How to celebrate Christmas while abroad.

How to celebrate Christmas while abroad.
Photo by Fer Troulik / Unsplash

Christmas is a magical time of year, it brings people together in unique ways. But Christmas is not a cookie cutter tradition that looks the same the World over. Each culture has it's own unique and special way of celebrating. Some center around religious beliefs, and others are just focused on family time and gifts.

If you plan on celebrating Christmas abroad this year, it may help you to get to know the traditions and activities that the locals participate in. This will help to educate you which will ensure you remain respectful of other customs and offers you the opportunity to fully partake in the events.

So lets have a look at some traditions that you encounter on your travels:


Locals in Bali celebrate a tradition called Ngejot (which means Giving). On Christmas Day, locals make food for their neighbors deliver it in unique containers which are carroed on their heads. The tradition is a gesture of gratitude as well as a means of sharing good fortune.

Christians in Bali hang hand made decorations outside their houses called Penjor. These decorations are made of plaited young coconut leaves and are hung from the pieces of bamboo.


The Swedish Gävle Goat is a giant goat made out of straw. The goat stands 42 ft high and is erected on the first Sunday of Advent until after the New Year when it's taken down. But there's a twist... In recent years a new, unofficial tradition has begun, of people trying to burn down the goat. So far it has gone up in flames 29 times. The goat is so popular, it even has it's own social media accounts and webcam.


The Japanese tend to do things a bit differently over December. Firstly, Christmas Eve is considered the romantic holiday of the year (a lot like Valentine's Day) where couples give each other gifts and visit expensive restaurants. Christmas Day is a relaxed affair with parties and merry making. New Year's Day is considered the religious holiday, where families congregate and visit the temple.

A fun thing to look out for is the Japanese Christmas cake or kurisumasu keki which is extremely popular. These cakes are made from a light sponge cake and topped with whipped cream and fresh cut strawberries.

In recent years, another tradition that has grown is KFC. On Christmas Day, Millions of families order KFC for their Christmas meals. It's become so popular that orders for the special Christmas menu are taken weeks in advance.


Día de las Velitas or Day of the little candles is held on the first day of the Christmas season throughout Colombia. The traditions started with people lighting small candles and paper lanterns and placing them in their window sills as a way to honor the Vigin Mary. Today, the tradition has grown to engulf entire towns and cities in elaborate displays. The town of Quimbaya is particularly well known for it's impressive displays.

South Africa

There are many different cultures in South Africa so Christmas is celebrated in many different ways. However, there are a few general activities that are common throughout. To mark the start of the holiday season, many towns hold Carols by Candlelight events which involves local choirs singing Christmas carols for the crowds followed by a tree lighting ceremony. These events are usually in aid of charity and are well supported.

Christmas Day looks very different for each family in S.A. but the 2 most common ways to celebrate are either very formal or extremely laid back. If you are going for the laid back approach, you can expect a meal of cold meats and salads or the ever-popular braai, followed by time at the beach or river. The more formal affair would involve a midnight mass at a church of your choice, and a 3 course formal meal which would most likely include a roast Turkey, Ham or Chicken. No matter which approach you choose, you can expect plenty of gifts, family visits and time on the beach of course!