Did You Know?: Christmas Traditions Around the World

Categories: Global Mindset


Did you know that the English word “Christmas” derives from the old word “Christ’s maesse”, which means “Christ’s mass”? Christians around the world celebrate their biggest annual holiday, Christmas, in late December (Dec 24-25). Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Protestants and Catholics around the world gather with their families on either the eve of December 24 or the day of December 25. The Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity (e.g. Russia) join the Christmas celebration a bit later, on Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day (January 6 in most places). These customs can be dated back to the early fourth century, with its very first evidence in Rome in 336 CE.

Popular traditions around the Christmas holidays include the singing of Christmas carols, special midnight masses in Christian churches, gift giving, and decorating a Christmas tree in many Christian households. The modern Christmas tree custom spread from Germany to other regions of the world through immigrants and European nobility.

While some Christmas customs can be observed across all Christian cultures, others are locally created.

Christmas cultural trivia: Did you know that…

Thomas Nast Santa Claus print, 1881

Ganna: The Ethiopian Christmas

Bûche de Noël recipe

The legend of Sinterklaas

Farolitos photos

Lucia in Sweden

KFC Japan

Observing how local culture influences the traditions and festivities of religious holidays is an excellent practice for cultural agility. Within the global community of Christians, there are many variations of customs. Assuming that your traditions and practices translate seamlessly into another cultural context is often a mistake, as you can see in the diverse examples above. All traditions have been adapted or created based on geography, history, weather, and other contextual factors.

Learn more about our cultural agility programs to see how you can become more aware of your cultural lens.

Further Reading

Guide to Gift Giving Around the World


Trivia: How Stuff Works
ReligionFacts – Christianity