Many countries around the world have some kind of festival or celebration for the winter solstice or beginning of the New Year—either celebrating Christmas or another winter holiday, celebrating the coming of spring and return of more daylight, or gathering with friends and family to tough out the harsh winters. However, the traditions for celebrating this time of year vary a LOT around the world! From eating KFC to getting your fortune told by a rooster, it turns out there’s plenty of unique holiday traditions to celebrate the winter season.

Read on to see some of the most unique holiday traditions people around the world hold to celebrate Christmas and other winter holidays!


unique winter holiday traditions

Japan’s most popular Christmas tradition? Eating KFC on Christmas—yeah, KFC as in Kentucky Fried Chicken. It may not be your first thought when you imagine a Christmas dinner, but in Japan, it’s a commonly-held tradition! Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, so celebrations are a bit more low-key. This unique holiday tradition got started in the ‘70s after a marketing campaign from KFC advertised “Kentucky for Christmas!” with their party boxes. Now, many people order their KFC Christmas dinners months in advance to make sure they’ll be able to keep up the tradition! 


In Brazil, families meet up to eat Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve—a common tradition worldwide—but they typically only start eating dinner around 10pm! This is so that at exactly midnight they can exchange gifts and toasts for a Merry Christmas. Some communities also have midnight fireworks as well! 


unique christmas traditions

Icelandic children celebrate the 13 days of Christmas (instead of 12) each year. Each night, they’ll leave shoes out by the door to be filled with either candy (if they’re good) or rotten potatoes (if they’re naughty). The gifts are left by “Yule Lads,” mischievous Christmas troll-like characters. Iceland also celebrates the tradition of Jólabókaflóð, or “Yule Book Flood.” Families and friends exchange books as a Christmas Eve gift, then settle in for a cozy evening of reading by the fire. 


In Iran, one of the traditional winter celebrations is that of Shab-e Yalda, “Yalda Night.” This celebration is held on December 21st—the longest, darkest night of the year—to celebrate the coming of spring and the victory of the sun and light over darkness and evil powers. Traditionally, family and friends gather to eat, tell stories and read poetry. They’ll often stay up until dawn to celebrate the first light. Red foods (such as pomegranates, watermelon and so on) are often eaten as red traditionally symbolizes the color of the dawn. 


christmas in europe

Most Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on January 7. (This is a common celebration date in populations with large numbers of Orthodox Christians, as is true in Ukraine.) There are often parades of carolers through town. Another one of their unique holiday traditions is making kutya, a grain dish with honey and nuts and throwing a spoonful of the dish at the ceiling. If it sticks, tradition says there will be a good harvest in the new year. 


chinese new year celebrations

Chinese New Year is by far the biggest winter celebration in China, lasting for about two weeks! It usually happens in January or February (depending on the lunar calendar) and celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring. To celebrate, most people travel home to be with their families, eat traditional dishes and exchange gifts of small red envelopes stuffed with cash. There are often large parades, fireworks and other festivals to celebrate as well. Traditionally, there’s lots of rituals for what you should and shouldn’t do to bring good luck into the new year. For example, not sweeping the floor (you’ll sweep away your good luck!) and not washing your hair on the first day of Chinese New Year. 


Venezuelans typically head to an early-morning mass on Christmas morning, but they get there by… roller-skating! Why? No one seems to know quite why or how this unique Christmas tradition got started. Regardless, it’s hugely popular. Lots of streets throughout the country will even close on and around Christmas to make room for roller-skating churchgoers. 


diwali festival

In India, Diwali is the largest traditional winter festival, celebrating the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. Diwali is typically a five-day celebration. During Diwali, people decorate their homes with candles and other lights, share traditional feasts and exchange gifts. Traditions vary somewhat by region, but many families have specific traditions for each day of Diwali. 


If you’re single, Christmastime in Belarus is the time to have your fortune told…by a rooster. Tradition is that the single women gather with a small pile of grains of corn in front of each of them. A rooster from a local farm is then set out among the women. Whoever’s corn the rooster eats first is said to be the next to get married. Somewhat like the bouquet toss tradition at American weddings, but… for Christmas. All I want for Christmas is you?

Australia and New Zealand

christmas in australia

Since Christmas comes at the beginning of the summer holidays for these South Pacific countries, many Christmas celebrations take place on the beach! While decorating houses with lights and Christmas trees is familiar, many people gather with family and friends either on Christmas or Boxing Day (December 26) for a beach BBQ and a festive swim! 

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