Christmas traditions around the world

  • 07/12/17
  • MAP Travel

Holy Land, Israel

Celebrating Christmas in the Holy Land is a unique and a very special experience. It is completely different than celebrating Christmas in any other part of the world. Just imagine joining other Christians from around the world in Bethlehem reliving and celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day December 25th. Israel’s population is mostly Jewish and Muslim so there are less Christmas symbols around the country than you might find elsewhere. However, in the major Christian and religious centres of Nazareth, Jerusalem’s Old City, and Bethlehem, you will find that Christmas is everywhere and the tale is brought to life. There are Christmas markets featuring crafts and games, food and drinks traditional to the holiday as well as Christmas decorations, trees, lights and much more. Lets forget the commercialism that has overtaken Christmas in most countries. Here in the Holy Land, the focus is on the birth of Jesus - liturgical concerts at biblical sites, midnight Mass in sacred churches, Christmas fairs and parades — it is not a question of what to do but rather whether there is enough time to do it all.

Traditional Christmas Tree in the Old City of "Jerusalem"


Christmas in Greece is a special season and so different from the usual “sun, sea and sand” type of country that people have in mind when thinking about going there for holidays. Although in general it rarely snows in Greece, sometimes it does snow during Christmas time – most snowfalls happen on the northern side of the country, such as on the western side of Macedonia and Epirus, and in regions with high altitude, such as Pelion, Zagoria, central Peloponnese and others. Christmas in Greece is a holiday with many traditions. You will see children singing the carols from one house to the other and, decorations of large Christmas trees, musical bands marching the streets playing Christmas songs and the traditional sweets “Melomakarona” and “Kourabiedes” in all windows of pastry shops. Many Christmas theme parks open during the holiday season all over the country, usually from late November until early January.

Ski in "Mainalo" Mountain, Greece


If you are thinking about visiting Spain for the Christmas season, here are some of the traditions enjoyed by the Spaniards ….. first week of December even the smallest of town halls will have their tree up and the lights on and you will also see the ‘Belen’ (meaning Bethlehem) in the larger churches and cathedrals. Christmas markets usually open this first weekend of December throughout the country. One of the more traditional ones is in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Christmas eve (Nochebuena) on 24 December is the first big celebration, fish and traditional seafood dishes are popular for this evening. Christmas Day is celebrated with a family lunch. Santa may deliver a small gift to children – however the more traditional date for present receiving for Spanish is 6 January when children go to see the Three Kings Parade called a “Cabalgata”. New Year’s Eve in Spanish is Nochevieja meaning “Old Night”. Families again come together for an evening meal. This is when Spaniards listen or watch the bells at the Puerta de Sol in Madrid and for good luck, eat twelve grapes (find seedless ones if possible!) at each bell strike! Then the fireworks kick off (brace yourself!) and the bubbly flows – usually cava.

“Roscon de Reyes" is a traditional Spanish dessert served the night before or morning of “Reyes”


In Vietnam, Christmas Eve is often more important than Christmas day! Decorations are set up during December with a big nativity crib scene with life-sized statues of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus arrives on Christmas Day. There are also sparkling lighting decorations on trees on the streets and in front of houses. Christmas is not an official public holiday and many people think it is only a holiday for Christians. On Christmas Eve, the Christians in Vietnam usually attend a Midnight Mass and then return home to a Christmas dinner. In Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, people tend to gather at the city centre where the cathedral stands, the streets are crowded with people and artists randomly pass playing street music. Vietnam used to be part of the French Empire and there are still French influences in the Christmas traditions - the special Christmas Eve meal is called 'Reveillon' like in France and has a 'Bûche de Noël' (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log) for dessert. Santa is called 'Ông già Noel' (it means Christmas old man). Children in Vietnam put their shoes in front of their doors on Christmas Eve, expecting to have their shoes stuffed with goodies from Santa. It is very hot for Santa in Vietnam and it can’t be very comfortable wearing all that velvet in a hot country!

Vietnam children walking past a Christmas painting outside a church in downtown "Hanoi "


For some people spending Christmas time in a Christmas less country is most appealing. Cuba has a tropical climate, so the country is generally hot and humid all year round with an average of 25°C, and the very best time to visit Cuba is from November to April, including the Christmas season. Christmas Eve in Cuba referred to as “Nochebuena” in Spanish, is actually an important event for Cuban families. The day marks one of the biggest family meals of the year. Roast pig, fried plantains and rice comprise the main course, while rice pudding and rum cake is served for dessert. Nochebuena also marks the night of one of Cuba’s greatest fiestas “Las Parrandas” in the town of Remedios . “Las Parrandas” is one of the most popular events of the region, and considered the oldest festivities in Cuba, the celebration happens every night for a week. There are conga groups playing in the street, rumba dance parades, big colourful floats and one of the most explosive firework shows you will ever see.

"Las Parrandas de Remedios" takes place on Christmas Eve