My favorite Christmas memory from elementary school was the week-long “Christmas Traditions Around the World” adventure in 2nd grade. Every day, the class would travel to a new classroom and learn about the Christmas celebrations happening in different parts of the world. It taught me that there are so many unique ways to put your own spin on the Christmas season, and these are 10 of our international favorites.
In German-American Houses You Can't Forget the Christmas Pickle
If you find yourself celebrating Christmas with a German-American family, then you may find yourself in a pickle if you forget to bring the Weihnachtsgurke ornament. The infamous Christmas pickle ornament gets hidden in the sparkling decorations on the tree, and whoever finds it first gets to open the first gift on Christmas morning.
You don’t have to come from a German lineage to embrace this funky Christmas tradition. Simply, pick out your own special ornament and tuck it away in the depths of your Christmas tree. Just make sure you don’t pull an Easter egg hunt faux pas and forget where you hid it.
Bask in Sweden's Yule Goats
If you find yourself shopping Ikea’s wares this winter, you might’ve found some straw goats for sale. The Gävle Goat is the one that has enchanted internet users everywhere. This giant version of Sweden’s standard Yule Goat is built on the first day of the Advent season.
However, the real drama comes from seeing if it makes it through the entire winter. Burning the Yule Goat has become a bit of an illegal tradition in the past few years. The city is so serious about letting its international claim to fame survive that they’ve put up a Big Brother-style 24-hour webcam to deter anyone from setting it ablaze.
Watch a Christmas Pantomime in England
Heading to a Pantomime in the United Kingdom is like booking tickets for the annual performance of The Nutcracker in the United States. While it’s not a ballet, these theatrical comedies are widely popular and perfectly tailored to British culture and humor. They’re usually a family affair, and some kids even participate in their own local ‘pantos.’ Pantomimes have been around for centuries, and they’re still going strong.
Although pantomimes are a uniquely British tradition, you can get into the artistic spirit by watching any holiday performances in your area.
Decorate the Karavki in Greece
Being situated on the Mediterranean Sea means one thing for Greece; they’ve got a lot of boats. Boat travel is incredibly common around the country, so of course, their beloved boats would feature in one of their Christmas traditions.
Historically, the Christmas boat “Karavaki” was the central figure of the holiday season (as opposed to America’s Christmas trees). To celebrate the holiday, people would decorate their boats with intricate light displays. Today, Christmas trees reign supreme, but many seaside towns don’t let their boats go naked at Christmas.
Step Back in Time With Christmas at the Biltmore
If you’re from the American southeast, then you know at least one person whose family always heads to The Biltmore in the last few weeks leading up to Christmas. If you’re willing to shell out a couple hundred bucks per person, you can even stay overnight and spend Christmas morning in the Vanderbilt family’s preserved mansion.
Located in Asheville, North Carolina, the Biltmore estate now spans only 8,000 of the original 125,000 acres. Given that George Vanderbilt debuted the house on Christmas Eve 1895, the current curators of the estate have kept that tradition alive.
Skate Through Caracas on Christmas Eve
If you miss your roller disco days, we highly recommend booking a ticket to Caracas, Venezuela for the week before Christmas. In the nine days leading up to the 25th, people flock to the streets to skate around. From skateboards to in-lines, everyone hangs up their car keys and takes to the streets.
And on Christmas Eve, they finish off the night by skating alongside the entire community to the local church for Misa de Gallo — an early morning Mass.
Set Out an Extra Place Setting in Poland
You don’t only have to celebrate Christmas with the living. In Poland, many people set out an extra place at the dinner table on Christmas as an invitation for any unexpected guests to join them. These niespodziewany gość could be anyone, from your recently passed loved ones to the lonely neighbors nearby.
This heartfelt tradition uplifts the giving nature of the holiday season. Remind your family and friends of the importance of welcoming people into your life and home by laying out an empty setting this year.
Break Out the Christmas Piñata in Mexico
If you’re ready to take a break from the blistering cold at Christmas, why not take a quick flight across the Gulf to Mexico. Of their many joyous Christmas traditions, the Christmas piñata is one of our favorites. It’s typically designed with seven stars to represent the seven deadly sins, and filled with delicious sweet treats.
Take things up a notch on Christmas morning by bringing out the blindfolds and cracking into some piñatas.
Leave Your Shoes Out in the Netherlands
One of the Netherlands' oldest Christmas traditions is children setting out one of their shoes on Sinterklass (December 5th) in hopes that they'll wake up with it filled full of toys or treats. Interestingly, the past is becoming more fashionable in the present, and wooden clogs are being used more and more often.
So, this Christmas, you could forgo a traditional stocking and set one of your best shoes on the window sill instead.
Take a Christmas Morning Swim in Ireland
Ireland takes polar plunges to a whole new level. Some Irish people greet Christmas morning with a blisteringly cold jump in the ocean. Nothing like a casual swim in December to sober up from the common Christmas Eve pub crawl the night before.
While jumping straight into a cold shower when the kiddos wake you up bright and early doesn’t make us green with envy, there are less abrasive ways to participate. Grab the kids, friends, or family that’ve spent the night and take everyone outside for a crisp wakeup call. That chilly pre-sunrise temperature is sure to jar everybody awake.
Have an International Christmas This Year
Put an international spin on your Christmas celebrations this season. Look to cultures around the world for inspiration as to how to take your average festivities up a notch. If you’re really in the Christmas spirit, you might even want to try a new tradition for each day of the month. Whoever said advent calendars had to be limited to something as boring as a box?