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Christmas Traditions Across the Globe Share Common Themes

While Christmas is celebrated differently around the world, many traditions are shockingly similar.

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In America, we have many different Christmas traditions, but most include decorating a Christmas tree, singing carols, putting stockings on the fireplace mantle, and, of course, the family feast. Some of our most valued rituals came from ancestors immigrating from other countries. Still, it is amazing to see how people all over the world celebrate the holiday.


Brazilians enjoy going to Christmas plays called “Os Pastores,” which translates to “The Shepherds.” In these stories, there is a traditional shepherdess as well as a woman who tries to steal baby Jesus. Santa Claus is called Papai Noel and Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man). Sometimes, children will leave a sock near a window so that if Papai Noel finds it, he will exchange it for a present. Employers get into the spirit too. Employees receive extra pay, known as the 13th salary, at the end of the year, or twice the normal pay for that month.

But Christmastime in Brazil is not about building snowmen and bundling up against the cold. The weather is very warm at this time of the year, and many people spend the holiday at the beach.


On Christmas Eve, children will go out and sing carols playing drums and triangles and also carrying model boats, painted gold and decorated with nuts. Carrying a boat is a very old custom.

The kallikantzaroi are considered bad spirits that appear during the 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany (Jan. 6). They supposedly came from the middle of the earth and get into homes via the chimney. They play pranks like putting out fires. Burning a fire in the fireplace through the 12 days is meant to keep them away.

In Aristotelous Square in the city of Thessaloniki, a huge Christmas tree and three sailing ships are assembled. The old tradition stems from when small ships were put up in homes for when sailors had returned from sea voyages.


Christians only make up a small portion of the population in India, but their Christmas spirit is still there. Instead of the evergreen we consider traditional, a banana or mango tree is decorated. Frequently, small oil burning clay lamps are placed on the flat roofs of their homes to demonstrate that Jesus is the light of the world. On Christmas Eve, giant paper lanterns in the shape of stars are placed between houses so that the stars float above people as they walk down the road.


One of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day on Dec. 13. St. Lucia was a young Christian girl, according to stories told by monks when they first arrived in the country, who was martyred for her faith in AD 304.  As the tale goes, the young girl would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome who hid in the catacombs under the city. She wore candles on her head so that she could have both her hands free to carry the supplies. Today, a girl is dressed in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head.

Swedes also love to watch Donald Duck on Christmas Eve. Ever since 1959, the special holiday show has been aired at 3 p.m., and nearly half of the population still stop to watch it.

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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