner, which although a native bird of North America, is traditionally served early in the afternoon.

Christmas day starts with the all important presents, received by both children and adults. Whilst the mayhem of unpacking presents filters through the house, many women will be in the kitchen trying to first stuff to turkey and then fit it into the oven. In general the turkey is big enough to last for several days afterwards and many people will be quite soon bored of turkey sandwiches and turkey for dinner.

A Christmas Carol by The Muppets - DVD

Of course a Christmas dinner is not complete without a Christmas pudding for dessert. The pudding is made several weeks in advance and consists of a mixture of dried fruits, treacle, sugar and, importantly, brandy.

After lunch, most people will reside to the sofa to watch some movies. One of the most famous Christmas movies is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Dickens is also linked to the Carol singers. These are groups of people who will go from house to house, singing traditional Christmas songs, in return for a sixpence (nowadays some coins will be given). You will also come across them in town centres in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The day after Christmas Day is called Boxing Day. Traditionally servants and employees would receive gifts (and in some cases left over food) from their employers. These days that tradition is nearly extinct and is replaced by shopping and an afternoon football match.


There are quite some noticeable differences between the Dutch and British Christmas traditions.

Often Christmas day starts late, driven by either a late night church mass the night before or an early mass on Christmas day. Those that are not religious often start the day with a lie in. Therefore most people will have a brunch (served between breakfast and lunchtime). Due to this late start of the morning, actual lunch is skipped and instead people will star their Christmas dinner late in the afternoon.

There are two varieties of Christmas dinner. The first is a more traditional dinner, consisting of several courses (more than 5 is not uncommon) which include prawn cocktail, soup, main course followed by desserts. Traditional main course would consist of rabbit, but as fewer people now know how to prepare this, other main meat roasts (like beef and pork) have taken over.

The other variety of Christmas dinner is Gourmet / Fondue. This means that either a big grill or a pot of oil is placed in the centre of the table and everyone has their own utensils to cook their own food in it. Food is pre-prepared, for example meat chopped in bitesize pieces, to accomodate both speed and space. The advantage of this is that no one will stand for hours in the kitchen preparing food and everyone can eat what and as much as they want

Another major difference is that the Netherlands is one of the view countries left that does not give presents on Christmas day. The Netherlands celebrates St Nicolas on the 5th December, which is the main gifting day of the year outside birthdays. There are many stories going around that Santa Claus is derived from St Nicolas but it is difficult to find the true history of both these characters.

The second day of Christmas is often centred around family visits, either by visiting both sides of (grand)parents or visiting those that had not been visited the day before. Nowadays many young people will also spend their day shopping as it is one of the rare trading Sunday’s in the year.

United States

The United States does not have a real tradition in relation the Christmas, as Thanksgiving is a much more important and commonly celebrated day. As this is only a couple of weeks before Christmas, it is not uncommon to only have small Christmas celebrations. Those celebrations are often linked to the roots of the families and can therefore be tracked back to Europe.

One of the main things United States has become famous for is the commercialisation of Christmas as rumour has it that Coca Cola was the main ‘inventor’ of Santa Claus in the early 1900’s. Even if that was not the case they have been one of the main drivers of making Santa Claus in its current name such a big name across the globe.


When thinking about Germany and Christmas there is one phrase that springs to mind – Christmas Markets. In the weeks leading up to Christmas every town and city will hold its own markets, where you can buy all kinds of small gifts and delicious foods. One of the most famous German dishes is Glühwein – or mulled wine. This is usually red wine infused with spices like cinnamon and cardamon and preferably served hot. A very good drink to warm up on a cold winters day!


As Japan is a Shinto and Buddhist country they do not celebrate Christmas. However over the years they also have become more susceptible to celebrating this end of year festival but it is over there known as Shopping Festival. This however seems to become a more common activity and term for Western countries as religion is slowly fading away out of society.

Overall Christmas is celebrated throughout the world as a major end of year festival, where family and spending time together with some good food and drinks is central. This leads to some great photo opportunities which I will cover over the next couple of weeks through a Christmas ABC.

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