When you think of the word Christmas, what springs to mind? For most people, it will be words like home, family and tradition. Most of us associate Christmas with spending time with our families, warm and cosy on the sofa in front of our favourite Christmas film. Or maybe feeling stuffed after eating twice our body weight in delicious snacks and treats, but hey, isn’t that what Christmas is about?

However, as our world is made up of many different cultures, the word tradition means something different around the world. Let’s look at how other countries celebrate Christmas and some of the most interesting traditions!

Christmas traditions in Iceland


Christmas traditions in Iceland _Oxford House Barcelona

Don’t you love the December countdown to Christmas? For many of us, the excitement builds as we open each door of our advent calendar and start the day with a chocolatey treat! How fun!

However, did you know that in Iceland the countdown starts on 12 December? Why? Well, it’s because of the Yule Lads! What’s a Yule Lad? Well, there are 13 Yule Lads and according to Icelandic legend, they were a group of hideous trolls who spent the Christmas period causing havoc.

Nowadays, their reputation is a little different, as one Yule Lad visits each household every day and leaves a small present. The children put their shoes on the windowsill before they go to bed and in the morning, if they’ve been good, they’ll find a little treat. But, if they haven’t, the Yule Lads will leave rotten potatoes in their shoes instead – What a thing to wake up to!

Christmas traditions in Ukraine


Christmas traditions in Ukraine_Oxford House Barcelona

Decorating the Christmas tree with tinsel, baubles and, of course, a star on the top is one of the true symbols of Christmas.

But, hang on… Have you ever seen a Christmas tree decorated with spiders?

This Ukrainian tradition originates from a lovely story about a poor family who didn’t have enough money to decorate their tree. When the children went to bed, crying because they wished they had a beautiful tree, some spiders heard their sobs and wanted to help. So, they spun around the tree, leaving their elegant spiderwebs around the branches. When the children woke up, they saw how incredible their tree looked!

So, in honour of this story, Ukranians decorate their trees with spiders and spiderwebs – not real ones, of course! They believe this will bring them good luck.

Christmas traditions in Japan


Christmas traditions in Japan_Oxford House Barcelona

Christmas time with food, glorious food! It’s the time of year to forget about the diet. But, by eating KFC? Well, in Japan, that’s exactly what they do.

The fun tradition dates back to the 1970s. After the difficult period of World War II, Japan began to experience economic growth. At the same time there was an enormous interest in Western culture, especially from the USA. Fast food restaurants opened all over the country, and as Japan has a very low number of Christians, people started to create their own fun Christmas traditions. KFC saw this gap in the market and launched their ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ campaign.

Nowadays, it is a part of Japanese Christmas, with families enjoying Kentucky Fried Chicken together. December is the busiest time of year for the fast food chain. We all agree that sharing is caring, so, pass me a piece!

Christmas traditions in Austria


Christmas traditions in Austria_Oxford House Barcelona

If you ask most people around the world what person they associate with Christmas, the answer will probably be Santa Claus. The image of his big white beard and red suit is one that we have known since we were children. We all know Santa Claus visits us on his sleigh, giving presents to the good children and in some countries, giving coal to the bad ones. In Austria, however, someone else is in charge of dealing with the bad children. That person is Krampus!

Perhaps ‘person’ is the wrong word, because Krampus is a devil-like creature, usually covered in hair and with the horns of a goat. He has a long tongue and carries chains. If you are thinking he sounds more like someone you would expect to see at Halloween, you’re right!

These days, in Austria and other countries in Europe, Krampus is often part of the Christmas processions, adding a much scarier element to the celebrations, especially for young children!

Christmas traditions in Catalonia


Christmas traditions in Catalonia_Oxford House Barcelona

Whether your beliefs are religious or not, most people are very familiar with the nativity scene. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, among others. Many countries all over the world have their own nativity scenes for families to visit. Some families like to create their own nativities at home. It is wonderful to see the figurines together but… who is that? Who is the figure with the red hat and his trousers down? And what is he doing? Oh no! He isn’t having a poo, is he?!

Yes, he is, because it’s the Caganer! In Catalonia it is typical to see these small figurines hidden somewhere in the nativity scene. Why? Some people believe it in reference to the poo serving as fertiliser, therefore being a symbol for the following year’s vegetables. Smelly, but useful!

Although the traditional Caganer wears black trousers, a white shirt and a red hat, it is very popular to see figurines based on famous people, in the Caganer pose. That’s right – if you’re a fan of Messi, Bob Marley, Batman or even Pope Francis, and you want to add the finishing touch to your nativity scene, why not try something new this year?

Read more about British vs Catalan Christmas.

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

cosy (adj): comfortable, warm, relaxed.

stuffed (adj): the feeling after eating a lot of food, not able to move.

hideous (adj): very ugly.

hang on (pv): to wait.

sob (n/v): the sound someone makes when crying.

spun (v): to move in circles, to rotate.

gap in the market (exp): an opportunity to create something that is not available yet.

launch (v): to release a product to the public.

in charge of (exp): to be responsible for.

nativity (n): the birth of Jesus Christ.


adj = adjective

exp = expression

n = noun

pv = phrasal verb

v = verb

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