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

For many, Christmas is a time of gift-sharing, log cakes, and turkey-eating.

But that’s 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, the St. Nicholas Day in the first week of December.

Krampus Run, which means “Krampuslauf” in German, is an annual parade, usually held on the 12th of 5 or 6, where participants dress up as half-goat, half-demon Krampus to scare onlookers.

According to Helen Bitschnau, a representative of the Austrian National Tourist Board, Krampus costumes often consist of a mask, horns, a coat made of sheep’s or goat’s wool, chains, bells and a rod.

Jure Makovec | AFP | Getty Images

According to legend, Krampus accompanies St. Nick on his journey to give gifts to good children, according to Helen Bitschnau, a representative of the Austrian National Tourist Board.

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

A mixture of anticipation, excitement and a little nervousness is in the air during the Krampus run, said Bitschnau.

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

Bitschnau added that she was “always afraid of Krampus.”

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

Oaxaca, Mexico

Every year on October 12th and 23rd, contestants gather in Oaxaca’s main square to submit finely carved radishes to the Night of the Radishes contest.

These aren’t bite-sized radishes—they can be the size of a child’s leg.

“Artists spend entire days carving the radishes for the contest and constantly soaking them so they don’t dry out,” said Ileana Jimenez, who was born and raised in Oaxaca.

Winners of the radish carving contest will be awarded small cash prizes, said resident Ileana Jimenez.

Patricia Castellanos | AFP | Getty Images

“There are lines of people waiting patiently for their turn to admire the great work [of] the artisans of Oaxaca,” she said.

The atmosphere at the Zocalo, Oaxaca’s town square, is upbeat with live music, fireworks and throngs 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 extravaganza in the Swedish town of Gävle.

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

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

Mats Astrand | AFP | Getty Images

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

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

Sweden’s cherished goat figurine, despite its flammability, is made of straw because “it’s traditional,” Niemann said.

“It means a lot to us in Gävle and is a big part of the Christmas spirit,” she said.

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

Anyone interested in how this year’s goat is doing can watch it via a live webcam.

Ukraine via Krakow, Poland

40 Ukrainian refugees in Kraków, Poland, sold handmade items such as candles, tree ornaments and gingerbread cookies at a Christmas craft market organized with help from the UN refugee agency, to show resistance from Christmas revelers.

A stall at the Ukrainian Christmas Market in Krakow, Poland.

Omar Marks | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Sales at the Christmas market provided the refugees, most of whom were women, with an income to make ends meet, said Tarik Argaz, a representative of the UN refugee agency.

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

It’s an opportunity to showcase the “great talent in the refugee community,” Argaz said, adding that the idea for the event was born when UN workers were given a “intricately painted” stone by one of the residents of a collection center. a shelter where many refugees are housed.

The Phillipines

During the festival, 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.

Slogans were originally used to light the way for the tradition of Simbang Gabi, a nine-day period of predawn masses lasting from 12.16 to 24.00 – as well as the 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 a primary school in Quezon City, Philippines.

Ted Aljibe | AFP | Getty Images

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

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

Many Filipinos use materials like shells, glass and LED lights to make Parols brighter and more colorful, she said.

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

“When I see her, she [give] I hope that any struggles I face can be overcome,” she said.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

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

Disguised characters dance alongside Santa and his elves while interacting with children in the crowd, she said.

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

Cris Faga | Nurphoto | Getty Images

“There are several Christmas parades in the counties organized by the city government or a private institution to promote the start of their Christmas season, like the parade in a mall shown in the picture,” she said.

“Whenever I’m in Brazil for 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 Santa a letter and have been well behaved all year, the last part is not 100% true.”

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

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

the north pole

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

But in the beginning it was Santa Claus who wrote to the children and not the other way around.

According to the magazine, Longfellow wrote letters to her three children about her behavior over the past year.

In one of Longfellow’s letters of 1853, “Santa” said: “[Y]You’ve picked up some naughty words that you’ll hopefully throw away like sour or bitter fruit,” the article reads.

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

Richard Rodriguez | 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 replies in return, sources 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, which allows children and families in need to write anonymous letters to Santa about what they want for Christmas. These letters will be “adopted” by people across the country, according to the USPS, who will purchase and mail the requested gifts to families.

The UK postal service, Royal Mail, sends personalized replies to children who write to “Santa Claus”.

But some parents use other ways to contact Santa, including apps and even balloons.

In 2021, a four-year-old set of twins in Kansas, USA, released balloons containing letters to Santa Claus. A couple living in Louisiana found one and used donations to fill the twins’ Christmas wish list, which included getting them a puppy.

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