Christmas Eve traditions in 12 different countries around the world

Don Arnold/Getty Images
  • Christmas Eve traditions vary widely around the world.
  • Russians traditionally fast until evening on Christmas Eve.
  • In Germany, it’s tradition for people to eat potato salad and sausages on Christmas Eve.

Everyone has their own ChristmasEve traditions, whether it’s making cookies to leave out for Santa or having a feast that lasts until the early hours of Christmas Day.

Read on to see how much Christmas Eve traditions differ and take inspiration from countries across the globe.


The United States sets out cookies and milk for Santa.

Alex Wong/GettyOn Christmas Eve, it’s all about waiting for Santa to arrive.

In the US, families love to set out treats for Santa on Christmas Eve.

Most churches also hold candlight services or midnight mass, which often include reenactments of the Nativity.


Many Canadians open their presents on Christmas Eve.

Chris Wattie/Reuters and ShutterstockJustin Trudeau and a Christmas tree.
In Canada, families often open presents on Christmas Eve after mass. Others only open one and save the rest for Christmas Day.

Many French Canadians have a huge feast after Christmas Eve mass, called a Réveillon, which lasts into the wee hours of Christmas morning. According to Great British Chefs, traditionally, the meal consisted of meats butchered and prepared months ahead before winter, and today, Nova Scotian-lobster and scallops have been added to the menu.


Russians traditionally fast until evening on Christmas Eve.

ShutterstockA traditional Russian dish called kutya.

The fast typically lasts until after evening service or when the stars come out. After the fast, some might eat a traditional Russian dish called kutya. Kutya consists of grains, honey, and poppy seeds, shared from the same bowl to symbolise unity. No meat is allowed.

Oftentimes, a house blessing is also part of the Christmas Eve tradition – a priest will sprinkle holy water in each room and pray for everyone to have a safe and blessed year.


In England, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are more important than Christmas Eve.

Universal via YouTubeChristmas Eve is just the preamble.

In England, people often wait out Christmas Eve just to get to Christmas Day and Boxing Day. But as in many other countries, they will also often attend a church service or midnight mass.

On Christmas Eve, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast on the radio across the country (and globe) from King’s College Cambridge. The broadcast consists of a reading of nine Bible passages interspersed between modern and ancient hymns.


In Spain, families have a huge feast with their loved ones.

ShutterstockFestive Christmas dinner.

In Spain, Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena. As part of the celebration, many families have a huge meal together that typically centres around turkey, lamb, or seafood.

Catholics in Spain then might attend midnight mass, or Misa del Gallo, to celebrate the birth of Jesus with music consisting of guitars, hand drums, and tambourines.


In France, many families have their Christmas meal, called le Réveillon de Noël, on Christmas Eve.

ShutterstockChocolate Buche De Noël.

Similar to French Canadians, most families in France have a huge feast on Christmas Eve. The traditional dinner includes a meat such as duck or goose, as well as side dishes like foie gras and oysters. The meal ends with the Buche de Noël, a rolled sponge cake decorated to look like a Yule log.

Many Germans eat potato salad with sausage on Christmas Eve.

Thomas Lohnes/Getty ImagesFrankfurt Christmas Market At Römerberg.

The time between St. Martin’s Day on November 11 to Christmas Eve on December 24 was traditionally a time of fasting in Christianity, so German families ate something simple.

At night, the Christ Child, or Christkindl, brings toys rather than Santa.


Christmas Eve is one of the biggest shopping days of the year in China.

ShutterstockShopping in China.

According to China Daily, sales volume on Christmas Eve is its highest for the whole year.

Christmas apples wrapped in cellophane are a popular holiday gift in China, which is said to be because the word “apple” sounds similar to “Christmas Eve” in Mandarin.


Christmas Eve in Australia is in the peak of summer.

iStockPavlova

Whereas many picture Christmas as a cosy, snowy holiday, Australians experience Christmas in the middle of summer. Australians often have cold Christmas dinners, and on Christmas Eve, fish markets are packed with people hoping to stock up on seafood before the holiday. Apparently pavlova is also a must as a Christmas dessert.

Christmas Eve in Sweden is also the main day Christmas is celebrated.

ShutterstockStockholm, Sweden.

Christmas Eve is called Julafton in Swedish. Traditional Christmas Eve dinner, called julbord, usually includes a smorgasbord of ham, pork, or fish, and a variety of desserts. Among the foods on your Swedish Christmas table you might also find some lussekatters, popular Swedish saffron buns.


In Norway, families light a candle every night starting on Christmas Eve and ending on New Year’s Day.

ShutterstockThe candles often sit in the window.

Norwegians also often exchange presents on Christmas Eve. The gifts are brought by Santa Claus or by small gnomes called Nisse, folkloric characters historically responsible for the prosperity of the farm and family who began being thought of as the bearers of Christmas gifts in the mid 19th century.


Iceland has a tradition called Yule Book Flood, in which you give your loved ones books to read on Christmas Eve.

JGA/ShutterstockWhat’s cozier than curling up with a good book on Christmas Eve?

Iceland’s tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve then spending the evening reading them is bringing readerly inspiration to the world. The holiday season starts off with the delivery of the Bokatidindi, which is a catalogue of every single book published in Iceland. The tradition began in during WWII. Paper was one of the few commodities not rationed, and Icelanders could induldge in their love of books (and in giving books as gifts) as they weren’t in short supply.

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