Christmas traditions from around the world

Dec 02, 2020
As Canadians we are blessed to live in a country filled with people from all over the world, and we benefit from the incredible variety of food, music, and traditions that they bring. Have you ever wondered how your neighbour celebrates Christmas? We asked some sponsored children from several countries to share their holiday traditions.


A young mother with her four small children.Juliete and her four children live in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Julio Cézar and Paola Bello

Brazilians usually gather together with relatives and friends for a special dinner where everyone brings a plate of food and the meal is shared among all. It is a time marked by different sounds produced by a lot of music and the joy of children’s laughter as they play in anxious expectation of Santa Claus. In some of the communities where sponsored children live, the celebration can begin or end on the streets, which are adorned with many lights and a colourful glow. Children play, families hang out and the birth of Jesus is staged in front of a crib with people joyfully singing and dancing to Christmas songs.


A Cambodian girl holding a Christmas card.
Displaying her Christmas card, Channy is a 12-year-old sponsored child from Cambodia. Photo: Vanndeth Um

In this season, Cambodia celebrates the biggest and most important traditional festival. For 15 days, Cambodians come together to remember their ancestors through the generations. The first 14 days are called “Kann Ben” or “Dak Ben”, which means offering or giving. Day 15, the last day of the festival, is called “Phchum Ben”, which means to congregate or gather.

Dominican Republic

A boy and three girls from the Dominican Republic sitting on a red bench.From left to right, sponsored children Sadriel, Alaia, Yesmailin and Rebeca live in Alcarrizos Area Programme in the Dominican Republic. Photo: Claudia Martinez

The Dominican Republic celebrates this time of year with Christmas trees, stars, reindeers and other animals displayed on the streets. On Christmas Eve night they celebrate the Aguinaldo (caroling), where neighbours go door to door playing joyful traditional songs with local instruments, including the guira and tambora. People open their doors, enjoy songs and share ginger tea and cookies.


An Ecuadorian girl dances wearing a traditional outfit.

Sponsored child Yeisi exhibits her traditional Ecuadorian dance attire. Photo: Chris Huber

For Ecuadorians, family is very important, and they spend the holidays with the people they love the most. They gather in their homes and make a special meal for everyone to share. And then they dance!


Four school aged girls show Christmas crafts they made.Children registered in World Vision programs in Georgia prepare Christmas decorations. Photo: Felicia Carty

Christmas is a favourite time for children in Georgia – a time for good food, music and celebrating with family and friends. It is celebrated on January 7, according to the Julian calendar. Children and adults parade through villages, towns and cities wearing traditional red and white clothing or dressed up as shepherds and other figures from the nativity. This special parade is called “Alilo”. All through the streets you can hear people singing carols and celebrating. “Chichilaki”, the traditional Christmas tree, is carved from walnut trees into curly strands of wood. 


Three Haitian school aged girls smile and laugh.Youth laughing in a school in Haiti, which was rebuilt by World Vision and a local partner. Photo: Guy Vital-Herne

Christmas is such a special time in Haiti! In rural areas, families cut pine trees from the mountains and decorate them with bright ornaments. In towns and cities, people get Christmas trees at the market and create nativity scenes at their base. On Christmas Eve, children put straw in their shoes and leave them at the door or under the tree. They hope that Tonton Nwèl (Santa Claus) will remove the straw and put presents in and around their shoes.


Small boy standing in a elementary school classroom with colleagues in the background.Children playing at an education centre in Lebanon. Photo: George Mghames

On Christmas day in Lebanon, families come together to share a feast which usually includes kebbeh, a traditional and much-loved pie made of meat and burghul, as well as spiced rice and chicken. Coffee, mezze platters, sugared nuts and dates are consumed throughout the day. During this season, people perform a special traditional dance called the “dabkeh”, where they hold hands and dance in a circle, stamping to the music. Dancers dress up in brightly coloured clothes. In the villages, people make large bonfires, and everyone gathers to share stories and songs. There is a wonderful festive atmosphere of joy, family and friendship.


Seven children from Malawi embrace each other and smile.Aisha (third from the right) and friends celebrating Christmas in Malawi. Photo: Charles Kabena

Christmas is a day that children look forward to in Malawi, because of the excitement it brings to their lives. Families and friends gather together and enjoy good food, including chicken, rice, thobwa, (a local drink), and soft drinks. It is a day where children put on new clothes and go to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus. After church, children, their families and the entire community gather in the village square to enjoy traditional dances.


Four children wearing traditional clothes from Nicaragua sit on a boat.Sponsored children in Nicaragua wearing traditional attire used to celebrate holiday festivities. Photo: Elissa Webster

Christmas Eve is especially significant in Nicaragua. It is celebrated with a family dinner, the giving of small gifts like fruits or candies, and fireworks at midnight to celebrate Jesus' birth. Then ‘El Nino Jesus’ (Baby Jesus), leaves gifts on Christmas morning for the children. Christmas is a day of rest after all the celebration and festivities with family and neighbors the night before. 


A boy from Peru plays with blue balloons.Children in Peru participate in fun activities at a World Vision area project in Lima, Peru. Photo: Dennis Zevallos, Robay Libias, Sara Saenz

Christmas in Peru is a special time to celebrate with family, friends and community. Children typically gather together with their families to arrange the nativity scene, and then they dance the “huaylillas”, (a typical dance) around it. Afterwards, they share a traditional meal from the community that includes the traditional turkey as well as tamales, salads, applesauce and a sweet bread called Panetón or Panettone.


Two girls and a boy holding festive decorations stand on large rocks.Jandel, Emerlyn and Nicole say that children and their families in the Philippines usually have simple celebrations for Christmas. The three friends shared that the real essence of Christmas is to be with one's family and remember Jesus's love for His children. Photo: Lanelyn Carillo

Christmas is a celebration of every Filipino’s love of family. This love is expressed through the Noche Buena meals they eat together, the gifts they give each other and the celebration of the many blessings that they joyfully share.

So next time you see your neighbour, ask them how they celebrate Christmas. You may be delighted by the stories they share. From World Vision to you and yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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