If you live in the US, I know you might already be tired of Christmas songs in every major retail store. It seems like it starts earlier and earlier every year. So I promise, there’s no playlist with overplayed holiday music anywhere on this page. But I do warn you, we are talking about Christmas, so much Christmas. So if you want to wait until December 1st, go ahead and save this for later. But if, like our team at GBO, you are trying to make sure you have the most stellar holiday to date: read on! I can say that since I started working for GiftBasketsOverseas 5 years ago I’ve learned so much more to help me fall in love with the holiday season all over again. What better time to share than now? If you’ve ever wondered how to celebrate Christmas in other countries, I’m here to give you some answers. What are the best Christmas gifts to send to your friends overseas? I’m helping there too. From sake, to mistletoe, fruitcake, to decorations, below we talk about some of the unique Christmas traditions around the world for the countries we deliver to the most!
Christmas Traditions in the USA
First up, my home. In the USA we have a lot of different customs that come from having so many people from different backgrounds. If you aren’t from around here, you may still recognize a lot of what we do, since most everything is an evolution of a traditions from somewhere else.
First is the menu! If there’s on things that is universal about Christmas, it’s the tradition of sharing food with family. For those in the US, menus include staples like turkey, or ham. Sweet cranberry sauce, lush gravy, and a dizzying array of sides. There’s a well-known joke that says you’ve not cooked enough food unless you’re eating your left overs through New Year’s!
For just that reason the desserts list is even longer, large batches of cookie dough are often made and cooked off nearly on demand. People bake pies to give to friends, neighbors, and colleagues at work to help add a little sweetness. Then there’s egg-nog, no Christmas list would be complete without it. Spiked with a bold liquor (usually rum), or left plain so the kids can try some, this is a must have at any Christmas event!
Like a lot of countries, families put up decorations that are meant to last through New Year’s. They string holiday lights on towering Christmas trees, outside homes, and highlighting doorways. Mistletoe hangs heavy, and kids build gingerbread houses with cookies that are a little too sturdy to actually consider eating.
One decoration I never understood as a kid was popcorn strings. You take a perfectly delicious batch of popcorn, and carefully thread the pieces to make a decoration on the tree.
There is no bad Christmas gift in the US, except for coal. Food, wine, fancy liquor, decadent sweets, and stunning jewelry all make the cut. The most important thing is to choose a thoughtful gift and include a personalized message.
Christmas Traditions in the UK
Next the UK, full of a rich and bold history Christmas is a time that is truly made for traditions. Having time off for the holiday to spend with family is almost sacred, and you’ll find a lot of business shut down not only Christmas day, but for the whole week to accommodate a family first mindset.
There’s a lot of similarity to USA traditions (where do you think some of ours came from?) but there’s a lot that stands out. My personal favorite Wassail! Anglo Saxon for “be well,” this greeting is supposed to come with a spiced alcoholic beverage, which also became known as Wassail, more commonly called “mulled wine” today. You can make this drink by heating up wine or cider and adding mixed fruits (dried of fresh) and your favorite spices. Truly a wonderful way to keep your guests warm and happy during the holidays!
Then there’s Christmas pudding, it dates back to the medieval era and is sort of like a boiled fruit cake (but far more edible). It’s traditionally heavily spiced, doused in brandy, and very briefly set on fire. Dessert and a show!
Last on our list, but certainly not least, mince pies! They’ve been around in Britain since the 13th century, but today’s pies are far sweeter and much more bite size than the original. Today you’ll find savory and sweet varieties, filled with fruit or meat, and heavily seasoned with holiday spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, or clove.
You’ll find lights, trees, and stunning decorations all over the UK. The decorations there are as diverse as the people, but the Christmas tree didn’t become hugely popular until the 1830s. Before then (and even now) holly and ivy were far more popular, adorning doors as wreaths, grown on trellises, and lining the halls of any home. They welcomed winter and offered a much needed splash of color in cold months.
Additionally stockings are a well-known UK favorite (and the trend has spread around the globe). Traditionally left out thanks to the Legend of St. Nicholas. Stories say he sent bags of gold down chimneys to the homes of poor men. The gold would fall into stockings left hanging by the chimney to dry. While you aren’t likely to find gold in them today they still get some of amazing treats.
Ever heard of a cracker? No I’m not talking about saltines. In the UK there are table decorations called “crackers.” They are festively decorated tubes with a prize inside. Two guests pull on either end, and the person who gets the larger section wins the prize. The name “cracker” comes from the loud crack you hear as the tube rips apart. The toys aren’t extravagant, but they’re a lot of fun, and a great ice breaker.
Wine or a fine bottle of liquor is the perfect gift for adults in the UK. Charming stuffed animals, or sweets are best left for the children. Whatever you send be mindful there is enough to share.
Christmas Traditions in Germany
A culture filled with tradition, honor, and formalities, Christmas time in Germany is a time of celebration and relaxation! One of their most iconic traditions are Christmas Markets. Filled with local crafts, handmade gifts, seasonal foods, and goodies of all sorts these markets pop up everywhere. They’ve even popped up across the world!
Germany is known for its bold and vibrant food culture, and Christmas is no exception. People fill their holiday tables with robust meats, duck, goose, rabbit, or a nice roast. Sides include an apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage, potato dumplings, and more. Dessert is diverse, but one of the most famous is Dresdner Stollen. This pastry is bursting with nuts and fruit, and will make you forget everything you think you know about fruitcake.
Of course no meal is complete without a drink, and Germany is here to spice things up. One of the more popular and theatrical drinks is called Feuerzangenbowle. In English, Fire Tong Punch, but I’m going to be honest I had so much fun learning how to say it: Feuerzangenbowle. A quick YouTube search won’t disappoint. This drink is a mix of hot mulled wine, a high alcohol-percentage rum, and open flames. It became popular thanks to a 1943 comedy movie called “Die Feuerzangenbowle.” I fully intend to figure out how to safely try this Christmas.
Germany too enjoys lights, Christmas trees, a bedazzled home, and ornate holiday decorations in the city. But something very unique to them is the Advent Wreath, or Adventskranz. This lovely wreath is set on the living room table the fourth Sunday before Christmas. With four large candles, and mix of pinecones, berries, and leaves, this wreath becomes the focal point for family time. Many families spend time lighting candles and gathering around for carols, stories, or good conversation.
Traditionally this wreath was displayed in homes where they kept their tree covered until Christmas, it is now often displayed in addition to the lovely tree.
The best gifts are one that give you a bit of nostalgia and whimsy. For that reason we recommend a Advent Calendar (Adventskalendar) for loved ones in Germany. This gift is given early and rewards them with a treat, or two, for every day leading up until Christmas. Of course a good bottle of spirits, or sweet hamper are also always welcome.
Christmas Traditions in Canada
Christmas in Canada is a wonderful and exciting blend of cultures. From French, to English, US, and more, Canada may be one of the more diverse countries to celebrate in.
The Christmas table in much of Canada looks a good deal like their neighbors to the south. Turkey, ham, potatoes, sweet pies, and more can all be found! But they also have plenty more. Included some comforting French dishes. The first is is a stew called ‘ragoût aux pattes de cochons’ which is made from pigs feet.
If that sounds a little too exotic for you they have a meat pie called ‘Tortière’, made from venison (or pork or beef). In Nova Scotia many families enjoy fresh caught shellfish and other goodies from the north Atlantic Ocean on Christmas Eve.
The lights, trees, and stunning decorations in Canada are up there in beauty and elegance. With French influence the artistic style of their light display is fun and inspired. However the most fun decorations in Canada are edible!
Tons of families have cookie baking parties for the holiday. They’ll bake them and exchange them with other family members, often taking great pride in how they are decorated and presented. I’m already trying to enlist friends in making this happen in my town.
In Canada it really is the thought that counts. There is no bad gift, people are grateful for whatever they get because it means you thought of them. If you’re wanting to impress give them something a bit exotic. Imported liquor or food is a way to help them enjoy new experience and make their holiday that much more unique.
Christmas Traditions in Mexico
Christmas in Mexico is unlike anywhere in the world. Like most other countries people are excited about the holiday all month long. But unique to the regions they celebrate Christmas as a series of events from December 12th to January 6th.
From December 16th until Christmas Eve children perform Posadas. These Posadas are deeply religious and are representations of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary are looking for somewhere to stay. They go door to door with decorated candles and sing a song at each home. Every night it is a different house, and after the song is sung it often turns into a party.
You’ll find a full spread of delicious Mexican fare can at almost every house during Posada nights, but especially on Christmas. One of the most impressive and popular dishes is “Rosca de Reyes” (Three Kings Cake), served for Epiphany. A small figure of baby Jesus is hidden in the cake, and whoever gets that figure in their piece is the “Godparent” of Jesus for that year. It is thought to bring them luck and prosperity.
Nestled among the Christmas trees and lights are beautiful displays of poinsettia flowers known as “nochebuena’ (Christmas Eve) flowers. These displays are so beautiful, and the flower is so captivating that other parts of the world have started including them in their holiday tradition.
They also have absolutely breathtaking Nativity Scenes. Kown as “nacimiento” they are very popular in Mexico. In many large cities the figures are even life size! For the scenes set up at home, the figures are often made of clay and passed down through the family. Not only are they spiritually important, but loving reminders of their ancestors.
Christmas gifts in Mexico can arrive as late as January 6th and still be well received as a holiday present. So if you’re ordering late, no need to panic! Sending sweets is the go to holiday gift, as they are easy to share with loved ones, and will help them make their holiday meals a bit more lavish.
Christmas Traditions Japan
Christmas in Japan has only been popular in the last few decades, and it is very non-religious. A lot of the holiday customs in Japan have come from the USA. As such it is very commercialized, and is seen as time to spread happiness. Christmas eve is often more popular in Japan because it is seen as Romantic. Young couples enjoy walking under the lights, and having a fancy meal at restaurants. This makes getting a reservation on Christmas Eve in Japan very difficult.
Western food is all the rage during Christmas. Friend chicken is one of the most popular dishes, and believe it or not it’s the busiest time for the KFC franchiese. Many people even place their orders to them in advance. If you’re wondering, I have friends teaching in Japan and they assure me the KFC there is actually stellar and the quality not at all like what you get in the US.
For dessert they have a Christmas Cake, a light and festive sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream.
Are often elaborate for larger cities. Some places really go all out with animated lights, neon trees, and festive costumes for city workers. Not all homes decorate for Christmas, but the ones that do often imitate homes in the US.
Romantic couples and friends may exchange gifts on this holiday. However, it’s actually more common to send gifts for New Year, since people Japan celebrate it more like Christmas in the west.
Christmas Traditions Australia
Christmas in Australia stands out around the globe for many reasons. First, yes it really is summer during Christmas. While you may not get the white Christmas so many of us think of, the holiday is no less vibrant down under.
The Christmas menu may look a bit different. Traditionally families eat more around lunch time, and enjoy their left overs for Christmas Dinner. They’ll enjoy bold barbecues, and fresh seafood such as prawns and lobsters. Of course traditional English dishes also pop up at a lot of family meals.
You can forget about fires in a fireplace for Christmas. But you will see a lot of fun and vibrant trees. The Santa suits are also particularly cheerful. Nothing like seeing a Santa in shorts to make you smile! Neighbors have friendly competitions to see who can outdo each other with their light displays, making whole blocks look as well done as city displays.
Keep in mind that it’s warm during Christmas. Beers, wines, and light gourmet gift baskets to Australia are just what they need to keep cool during the holiday.
Christmas Traditions Brazil
Christmas in Brazil is as colorful and vibrant as the people. One of the best traditions (and one I’d like to see spread) is that it is the time for the “13th salary”. This means at the end of the year, in December, you get twice your normal pay for the month. Its similar to holiday bonuses elsewhere, but I think likely a bit more generous. Business owners believe it helps the economy, and with so many gifts to buy I can certainly see why.
Christmas food in Brazil is all about variety. From slow roasted pork, succulent turkey, ham, salad, and a dizzying array of fruits! The holiday table will leave you stuffed! A slightly sweet rice cooked with raisins and a spoon of “farofa” (or seasoned manioc flour) accompanies it all.
For desserts you have bold fresh fruits, rich pastries, and refreshing ice-cream to beat the heat! You’ll also see Panettone, salted Cod, and even some African food as Brazil has large populations of people from other regions.
Along with the typical tree, lights, etc (you know the drill by now), Brazil also goes out with a bang. Literally! Big towns often have large firework displays next to their large trees.
Stockings though are a little different. Rather than hanging them by the fire children will leave a sock near the window. If Papi Noel finds the sock, he’ll trade it out for a present! Finally something to do with those mismatched socks we all seem to have.
In Brazil gifts are all about sharing. Sending a fruit basket, or gourmet hamper they can share with their guests will often mean a lot more than sending them a single item.
Christmas Traditions France
Christmas in France is beautiful, graceful, and elegant. There are so many hand-crafted meals and fine gifts you won’t know where to start. But if you happen to be around I recommend Christkindelsmärik, the most famous and oldest Christmas market in France. Located in Strasbourg in Alsace you will find it filled with everything you could possibly hope for, and then some.
The holiday table in France is possibly the most important part of the Christmas. The menu is diverse and delicious! Filled with smoked salmon and oysters paired with bran bread and real luscious butter! A creamy foiegras, goose, capon and/or turkey stuffed with chestnuts, and a variety of sides that are sure to set everything off.
There’s no skimping on dessert either. Traditionally the table has 13 different deserts to symbolize Christ and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper. Desserts include anything from fruits, nuts, dried figs, decadent pastries, or rich pies. The choice is yours, but its important to have 13 different options.
The decorated trees and halls in France are stunning to be sure. But quite possibly one of the things to stand out the most is how elegantly they decorate their tables. With so much emphasis put on the holiday meal it’s no wonder people dress the dinner table to the nines. With 3 candles representing the Trinity, and French knots tied in the ends of table cloths to keep the Devil out, the table is a work of art.
Instead of hanging stockings from fireplaces, people often leave shoes instead. But they serve the same purpose: holding tons of holiday treats for the kids!
When picking out a gift to your loved ones in France make sure if you’re sending wine or gourmet hampers your sending some of the best. They live in a city of food, and they expect something that goes a bit above and beyond. Advent calendars are also very popular, especially among children.
Christmas Traditions Israel
Christmas in Israel often coincides with Hanukkah, which is the more prevalent holiday in the area. In fact, in Israel Christmas is truly a spiritual event, because of this the more commercial icons of Christmas are not as prevalent.
Christmas is a time to set your most impressive dinner table. So the holiday meal pulls out all the stops, lamb chops, kebabs, pork chops, chicken steaks, the meat goes on. Paired with an endless selection of tehina, tabouli, Arab Salad, potato salad, babaganoush, and of course rice! Full already? There’s more!
Grape leaves, kubba, savory pastries, and other hand-held delicacies are perfect for guests who like to mingle. There’s also a selection of desserts and candy, but there’s much more focus on the savory meal.
In Israel, people decorate cypress trees for Christmas when they can find them, when one can find it. Otherwise it’s fake trees all the way, and usually the city doesn’t put one on display in public. However lights, and garland, and more neutral displays make Israel as vibrant as anywhere else. Personal home decorations vary, but are more elegant and spiritual rather than commercial and cartoony. For many families they are decorations that have been handed down.
It’s best to stick to food or personal gifts for Christmas. Something personal, that you know they’ve been wanting is the absolute ideal Christmas gift. However when in doubt a gourmet hamper will always hit the mark and them spoil their loved ones as well.
No matter where you are Christmas is a time of love, gifts, and family. The differences from country to country highlight the beauty of each culture, and the diversity that makes people so amazing. No matter where you end up sending a gift, your act of kindness will be well received and cherished.
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A foodie, nerd, book lover, and eager taste tester. I’m a night owl with a need to expand my knowledge of other cultures and places to give myself better perspective.