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Celebrating Christmas Around the World

One of the best parts about studying abroad is the chance to see how other countries and cultures celebrate holidays. Christmas may not be celebrated in every country, but those that do have a wide variety of traditions. So, let's hop in Santa's sleigh (aka Pere Noel, Julenissen, Ded Moroz, Dun Che Lao Ren, and countless other names) and take a trip around the world to see how Christmas is celebrated abroad.

Dec 15, 2015
  • Study Abroad
Celebrating Christmas Around the World

If you're studying abroad this Christmas, you'll probably notice that your host country does things a bit different from the way you celebrate at home. Christmas celebrations often reflect the unique culture and landscape of their homeland, and if you have the chance to celebrate abroad, you'll probably discover some exciting new traditions. Here are a few unique celebrations that you might find on your travels, so whether you're heading home for the holidays or ringing in the New Year in a new country, check out these foreign festivities for a bit of multicultural merrymaking.

1. The Finnish “Pikkujoulu”

Winter starts early in Scandinavia, and the nights get long and dark. But people make up for the darkness by celebrating Christmas early and often. In Finland, the Christmas season starts with Pikkujoulu - festive parties that range from a few hours of mulled juice to days-long celebrations that would put even the rowdiest frat party to shame. The main feature of the Pikkujoulu is glögi, or mulled wine, but Pikkujoulu will often feature traditional Christmas foods, music, dancing, and speeches. The tradition was brought to Finland from Germany and Sweden by university students in the early twentieth century, and the tradition is found (under various names) throughout Scandinavia. If you're studying in Finland, expect invites to one or more Pikkujoulu during the festive period and be prepared for a good time!

Read more about studying in Finland.

Christmas Tree On Beautiful Tropical Beach

2. On the beach in Australia

For much of the world, Christmas conjures up ideas of pristine snow, frosted windows, and starry nights, but in Australia Christmas marks the beginning of the summer holidays and that means – time for a barbecue on the beach! While most Australians include traditional northern hemisphere decorations in their Christmas celebrations, Christmas in Australia has a good dose of southern flare. Alongside traditional Christmas trees, you'll find Australian homes decorated with 'Christmas bush,' an Australian plant with green leaves and white berries that turn red around the Christmas period. Santa makes sure that Australian children get presents, but Oz is too hot for reindeer, so he uses “six white boomers,” or kangaroos instead. Jack Frost won't be nipping at your nose during Australian Christmas, but a tan is better than frostbite any day!

Read more about studying in Australia.

3. Decorate a banana tree in India

Régime en Formation

Christmas isn't a national holiday in India, but with over 25 million practicing Christians, the holiday doesn't go completely unnoticed in the subcontinent. Santa (known as Christmas Baba) brings presents to children using a horse and cart, but you probably won't find a lot of Christmas trees. Instead, Indians who celebrate Christmas decorate banana or mango trees and use mango leaves and poinsettias to decorate their homes and churches. In Goa and Mumbai, paper lanterns shaped like stars and manger scenes deck the halls of those celebrating Christmas. And like most Christmas festivities, Indian Christmas wouldn't be complete without special treats – you'll find lots of coconut, dried fruit, and nuts in the mix.

Read more about studying in India.

4. The Boar's Head Festival in England

Many of the traditions that dominate Christmas in Europe and North America originated in England, but there's at least one tradition that doesn't come from a Dickens novel. The Boar's Head Festival is a variation on an ancient pre-Christian tradition, likely practiced throughout Western Europe. It took on its current pageantry and form at Queen's College, Oxford sometime in the last millennium. According to the traditional story, an Oxford student was walking through the forest on his way to midnight mass when a ferocious boar attacked him. The only thing he had to defend himself was a bound copy of Aristotle, which he thrust into the gaping maw of the beast. The boar choked to death, and his head was served with much pomp and ceremony in the university's banquet hall later that night. While the Boar's Head Festival isn't as wide-spread as other Christmas traditions, it's commonly celebrated at several universities, as well as various churches, in the UK and US to commemorate its scholarly origins. Modern festivals usually include a ceremonial boar's head, as well as music, pageantry, carols, and candlelight.

Read more about studying in the UK.

5. Prayers and Fireworks in Nicaragua


Christmas came to Nicaragua with the Spanish colonists, but while many Nicaraguan Christmas traditions have their origins in European customs, some are unique to Nicaragua. Take La Purisima, which celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary. Early in December, Nicaraguans throughout the country create and decorate an alter in their homes, with a statue of the Virgin Mary at its center. Then, they invite friends and neighbors to come and sit before the altar to pray and sing traditional songs. While the neighbors are inside, the family goes outside to set off rockets and fireworks, and afterward everyone celebrates with traditional sweets and cakes. If you're studying in Nicaragua and are invited to celebrate La Purisima, you'll find that each family has it's own traditions, and since the festival is celebrated throughout the month of December, you'll likely have a chance to see first hand some of the different styles.

Read more about studying in South America.

So, whether you're rockin' round the Christmas tree (USA), setting your shoes out for Sinterklaas (the Netherlands), or filling up on okra soup and fufu (Ghana), Christmas around the world is bright and

Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.