Photo by Aaron Burden

Holiday Traditions Around the World

Holiday Traditions Around the World

Dec 1, 2017|Cultural| by Savanna Kearney

Everyone has traditions when it comes to the holiday season. Whether they’re just within your family or commonly practiced in a specific culture, traditions are an important part of this time of year. But what about holiday customs outside of the United States? Here are just a few of the traditions different cultures practice around the world.


If one Santa isn’t enough, why not have 13? In Iceland, homes are visited by 13 Yule Lads through 13 nights. Children leave a shoe in their bedroom window each night and if they’re good, a Yule Lad will leave them sweets and small gifts. But, if a child has been bad, the Yule Lad will leave rotting potatoes in their shoe. Each Yule Lad has specific characteristics and attributes (and specific foods and treats they like to steal from people’s homes). Related to this tradition is the Yule Cat, which isn’t as nice as it sounds. The Yule Cat, or the Jólakötturinn, is a towering beast that will supposedly eat children who haven’t received new clothes by Christmas.


Every December 7th at 6 p.m. sharp, Guatemalans take part in what is known as La Quema del Diablo, or Burning the Devil. They build bonfires outside of their homes and burn effigies of the devil in order to “purify” the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a religious holiday that takes place the next day. This tradition can be traced back to colonial times: it was commonplace to light lanterns, but poorer families started burning bonfires to celebrate the special occasion. This tradition has recently come under scrutiny from environmental groups, although the burning devils don’t seem to be going away any time soon.

South Africa

Besides the fact that it’s usually hot during the holidays, South Africa’s yuletide festivities are very similar to those in the United States. Although, many South Africans salute their colonial British heritage at Christmas dinner, complete with paper hats, mince pies and turkey. Malva pudding, a spongy apricot dessert is often served at dinner with either custard or ice cream. However, one scary story circulates among the holiday festivities about a boy named Danny: one Christmas he ate all of the cookies left out for Santa, and, as a result, his grandmother violently murdered him. His ghost is said to haunt the holidays to this day.


La Noche Buena, which takes place on Christmas Eve, is an important tradition in Cuba. It’s all about the food on this night, which can include black beans and rice, fried plantains, rice pudding, rum cake and an entire roasted pig cooked in a Caja China, a large box where the pig is cooked below hot coals. Families often play dominos on La Noche Buena. Another tradition, specific to the small town of Remedios, dates back to the 1800s. It was started when a local priest decided that the best way to get people to come to midnight Masses was to have children make as much noise as possible in the streets of Remedios. Today las Parrandas de Remedios festival consists of conga and rumba dancing, massive colorful parade floats, elaborate costumes, homemade rockets and spectacular fireworks for a week in the streets of the town. The city even splits into two teams, San Salvador and El Carmen, and compete on Christmas Eve to build the best float of lights.

Costa Rica

The Festival de le Luz is one of the biggest, brightest and most anticipated holiday events in Costa Rica.  Held in the streets of the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, the festival lasts from the second week of December all the way until January.  The Festival de la Luz includes a parade of brightly lit floats, masquerades, live music and fireworks. More than a million spectators come to experience this cultural holiday festival, both local and from around the world.