The Game Plan

Christmas Traditions: International Style

Posted by Jasmine Lee / Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Santa Claus, reindeer, Christmas tree lightings and festive parades are the norm in the United States…

but let’s not forget about the diversity that exists around the globe. From the traditional foods of The Philippines to the folklore in Italy, there will always be a multitude of ways to celebrate. Here are six traditions you may not have heard before.


In the Bahamas, Christmas is celebrated with bright costumes at a Junkanoo festival. / jo Crebbin/


It may be unseasonably warm today, but NoVA is typically cold come Christmas-time. Down in the Bahamas, both the joy of the holiday and the bright sunshine warm up the streets, making it a perfect time for an outdoor festival. “Junkanoo,” as it’s called, is celebrated on Dec. 26 with colorful costumes, elaborate decorations and lively dancing.



While we’re taking our families to Reston Town Center for a fun day of ice skating, Venezuelans are skating their way down the street to mass! From Dec. 16-24, streets of the capital city of Caracas are closed to motor traffic for “Misa de Aguinaldo,” or Early Morning Mass. It’s an established part of the Christmas season, and skating there is a much easier way to get everyone there on time.



In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7, as the country follows the traditional Julian calendar. Everyone fasts the day before Christmas (called “Ganna”) and, at night, priests carry intricate umbrellas as they lead people through the cities and villages to church services. On Ganna morning, white clothing is the norm, followed by sports, feasts and the exchange of gifts.


La Befana takes Santa's place for children in Italy. / Salvatore Chiariello/


La Befana, an old witch from Italian folklore, brings gifts and treats to children on Jan. 5, Epiphany Eve. Sounds like Saint Nick’s got a run for his money in the boot country. She rides an old broomstick and comes in through the chimney, Santa-style. Instead of milk and cookies, kids leave wine and food for her.



Candles are a key part of Finland’s traditions. In pre-Christian times, Finns placed candles on the graves of loved ones, as they believed spirits of the dead came out around the Winter Solstice. Families would leave food out for the spirits and sleep on the floor, so the dead would have comfortable places to relax while they visited. Candles are now even positioned on the graves of soldiers and Christmas Eve is a special day to honor soldiers who died in war.


The Philippines

In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, Christmas is welcomed with nine days of worship and mass. Like Venezuelans, Filipino Catholics attend services (“Simbang Gabi”) from Dec. 16-24, full of Tagalog hymns and bamboo star lanterns. Many people vow to attend every service; tradition says that any wish will be granted for those who complete all nine. After services, families eat holiday foods like “bibingka” (a rice flour and egg-based cake) and “putò bumbóng” (a purple, sticky rice with brown sugar and coconut meat), sold nearby.


What are some of the best holiday traditions you’ve come across? Share yours in the comments and maybe you’ll inspire someone else. And check out our Holiday Guide for fun ideas around NoVA!


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