Christmas traditions inspiration from around the world

Every year I look forward to Christmas traditions that my family and I have celebrated for as long as I can remember – some of them since my childhood.

But it can be good to introduce some new ones from time to time, especially if you’re not finding your existing ones enjoyable anymore!

For example, you might not have the time or money to take part in so many traditions – or your family might have lost enthusiasm.

So if – perhaps as part of your review of how the last festive season went – you’re looking for ideas for new Christmas traditions, this post is for you.

I’ve been looking at some of the weird and wonderful Christmas traditions celebrated around the world – I think it’s a great way to spark ideas and inspiration!

Here are some of my favourites to help get you started, along with some suggestions for how they could inspire new much-loved traditions for you and your family.

The Yule Goat

The Yule Goat is a Christmas symbol in Sweden and dates back to ancient pagan festivals.

It’s not known for sure how the tradition began, but a popular theory is that it’s linked to worship of the Norse god Thor who rode in a chariot drawn by two goats.

The modern version of the Yule Goat is a Christmas ornament made out of straw and bound with red ribbons, placed either under or on the Christmas tree.

Enormous versions of the straw Christmas decoration are also built and displayed in Swedish towns and cities.

The tradition started in Gävle in the 1960s where it’s so popular you can see the stunning 13 metre-high goat on a webcam from the first Sunday in advent.

If you’d like to incorporate the Yule Goat into your Christmas, you and your family could have a go at making your own Yule Goat decorations.

You could have a competition with prizes for the best goats and/or give them as gifts to special people in your lives.

If you really love the Yule Goat idea, you could campaign for a larger version to be displayed in your town or village – but be warned, vandals have repeatedly tried to set the Gävle goat on fire.

Little Candles’ Day

Día de las Velitas is celebrated in Colombia on 7 December each year, on the eve of the Immaculate Conception.

The tradition began in 1854 when Pope Pius IX defined as dogma the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

People lit candles and paper lanterns to show their support for this idea.

Now entire towns and cities across the country are lit up with spectacular displays in windows, on balconies, porches, pavements, parks and squares.

Some of the best are found in Quimbaya, where neighbours compete to see who can create the most impressive arrangement.

If you’d like to create your own Little Candles’ Day tradition, you could design your own festive display of candles on a windowsill, on a shelf in your hallway, or create a centrepiece on your dining table.

The Ideal Home website has some lovely ideas for different looks and styles.

If you enjoy being creative, you could have a go at making your own candles – there are some great kits available to buy via Amazon and Etsy. The candles (or the kits themselves) would make fantastic Christmas gifts.

Or if you and your neighbours are looking for an alternative to decorating all the homes in your street with fairy lights, large displays of candles and lanterns could be spectacular.

Candles can easily be blown out in wet, cold and blustery weather conditions – and can also be a fire hazard – so safety tested battery-powered candles or lanterns could be the best option.

The Yule Lads

Icelandic legend has it that, from December 12, a different troll arrives in people’s homes each day to steal treats and play pranks.

Known collectively as the Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar in Icelandic) the naughty trolls visit children across the country.

As part of the Yule Lads tradition, children place their shoes by the window each night and the trolls will leave a gift – but only if the child has been good!

Traditionally, if a child has been ‘naughty’ they might receive a rotten potato instead of a nice present! But over the years, the Yule Lads have become kinder and try to be more like Father Christmas.

All the Yule Lads’ names are very descriptive and refer to their preferred type of troublemaking, for example, there’s a Þvörusleikir (Spoon Licker), Hurðaskellir (Door Slammer) and Kertasníkir (Candle Stealer)!

The trolls are pictured wearing late-medieval Icelandic clothing – or, more recently, in the red costume worn by Father Christmas.

If you’d like to begin a Yule Lads tradition for your family, you could tell any children in the family about the legend and introduce them to the different troll characters.

When you search for the Yule Lads online there are various websites describing the legend, along with colourful illustrations of the troll characters.

And if the tale captures your family’s imagination, there are free puzzles, activities and colouring sheets they can have a go at.

Once they’re familiar with the tale, you could encourage children to leave a pair of shoes out next December to see if a “troll” will visit with a gift.

With any luck they’ll receive a more welcome present than a rotten potato!

KFC for Christmas Dinner

Christmas in Japan isn’t the huge celebration we have in the UK, but they do have a quirky festive tradition that I’m thinking of borrowing next Christmas Eve – KFC!

That’s right, rather than the roast turkey we tuck into at Christmas, lots of Japanese families order Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii – or Kentucky for Christmas – has become so popular that people stand in queues for several hours in order to collect their meals.

Apparently it began when foreigners in Japan were looking for a meal like the turkey Christmas dinner they knew and loved – and KFC was the closest they could find!

The fried chicken company picked up on the trend, ran a successful advertising campaign in 1974, and a new tradition was born.

I’m all for Christmas traditions that are both people-pleasers and make life easier…so I think an annual fried chicken takeaway that everyone will look forward to and enjoy is a fabulous idea.

If you don’t eat chicken, some branches of KFC have a vegan burger on the menu, or there are some great recipes to help you make your own meat-free version!

Little spiders

In Ukraine, it’s traditional to make spider Christmas decorations known as pavuchy or ‘little spiders’ out of wire and paper.

Ukranians also decorate trees with artificial spider’s webs which are thought to bring good fortune!

The idea came from a popular folk story about a poor widow and her children.

According to the legend, they were delighted when a pine tree grew outside their tiny hut as they could use it as their Christmas tree.

Unfortunately they couldn’t afford to decorate it, but when the children woke up early on Christmas Eve they noticed the tree was covered in cobwebs.

Light from the sun lit up the webs, turning them into gold and silver. The widow and the children were overjoyed – and it’s said they never lived in poverty again.

The tale is also thought to be the reason why we put tinsel on Christmas trees!

Lots of people in the UK don’t like spiders, so this tradition presents an opportunity to change their minds about these amazing creatures.

I’m learning calligraphy, so I’m thinking of writing out a short version of the Ukrainian story to send to a friend who’s been having a tough time, enclosing a spider decoration or piece of jewellery. There’s loads of lovely pieces to choose from on Etsy.

This Ukrainian tradition could also inspire a whole new theme for your Christmas tree this year – what a talking point, that would be!

Children who enjoy crafts could help create the new look by making spider’s web decorations out of silver and gold paper or pipe cleaners.

Roller skating

In the city of Caracas in Venezuela it’s become traditional to travel to church on roller skates!

It’s so popular that roads are closed to traffic until after the service so it’s safe for the crowds of skating Christmas worshippers.

Legend has it that children also go to bed with a piece of string tied around their toe, and the other end dangles out of the window.

As skaters whizz by they give the string a tug to let children know it’s time to get up – and get their skates on!

Christmas Day roller skating would be such a fun family activity and a brilliant way to get some fresh air and exercise on the big day.

I’m not the most proficient skater, so I’ll be adding skating practice to my Christmas ‘to do’ list!

Alternatively, if ice skating in the run-up to Christmas isn’t already on your traditions list, there are lots of pop-up ice rinks in stunning locations around the UK every December.

I hope these Christmas traditions from around the world have provided you with some inspiration for the next festive season!

Let me know if you decide to adapt any of them for your own Christmas – and, of course, if you have any of your own ideas to add to the list!

Alex x

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