How to celebrate christmas

More and more people are drawn to the south over Christmas: relaxing under palm trees at 30 degrees, gazing out over blue seas and cloudless skies is more attractive to them than staying at home in the cold. But many people don’t want to give up Christmas traditions they have grown fond of. How can vacationers celebrate familiar rituals even in the south?? And what are the customs of other peoples?

Canary Islands: palm trees and fir trees

Christmas tree in front of the city hall in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

(Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa)

Oh palm tree or oh fir tree – on the Canary Islands both are possible. Traditionally, the Canarios rather decorate palm trees or rubber trees at Christmas. Vacationers who do not want to do without a fir tree, will find at least in the tourist centers. In addition to plastic trees, even imported Nordmann firs are now available, often pre-decorated. If you want to decorate your own tree, you will find a wide selection of Christmas decorations from the beginning of December onwards.

In the tourist centers, German bakeries offer treats such as gingerbread and cinnamon stars, even when it’s 25 degrees in the shade. Many hotels have adapted to their German guests and decorated for Christmas, offer cookie baking for children and a festive Christmas dinner with lights and carols.

Italy: Christmas tree on 25. December

The Italians love Christmas as a family celebration – and celebrate it three times over. In the Alps, the St. Nicholas festival kicks off the festivities. Christmas proper is celebrated throughout the country on 25. December – with a gift-giving ceremony for the children early in the morning. The finale will take place on 6. January, when the good witch La Befana once again gives presents to the children: Good children get presents, naughty ones get sweets. Already on the eve, however, precautions are taken: children hang their stockings on the chimney or window and provide something to eat for La Befana.

Several Befanas, here in Venice: it brings on the 6. Gifts again.


When it comes to decorations, the Christian country is divided: Either a fir tree or a nativity scene stands in the living room. In addition, the country listens to the traditional Christmas message of the Pope in Rome with his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

Iceland: 13 cheeky trolls are coming

The Christmas season in Iceland begins 13 days before Christmas Eve: until 24. December then comes every day a so-called Christmas journeyman. According to tradition, they are known for their naughtiness – each of the 13 Christmas journeymen represents a different prank. According to legend, this is how KertasnIkir steals the candlelight on Christmas Eve. But the trolls also bring small gifts to the children if they have been good. The naughty children, on the other hand, get nothing or only a raw potato. As with the German Nikolaus, the gifts are hidden in shoes.

On Christmas Eve, Icelanders first remember the deceased by visiting the cemetery. At 6 p.m., the church bells will ring in the Christmas night. Incidentally, conifers as Christmas trees have only been around since the 1960s – due to a lack of fir trees, wooden frames were painted green in the past.

Mexico: Blindfolded beat the deadly sins

The Christmas season begins here on 16. December with the ‘Posadas’ – nine evenings that represent the pregnancy of Mary, the mother of God, and the search for shelter with Joseph. Typical of these celebrations with family and friends is the pinata, a papier-mâche figure filled with candy, fruit or small toys. Everybody hits it with a stick. Christmas Eve is the ninth Posada: You go to church, then it is dinner and presents.

Pinatas come in all shapes – the main thing is colorful.

(Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa)

Traditional decoration is the Christmas star (Nochebuena). In the Cancun/Playa del Carmen vacation region, the U.S. influence can be felt: Santa Claus and Christmas lights can be seen everywhere. In the hotels real Christmas trees are set up, only the snowmen outside are made of plastic. Also the day of the three kings on 6. January (Reyes Magos or Santos Reyes) is still celebrated in a big way.

Australia: Public Singing instead of Public Viewing

In Australia, Christmas falls in early summer: no wonder Santa is often too warm and occasionally prefers swimming trunks. On some beaches he arrives on water skis or on a surfboard for the gift-giving ceremony. Australians spend the Christmas season mainly outdoors – playing cricket or swimming. On Christmas Eve, many families move the feast, traditionally roast turkey and plum pudding, into the garden, and on Christmas Day many are drawn to the beach for a picnic or barbecue – equipped with inflatable Christmas trees.

But even friends of lights and Co. In the Cape Malay culture, Christmas is a time for people to get their money’s worth: towns are festively lit, homeowners compete for the best Christmas decorations, and the ingredients for Christmas cookies are readily available – as are strawberries, which are in season.

White sand instead of white snow: Christmas on the beach – here in Bondi Beach, Sydney.

(Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa)

Most cities and towns organize evening gatherings with concerts and the singing of Christmas carols together – Public Singing instead of Public Viewing. The biggest event takes place in Melbourne: Thousands of people gather in the city, sit on blankets, light candles and sing Christmas carols. Instead of Santa Claus, the children wait for "Father Christmas" – many on the beach, because he likes to come on a surfboard.

As a domestic decoration is a "Christmas bush" typical. There are several plants to choose from, tradition is that they should be grown in Australia and bear red or white flowers. In addition to the Christmas tree and socks by the fireplace, sweet pastries are a must. A coin is found in the Christmas pudding – in the days of the gold rush about 160 years ago, it was a gold piece.

South Africa: Christmas trees made of plastic or wire

Even in South Africa, Santa Claus works up quite a sweat in midsummer temperatures. The multi-ethnic country has a variety of Christmas traditions, many of which are familiar to German travelers. Christmas trees are widely used, although instead of fir trees, baobab trees or plastic and wire trees are more common. They are artfully decorated with European Christmas tree ornaments or figurines made of glass beads. Also for many South Africans a feast in the circle of the family may not be missing at Christmas. They can choose between a traditional feast in the living room, such as turkey, or a barbecue on the beach.

A street vendor in Johannesburg with wire Christmas trees and Santa masks.


But South Africa is home to many other cultures. The four main cultures are Zulu, Xhosa, Cape Malay and Afrikaans. For the Zulus, Christmas is called Ukrisimusi. The village chief slaughters on the 24. December an ox or a sheep. The animal is prepared by the women, the whole village then celebrates on 25. December. Everyone brings salad or milli-pap (corn porridge). Home-brewed beer is drunk.

The Xhosa also slaughter sheep, pigs or chickens on Christmas Day (Ikresmesi). Children go from door to door asking for sweets – like at Halloween. On 25. December is the real Christmas: People get up before dawn and greet the day at their doorstep with a loud "Happy Christmas". Hosts go door to door inviting neighbors, friends and family to a big feast.

In Cape Malay culture, spring cleaning is the order of the day in December: the house gets a new coat of paint inside and out, curtains are replaced, new clothes and bedding are bought. On the 24. December, people decorate the Christmas tree after going to church, gifts are given on 25. December. For the main meal we have Christmas ham and for dessert fruit cake.

The Afrikaans give themselves already on 24. December, the actual Christmas day is the following day. People like to celebrate outside at a barbecue. The women have the day off and the men take care of the food prepared by the women.

India: huge nativity scenes and coconut pastries

Christmas is celebrated mainly by Catholics, who make up about 30 percent of India’s population and mostly live in the Goa region. Two weeks before the feast, children walk through the villages with Christmas hats on their heads and sing Jingle Bells. This sounds more bad than good, but is always funny. They wish each other "Merry Christmas" with a handshake and ask for small change or sweets.

Sadhu and Santa Claus at the Ganges in Allahabad.


In many villages, nativity scenes are built that glow and sparkle and in which things move – even small streams of water. Some are huge, you can walk inside. However, the works of art, which also address critical issues such as waste disposal, are not unveiled until the 24th of December. December after the midnight mass. The most beautiful three structures receive a cash prize, people travel across the country to admire them.

One day before Christmas, illuminated stars are hung inside and colorful fairy lights outside. A colorful sight in the otherwise barely lit streets. For snacking, there are fried sweets made of coconut, flour and sugar. This "Niorios and "Kormolas" are also distributed to relatives and friends.

Celebrating like at home

Thanks to globalization, stores around the world are now decorated for Christmas and "jingle bells" are heard around the globe. Even those traveling to a country without its own Christmas tradition, such as Thailand, do not usually have to do without a touch of the familiar Christmas atmosphere. But if you want to celebrate like in Germany, you should bring cinnamon stars, Christmas tree and decorations from home. Some airlines offer to transport Christmas trees free of charge to help out.

Tip for travelers with Christmas luggage: To ensure that the Christmas tree and all the goodies actually arrive at the vacation destination, vacationers should find out about the import regulations at their destination before starting their trip. In some countries the import of food is forbidden or strictly limited.

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