Santa Claus, Papai Noel, Babbo Natale Are Coming to Town: 5 Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Unless you grew up in a really small town, chances are you’re already aware of some of the most interesting international Christmas traditions from around the world. Each country, region, and even city has their own traditions, which are handed down from parent to child, and spread around the world as migration and trade take people far from home. Even the names that we give the Christmas figures are different.

In North America, Santa Claus reigns supreme (unless you’re somewhere like Louisiana, where he’s called Papa Noel), but in other countries around the world, this portly, festive figure is called by all sorts of different names. Papai Noel visits children in Portugal, Babbo Natale takes care of all Italian children’s Christmas wishes, and Dutch children call on Sinterklaas.

This year change up your holiday by incorporating some new traditions. Here are some interesting holiday traditions you may not have heard of before.

1. Norway

In Nordic countries, Christmas is a festive season that helps people forget that the sun sets around 3:30 p.m. As such, the lead up to Christmas in Norway is full of parties called julebord. Typically, these are hosted by families, businesses, and even restaurants and clubs. The nightlife in cities like Oslo is bustling around this time of year, as festive-dressed partygoers make their way from one julebord to the next.

December 23 marks the official start of the holiday with a uniquely Norwegian tradition called “Little Christmas Eve.” This day is typically when nuclear families celebrate together before going out to see larger groups of relatives or friends. This is often when the final decorations are put on the Christmas tree, and families tuck into risengrynsgrøt, hot rice pudding with a single almond hidden inside.

Many families go to church on Christmas Eve, then open presents and have their festive meal after the service. Traditional foods like pork ribs or lye-cured fish are washed down with Christmas beer called juleøl.

2. Barbados

On the Caribbean island of Barbados, traditions revolve around two major things — family and food.

The beginning of the holiday season traditionally starts with the annual Christmas “spring” cleaning. Stores are full of great deals on housewares, linens, and other home goods, and families work together to scrub their homes from top to bottom in anticipation of the holiday.

Every year, the Prime Minister hosts a Carols by Candlelight gathering at the ministerial residence, and thousands flock to the grounds with candles to listen to some of the island’s best voices sing festive songs.

On Christmas Day, before the traditional holiday meal is served, men and women alike head to Queen’s Park in Bridgetown, and promenade through the park in their best dress. It’s traditional to purchase a new tailor-made outfit for Christmas, and this event gives people the chance to show off their new purchase. There’s live coverage on local TV stations, and the best outfits make the front page of the paper. After the promenade and Mass, people head home to eat black cake (similar to British fruitcake) and pineapple-glazed ham.

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