10 of the Most Unique Christmas Traditions Around the World

This year, most children in Compassion’s program won’t attend big Christmas parties that are typically held at their child development centers. But that doesn’t mean they won’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday in other fun ways!

A girl in Brazil wears a white face mask, Santa hat and sparkly garlands around her shoulders.

Christmas traditions vary from family to family and culture to culture. Travel the world with us as we explore quirky, wonderful and unique Christmas traditions across the globe!

10. Haiti

On Christmas Eve in Haiti, children place their newly cleaned shoes, filled with straw, under the tree on the porch. They hope that Santa (called Tonton Nwèl) will remove the straw and put presents in and around the shoes.

9. Mexico

Radishes are sculpted into intricate figures

YouTube: El Imparcial

The Night of the Radishes (Noche de Rábanos in Spanish) occurs each year in the city of Oaxaca, where people carve oversized radishes into Nativity scenes, with the best ones receiving prizes.

8. Indonesia

Many Indonesians put up artificial Christmas trees made of plastic. But crafters in Bali create another special type of Indonesian Christmas tree from chicken feathers. These feather trees are exported to countries around the world.

7. Ethiopia

Ethiopians follow the ancient Julian calendar, which means they celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7. Families dress in white garments called shammas that they wear to Christmas services.

6. Brazil

Santa waves from a helicopter in Brazil

Sia Kambousia/AFP/Getty Images

Children in Brazil receive gifts from Papai Noel on Christmas Eve. With no use for chimneys in the tropical climate, the children believe that Papai Noel enters via the front door and travels via helicopter rather than a reindeer-drawn sleigh.

5. Kenya

In Kenya, Santa usually doesn’t arrive with his reindeer — instead he rolls into town on an SUV, camel or a bike.

4. El Salvador

There is no such thing as a “silent night” during Christmas in El Salvador! The streets are filled with families lighting firecrackers. As the night goes on, sparklers are replaced by large Roman candle displays.

3. The Philippines

Lanterns glow against a dark background

YouTube: Janzen Basco

The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) happens each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the city of San Fernando — the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” Eleven villages take part in the festival, and competition is fierce as everyone pitches in trying to build the most elaborate lantern.

2. Bolivia

Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo (“Mass of the Rooster”) on Christmas Eve, with people bringing roosters to midnight mass to symbolize the belief that a rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus Christ.

1. 25 Countries Spanning the Globe

All around the world this month, more than 2 million children living in poverty will receive a gift. A gift from someone that says, “I see you. You are loved.” We think it’s the most unique family tradition of all — a simultaneous outpouring of Christmas generosity from Compassion supporters to millions of children!


What crazy, silly, wonderful or unique Christmas traditions do you and yours use to celebrate every year? Share in the comments below!

14 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Matthew Morris January 20, 2021

    Is there any way to confirm whether or not my sponsored child received a birthday gift that I sent extra money for in the fall?

    1. Mackenzie January 21, 2021

      Hi Matthew! Thanks for checking on the birthday gift you sent to Jhosselyn last fall. It looks like we were able to successfully deliver her gift in November! If you have any further questions, please send us an email at [email protected]. Blessings!

  2. Kathy Wenrich December 22, 2020

    When I was a young child, my family and friends would gather on Christmas eve at our home. We might have as many as 20 people there. After eating treats, we would sit on the livingroom floor in a big circle, and sing carols while mom played the organ. After the carols, we lowered the lights and each one held a lighted candle while my father read the Christmas story from Luke. Then we would have our own communion service and closed it out with prayer. Before everyone left to go home, each one received a gift of colorful rock candy my mother made the week before. My parents could not afford much, but what they did give extravagantly was their time, love, and encouragement.

  3. JustMe April 22, 2019

    I wonder if my girl celebrates Noche de Rabanos? 😉

  4. Andrea Vijverberg January 3, 2018

    When my kids were young I would set up the Nativity scene on the floor under the Christmas tree without the Baby Jesus. During the Advent season I had a little box of straw. When I saw my children being kind, loving, generous, thankful, etc. I would affirm these characteristics (one’s that Jesus gives us) by giving them a piece of straw to lay in the manger for Baby Jesus. We would be preparing our hearts, and his bed, the whole Advent season. We went through a great Focus on the Family resource of daily Advent reading every night – that was a very special time. On Christmas morning they would look for Baby Jesus and we would find him and place Him in His bed of straw, we would then read our Christmas morning Advent reading. Then we would open gifts, one person at a time.

    Now that they are all grown I still leave the Baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene until Christmas morning. We now draw a family member’s name at Thanksgiving to give a gift to. On Christmas morning the gift giver reveals who they are. Before the recipient opens their gift the giver tells them what they love about them, and gives a blessing for the next year. As our family grows older our traditions change, but still hold deep meaning and exalt the Ultimate Gift Giver!

    1. Shannon January 3, 2018

      Andrea, thank you so much for sharing your traditions with us! What wonderful and creative ideas! May God bless you in all that you do! -Shannon

  5. Tiffanie December 29, 2017

    We love to attend the candle light service on Christmas Eve at our church. We start with one Candle being lit and watch the single light spread around the room to thousands of people to light the room. Celebrating the silent night when our Savior of the World was born. We also like to be pick a word for the year that we are believing in Christ for. Our family word this year is TRUST. Praying for all in the coming year. May 2018 bring Joy to your hearts.

  6. Maria December 25, 2017

    Karen I like yall’s tradiotn of baking a cake for Jesus birthday.Merry Christmas.

  7. Lilliana December 24, 2017

    My family does luminaries every Christmas Eve then we go to Christmas Eve candlelight service then before bed my mom always gives me a Christmas Eve present and me my mom and my aunt sleep in the guest room together and we have eggnog and fruit in the morning while doing stockings and then as of a couple years ago we find the Christmas pickle then open presents

  8. Penny December 23, 2017

    Living on the West Coast, we had a Christmas Eve tradition of eating fresh Dungeness crab. On Christmas morning we enjoyed cream cheese, lox and bagels.

  9. Ann H Flibotte December 22, 2017

    Our Christmas tradition was all about family. A tree, gifts and a meal and lots of fun together. Now that the Lord is with me Christmas is about the Lord.

  10. Erin December 21, 2017

    Our family has some really weird family traditions. From oyster stew on one side of the family to a thin potato soup with cheese and ham mix ins, our Christmas Eve always focuses on the food and family. Growing up, we had fiskerballers for Christmas day breakfast – a lightly fried cod ball served with a thick gravy, and we had grapefruit and pastries.

    Oh, and Mom and Dad always kept the good gifts for themselves. Santa gave us socks.

  11. Karen H December 21, 2017

    We bake a birthday cake for Jesus’ birthday every year at Christmas!

    1. Yvonne D Roeder December 27, 2017

      We also bake a Birthday Cake for Jesus and light a candle that looks like a star on the cake then sing “Happy Birthday Jesus” as a family every Christmas. This year my 18 yr old daughter made the cake bundt style but what I love is that this tradition is one she likes and more than likely when she marries and has children she will also do with her family and that is what makes it a real tradition.
      Yvonne from Kansas

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