How do Christmas traditions vary around the world? See the photos

For many, Christmas is a time of gift exchanges, log cakes and turkey dinners.

But this is not the case everywhere.

In an annual series, CNBC Travel highlights various Christmas celebrations around the world.


Christmas comes with a spooky twist in Austria, Germany and other Alpine countries that celebrate St. Nicholas Day during the first week of December.

“Krampuslauf”, which translates to “Krampus run” in German, is an annual parade usually held in December. 5 or 6 where the participants dress up as the half-goat, half-demon Krampus to scare the spectators.

Krampus costumes usually consist of a mask, horn, coat made of sheep or goat wool, as well as chains, bells and a stick, according to Helen Bitschnau, a representative of the Austrian National Tourist Office.

Jure Makovec | Afp | Getty Images

According to legend, Krampus accompanies St. Nick on his trip to give gifts to well-behaved children, according to Helen Bitschnau, representative of the Austrian National Tourist Office.

Children who have been bad, however, face the wrath of Krampus. “The function of the Krampus is to punish all evil with a rod or a ponytail,” Bitschnau said.

A mix of anticipation, excitement and a little nervousness fills the air at Krampuslauf, Bitschnau said.

“If you’ve been good all year, there’s nothing to worry about,” he said.

Bitschnau added that she “has always been terrified of Krampus.”

“Now I enjoy going to the Krampuslauf in my hometown, because I know all the people behind the Krampus costumes. [which] it makes it a little less scary for me.”

Oaxaca, Mexico

Every year in December. On the 23rd, participants gather in Oaxaca’s main square to enter delicately cut radishes in the “Night of Radishes” contest.

They are not bite-sized radishes – they can be as big as a child’s leg.

“The artists spend whole days cutting the radishes for the competition, constantly soaking them so they don’t dry out,” said Ileana Jiménez, who was born and raised in Oaxaca.

Winners of the radish carving contest receive small cash prizes, resident Ileana Jimenez said.

Patricia Castellanos Afp | Getty Images

“There are queues of people patiently waiting their turn to enter and admire the splendid work [of] the Oaxacan artisans,” he said.

The atmosphere in the Zócalo, Oaxaca’s city square, is cheerful with live music, fireworks and swarms of locals and tourists, Jimenez said.

“It’s a party that keeps people’s spirits up.”

Gavle, Sweden

Standing 42 feet tall and weighing more than 7,000 pounds, a massive handmade straw goat is an annual Christmas spectacle in the Swedish town of Gavle.

This year the goat took more than 1,000 hours to build, said Anna-Karin Niemann, spokeswoman for the special committee protecting the goat.

The Gavle Goat is moving to a new location this year for the first time in 56 years, according to Visit Gavle, the city’s visitor guide.

Mats Astrand | Afp | Getty Images

Although it is a crime to burn or destroy it, the Gavle Goat has been subjected to numerous arson attacks since it was first built in 1966.

The arsonist who broke the last goat’s four-year survival streak was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay 109,000 Swedish kroner ($10,450) in damages, according to a Swedish news outlet .

Sweden’s treasured goat figure is built of straw despite its flammability, because “it’s tradition,” Niemann said.

“He means a lot to us at Gavle, and he’s a big part of the Christmas spirit,” she said.

Miniature versions of the goat make fun souvenirs or Christmas ornaments for travelers, said Mark Wolters, the creator of the popular YouTube travel channel Wolters World.

Those interested in how this year’s goat is doing can watch it through a live web cam.

Ukraine via Krakow, Poland

In a show of resilience among Christmas celebrators, 40 Ukrainian refugees in Krakow, Poland, sold handmade items such as candles, tree ornaments and gingerbread cookies at a Christmas craft fair organized with the aid of the United Nations Refugee Agency.

A stop at the Ukrainian Christmas market in Krakow, Poland.

Omar Marques Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Christmas market sales provided the refugees, mostly women, with income to make ends meet, said Tarik Argaz, a representative of the United Nations Refugee Agency.

The market was attended by locals, tourists and the Ukrainian community, he said.

It was an opportunity to showcase the “great talent within the refugee community,” Argaz said, adding that the idea for the event was born when UN staff members received a rock “painted with complex way” by one of the residents of a collective center. which is an accommodation that hosts a large number of refugees.

The Philippines

During the festive season, homes in the Philippines are decorated with star-shaped lanterns called “parol”. said travel blogger Kach Umandap, who was born and raised in the Philippines.

The words were originally used to light the way for the tradition of Simbang Gabi, a nine-day period of pre-dawn masses held since December. 16 to 24, as well as midnight mass on Christmas Eve, called Misa de Gallo, Umandap said.

Teachers, students and parents hold Christmas lanterns made from recycled materials during a campaign for sustainable Christmas celebrations at an elementary school in Quezon City, Philippines.

Ted Aljibe | Afp | Getty Images

“Now, the lanterns are used as decoration,” Umandap said. “Word symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and hope.”

About 90% of people living in the Philippines identify as Christians, most Catholics, according to Harvard Divinity School. The Philippines remains the only Asian country where Christianity is the national religion.

Many Filipinos use materials such as shells, glass and LED lights to make the parols brighter and more colorful, he said.

Umandap, who now lives in Europe, said the lanterns remind him of home.

“When I see them, they [give] I hope that whatever struggles I face, they can be conquered,” he said.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Brazilians love their parties, said Bruna Venturinelli, author of the Brazilian blog I Heart Brazil. That’s why their Christmas parades are “contagiously fun” with “lots of laughter and joy,” he said.

Costumed characters dance alongside Santa and his elves, as they interact with children in the crowds, he said.

Brazil’s Christmas parades often feature characters from Korvatunturi, a mountainous region in Lapland where Santa Claus is said to live.

Cris Faga | Nurfoto | Getty Images

“There are multiple Christmas parades throughout the districts, organized by the city council or a private institution to promote the start of their festivities, such as the mall parade pictured,” he said.

“If I’m in Brazil during Christmas, I take my nephew and niece to a Christmas parade, and we have a great time!… They also take the opportunity to say that they wrote a letter to Santa and brought good all year round, although the last part is not 100% true.”

Many people in Brazil will celebrate Christmas Eve with their family by sharing a Chester chicken, he said.

On Christmas Day, people gather again for lunch while listening to Brazilian music, he said.

the “north pole”

The modern tradition of writing letters to Santa may have been started by American Fanny Longfellow, wife of poet Henry Wadsworth, according to Smithsonian magazine.

But in the beginning, it was Santa who wrote to the children, rather than the other way around.

Longfellow wrote letters to his three sons about their behavior over the past year, according to the magazine.

In one of Longfellow’s letters, dated 1853, “Santa” said:[Y]You have picked up some naughty words that I hope you throw in the trash like a sour or bitter fruit,” according to the article.

A child posts a letter to Santa in Fort Worth, Texas.

Ricard Rodríguez | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

As the practice caught on, parents began leaving letters from Santa by the fireplace or in a stocking, where their children would write the answers in return, he said.

Today, the tradition of writing to Santa has spread beyond the home.

In the United States, the US Postal Service runs an annual program called Operation Santa where children and families in need can write anonymous letters to Santa about what they would like for Christmas. These letters are “adopted” by people across the country, who buy and send the requested gifts to families, according to the USPS.

UK postal service Royal Mail offers personalized replies to children who write to ‘Father Christmas’.

But some parents are using other avenues to contact Santa, including apps and even balloons.

In 2021, a pair of four-year-old twins in Kansas, United States, released balloons containing letters to Santa Claus. A couple living in Louisiana found one and, with the help of donations, fulfilled the twin’s Christmas wish lists, which included giving them a puppy.

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