Christmas in Australia: Facts About Australian Christmas Traditions

Although only around fifty percent of Australians identify as Christian, Christmas is still an important celebration in Australia. Here are some facts and information about how Christmas is celebrated Down Under.

Christmas tree on an Australian beach

Australian Christmas Traditions

  • As in other countries in the world, Christmas in Australia is celebrated on 25th December. But unlike many European countries where Christmas time is during the winter, in Australia, Christmas falls during the summer.
  • One of the most popular Australian Christmas traditions is to have a barbecue with friends and family. This is sometimes done at the beach, but more often takes place in a backyard or garden.
  • Although many Australian Christmas decorations are similar to those seen in European or North American households, some feature native Australian plants and flowers, for example, the eucalyptus and the flannel flower.
  • Outdoor Christmas lights and displays are commonplace in Australia, and it’s common for neighborhoods to hold competitions to celebrate the houses with the best decorations.
  • Christmas caroling is a popular Australian Christmas tradition, and organised caroling events are often held in churches and schools.
  • Families and friends commonly exchange gifts on Christmas Day.
  • Although Christmas Day is Australia’s main day of celebration, Christmas Eve (the day before Christmas) is often marked with a special meal or party. As in the UK and US, children are encouraged to leave out a glass of sherry and a mince pie (or similar foods and drinks) for Santa Claus.
  • In recent years, Secret Santa gift exchanges, where each person is assigned to buy a gift for someone else and the identity of the gift giver is kept secret until the gift is opened, have become more popular, especially among groups of friends or work colleagues.
  • Christmas Day is an Australian public holiday, and people often spend the day relaxing at home with their families or going to the beach.
  • At Christmas time many Australians think about those less fortunate than themselves. On Christmas Day many Australians donate their time or money to charities or local organisations.

Australian Christmas Food

  • Just like in the UK, one of the most popular traditional Christmas foods in Australia is roast turkey, served with stuffing, gravy, roast potatoes and, roasted vegetables.
  • Another popular Christmas dish is glazed ham, sometimes served with pineapple, cherries, and mustard.
  • Prawns (called shrimp in the US) are a popular choice for a Christmas seafood dish, and they are often served as a starter or as part of a seafood platter. They are often a key part of a traditional Australian Christmas barbeque.
  • Pavlova (a dessert made with a meringue base and topped with whipped cream and fruit) is a traditional Australian Christmas dessert.
  • Mince pies (small pastry-encased tarts filled with a mixture of dried fruit and spices) are also popular at Christmas time in Australia, as is fruitcake, sometimes served with a glass of sherry or port.
  • Another popular Australian Christmas dessert is plum pudding. This is made with dried fruit, nuts, and spices and is a very rich pudding. It is often referred to as Christmas pudding and is usually served with brandy butter or cream.
  • Snags, a type of sausage, are often cooked on an Australian Christmas barbeque.
  • Lamingtons, small chocolate-coated sponge cake squares rolled in coconut, are a popular Australian Christmas treat.

Australian Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets have become more popular in Australia in the last few years. Featuring stalls selling a range of Christmas foods, decorations, and handmade festive items, they often also feature live entertainment, such as carol-singing performances.
Some of the largest Christmas Markets in Australia include the German Christmas Market in Adelaide, the Sydney Christmas Market (held at Martin Place), the Melbourne Christmas Market (at Fed Square), and the Perth Christmas Market (at Forrest Place).

Other Australian Christmas Traditions and Facts

  • The Australian Children’s Christmas Carols Competition is a popular event held every year since 1957. It is a national contest for children to perform Christmas carols, and it is televised on Christmas Eve.
  • The Boxing Day Test is an annual cricket match held on 26th December at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It has become a popular tradition for many Australians and is often watched on television in many of the country’s households.
  • Christmas bush (also known as bottlebrush) is a popular Christmas plant in Australia, and it is often used in Christmas decorations.
  • The Christmas beetle, a type of brightly colored scarab beetle that is common in Australia in the weeks around Christmas, is often associated with an Australian Christmas.
  • “Merry Christmas, mate!” is a typical Australian festive greeting.
Decorated Australian Christmas tree on a sandy beach

Christmas in Portugal: Facts About Portuguese Christmas Traditions

According to numbers published by the Pew Research Center in 2021, more than 75% of the population of Portugal identifies as Roman Catholic. As a result, Christmas is celebrated throughout Portugal, and many Portuguese Christmas traditions have developed over the years.

Christmas Presents in Portugal

  • Santa or Father Christmas is known as Pai Natal in Portugal, and unlike in the UK and the US, he is said to bring children presents to be opened on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. Pai Natal leaves Christmas gifts under the Christmas tree or in shoes placed by the fireplace.
  • Some people in Portugal say that Christmas presents are brought by the Baby Jesus and not Pai Natal (Father Christmas).

Traditional Christmas Food in Portugal

  • The traditional Christmas meal in Portugal is called Consoada. It is eaten by families on Christmas Eve, and it includes cod (bacalhau), green vegetables, boiled potatoes, and boiled eggs.
  • Sometimes this meal is accompanied by octopus and shellfish. In some Portuguese households, turkey is eaten during the Christmas period.
  • Popular Portuguese Christmas desserts include Lampreia de ovos (an egg-based dessert served in the shape of a fish), rice pudding, and Filhos (dough balls flavored and decorated with fruit).
  • The traditional Christmas cake of Portugal is known as Bolo Rei (King Cake). A gift and a broad bean are often hidden in the middle of the cake. The finder of the gift is allowed to keep it, but the finder of the broad bean must either make or pay for next year’s Bolo Rei.
  • Portuguese families eat Portuguese biscuits (azevias) and sweets (felhozes) around Christmas, and the adults drink port, wine, and ginjinha (an alcoholic drink made from sour cherries). Sweet oval-shaped biscuits called broas de natal are also popular. These are made from sweet potatoes, almonds, and sugar.
  • At Christmas time, many Portugeuse tables are decorated with azevinho (holly).

Portuguese Christmas Church Services

  • After their Christmas Eve meal, many Portuguese families attend the midnight Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster) service at their local church. During the service, an image of the baby Jesus is presented and placed in the church’s nativity scene. Once the service has concluded, people return home to open their presents.
  • Many families have two present opening sessions, one directly after the Missa do Galo service, and another one on Christmas Day.

Christmas Decorations in Portugal

  • The Christmas nativity scene (Presepio) is an incredibly important part of a Portuguese Christmas. Some family nativity decoration sets include dozens of figures and animals, and they are added to by using moss and other natural elements to add detail to the scene.
  • In some households, presents are not to be opened until the baby Jesus figure has been placed into the nativity scene.
  • Many shops incorporate nativity scenes into their window displays, and local communities install giant ones along roadsides and on roundabouts. Live nativity scenes are also common, and they are a key part of the Christmas celebrations in communities all over the country.
  • In 2012, the town of San Paio de Oleiros set a world record for the largest moving nativity scene.
  • Although not a traditional part of Christmas celebrations in Portugal, since the 1970s Christmas trees have become much more commonplace.

Other Christmas Traditions in Portugal

  • In Braga on Christmas Eve people celebrate by eating bananas and drinking glasses of muscatel.
  • Obidos was the home to Portugal’s first Christmas Village, but now more and more towns and villages are hosting their own Christmas markets. In Lisbon, the biggest one is located in Eduardo VII.
  • In some parts of Portugal such as Guarda and Castelo Branco, large outdoor communal fires are lit on Christmas Eve, giving the community a chance to get together and wish each other a happy Christmas.
  • It is claimed that the Christmas tree in the city of Viana do Castelo is the largest one in Europe.
  • Christmas celebrations officially end in Portugal on 6th January.

Christmas in Argentina: Facts About Argentinian Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Argentinian Christmas traditions, celebrations and customs.

  • Christmas in Argentina is a popular holiday, which starts in early December, and lasts until Epiphany on January 6th. It is a blend of European, Hispanic and American traditions.

  • Many celebrations take place on Christmas Eve. Most Argentinians are Catholics and attending Midnight Mass on December 24th is an important part of celebrating the holiday.
  • The main Christmas meal is enjoyed on Christmas Eve, often late at night. Roast turkey, roast pork or goat is popular, as is salad, and a selection of festive breads and cakes.
  • One of the most popular desserts during Christmas in Argentina is pan dulce. This sweet bread is stuffed with nuts, raisins and dried fruit and enjoyed all through the season.
  • Barbecues and picnics are popular at Christmas, as it is summer in Argentina. Many restaurants are also open on Christmas Day, and offer a special seasonal menu, as well as live music.
  • Many Argentinians enjoy fireworks on Christmas Eve, as well as globos. These are traditional paper decorations with lights inside them, which are released in to the night to float away.
  • Houses are often decorated with wreaths of coloured flowers, and red and white garlands hung in doorways. Cotton balls are often hung from the Christmas tree to represent snow.
  • An important decoration in many homes and churches during Christmas in Argentina is a traditional nativity scene, or pesebre. It is usually placed close to the Christmas tree.
  • Children are usually given their presents on January 6th, a day known as Three Kings Day. The custom is to leave shoes outside the door, filled with water and hay for the Wise Men’s horses.
  • Most people in Argentina don’t give or send Christmas cards. Christmas presents are usually only given to family and close friends.

What next? Visit our Christmas Around the World page to find out how Christmas is celebrated in other countries.

Christmas in New Zealand: Facts About New Zealand Traditions

Here are some facts about the Christmas traditions, celebrations and customs of New Zealand.

  • Like nearby Australia, Christmas in New Zealand occurs right in the middle of the summer. As a result, many people like to go camping or spend Christmas on the beach with friends.

  • Many New Zealanders decorate their own unique Christmas tree, the Pohutukawa. The tree has bright red flowers and is often shown on the country’s Christmas cards.
  • Christmas cards in New Zealand often feature other symbols of the country, rather than the usual wintry scenes. These include tattooed Maori warriors, kiwis and native plants.
  • Barbecues are popular for Christmas dinner because of the hot weather. Grilled ham, venison or fish is common, as well as desserts including fruit salad, meringues and ice cream.
  • A popular gift at Christmas in New Zealand is a pair of jandals, a shoe that is a combination of sandals and flip-flops. Father Christmas is often shown as wearing sandals.
  • Santa comes down the chimney, visits homes and delivers gifts on Christmas Eve, as in the UK and the US. Children often leave a carrot for the reindeer and some pineapple chunks for Santa.
  • The window display at Smith and Caughey’s department store in Auckland is a popular sight at Christmas. The display often features animated puppets and traditional New Zealand music.
  • Also popular is the Santa parade in Auckland. It has taken place since 1934, and today attracts over 250,000 people who watch the almost 300 floats make their way through the city.
  • The first store Santa appeared at in New Zealand was in 1894. In 1960, Farmers department store in Auckland began the tradition of constructing an 18 metre high Santa outside the store every Christmas.
  • Singing seasonal songs and carols in church is popular during Christmas in New Zealand. However, the words have been changed on some Christmas songs to reflect a sunny and hot weather.

What next? Visit our Christmas Around the World page to discover how people from other countries celebrate Christmas.

Christmas in Belgium: Facts About Belgian Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Belgian Christmas traditions, customs and celebrations.

  • Christmas in Belgium includes some traditions from nearby Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

  • Visiting Christmas markets is popular, and people buy presents, decorations and seasonal food and drink.
  • Children in Belgium are visited by two Santas — Santa Claus and St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas arrives first on Christmas Eve and children who have been bad are given stones and twigs.
  • Children leave their shoes in front of the fireplace, rather than hang up a stocking. St. Nicholas is said to have a horse, rather than reindeer, so a carrot is often left.
  • The main Christmas meal is usually eaten on Christmas Eve. Seafood is popular, along with a Christmas cake in the shape of a yule log, and plenty of red wine.
  • Venison, boar and rabbit dishes are also popular at Christmas time in Belgium. Deep fried sweet dumplings are also enjoyed over the holiday, as well as sweet bread shaped like the baby Jesus.
  • Chocolate advent calendars are popular, as well as advent calendars made from flowers and branches.
  • Belgian Christmas wreaths traditionally have four candles, and one is lit each week in the four weeks leading up to Christmas.
  • Nativity scenes are popular Belgium. Many churches have a ‘real’ nativity scene with live oxen, donkeys and sheep and regular performances by the local choir.
  • Brussels has a wonderful Christmas market over the holidays. Over 250 stalls are packed into one of the city’s squares, selling chocolates, baked goods, mulled wine, and Christmas decorations.
  • Belgium is proud of its chocolate, and special Christmas chocolates are filled with nuts, cream or liquor. Belgians also drink a lot of its more than 600 varieties of beer during the holiday season.
  • As in other countries, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th. Children dress up as the three Wise Men and go from door to door, asking for money or treats, and singing.

What next? Learn more about Belgium, or visit our Christmas Around the World page to discover how Christmas is celebrated in other countries.

Christmas in Malta: Facts About Maltese Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Maltese Christmas customs, traditions and celebrations.

  • Christmas in Malta is celebrated all over the country’s three main islands. Children receive gifts on Christmas morning, and most people attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

  • A child aged between 7 and 10 usually gives the sermon on midnight mass, instead of the priest. It’s considered a great honour, and children rehearse for weeks ahead of time.
  • The British ruled Malta for over 150 years, and many British foods are now popular during Christmas in Malta. These include a turkey with stuffing, Christmas pudding and a rich Christmas cake.
  • Cribs were introduced into Malta during the early 17th century and have been popular ever since. At Christmas, mechanical moving figures in cribs are popular in many churches.
  • The Friends of the Crib Society was founded in 1986 to keep the tradition of cribs alive. The society has an exhibition of hundreds of different cribs during the month of December.
  • Maltese people decorate their homes with wreaths, candles and lights. Some homes place a large figure of the baby Jesus in a window or on a balcony, and surround it with lights.
  • About five weeks before Christmas, many Maltese people plant seeds on cotton buds. On Christmas Day, the shoots from the seeds are used to decorate the family crib.
  • Most children take part in a school concert during the Christmas season. Children act and sing, recite poetry, and exchange gifts, often donating money to charity at the same time.
  • Spending time with family is an important part of Christmas for Maltese people. Family reunions are common on Christmas Day, and these gatherings often last most of the day.
  • Christmas parades have been popular in Malta on Christmas Eve since the 1920s. People dress in period clothing, sing and sometimes  carry a life size statue of the baby Jesus through the streets.

What next? Visit our Christmas Around the World section to discover how Christmas is celebrated in other countries.

Christmas in Canada: Facts About Canadian Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Canadian Christmas celebrations, customs and traditions.

  • Christmas in Canada has many different customs and traditions because of the country’s diverse population. Most people celebrate on December 25th.

  • The Santa Claus parade has been held every Christmas in Toronto since 1905. Almost 1,800 people take part in the parade, and about 500,000 people line the parade route.
  • Every Christmas, homes in Labrador City in Newfoundland have a Christmas lights competition. Homeowners also try to outdo each other with huge ice sculptures and light displays in their gardens.
  • Also popular is the festival of lights at Niagara Falls. The waterfalls are decorated with over 2 million lights, and visitors can also enjoy concerts and fireworks over the falls.
  • Turkey or ham is the traditional Christmas meal for most English speaking Canadians. Other popular seasonal foods include mince pies, plum pudding and a rich Christmas fruit cake.
  • Attending midnight mass is customary among French speaking Canadians, as well as attending feasts on Christmas Eve. A stew made from pigs’ feet is a traditional Christmas meal in parts of Quebec.
  • Every year, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia gives a Christmas tree to the US city of Boston. The tree is in appreciation for help given by Boston residents after a ship exploded in Halifax in 1917.
  • Mummering is a popular tradition at Christmas in Canada, in parts of Newfoundland. Children go from door to door, sing and dance, and are given snacks and a drink.
  • Cookie, or biscuit baking parties are very popular in Canada around Christmas. Cookies are baked and recipes are exchanged, and each person at the party leaves with a selection of cookies.
  • In Quebec, people celebrate Epiphany on January 6th. One tradition is baking a cake with a bean in it, and whoever finds the bean is named the king or queen of the feast.

What next? Visit our Christmas Around the World section to discover how Christmas is celebrated in other countries.

Christmas in Greece: Facts About Greek Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Greek Christmas celebrations, traditions and customs.

  • Christmas in Greece comes with many old traditions and plenty of festivities. Most towns and villages like to decorate with lots of lights, bells and angels.

  • Roast pork is the traditional Christmas meal during Christmas in Greece. Also popular is bread called Christopsomo that has a cross design baked into it and is eaten after Christmas dinner.
  • On January 1st, a popular baked snack is a cake called Vasilopita. Pieces are cut for the Virgin Mary, Christ and Saint Vasileios and finding the hidden coin in the cake brings good luck.
  • Greeks believe that ugly goblins enter their house to eat food and tease people during the Christmas period. Many homes keep a fire going for 12 days to keep the goblins out.
  • In some areas a pomegranate is hung in the doorway of the home. During New Year, smashing the dried fruit, stamping on it and then entering the house brings good luck.
  • Many Greeks wrap basil around a wooden cross, instead of having a Christmas tree. During Christmas, the cross is dipped in water each day and sprinkled around the home to keep evil spirits away.
  • Singing carols is popular, especially on the three official carol days, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and January 5th. Children visit homes, singing, playing a triangle and asking for money.
  • One of Europe’s tallest Christmas trees is planted each year in Syntagma Square in Athens. The ceremony of the lighting of the tree is accompanied by music and dancing.
  • In Greek tradition, St. Nicholas is also said to protect sailors. Fishing boats are decorated with blue and white lights, and the Greek navy performs a concert dedicated to Father Christmas.
  • During Epiphany on January 6th, priests bless the waters, and the ships sailing on them. Ships blow their whistles in thanks, and on land church bells are rung.

What next? Find out more about Greece, visit our Christmas Around the World page, or discover some facts about the Ancient Greeks.

Christmas in Switzerland: Facts About Swiss Christmas Traditons

Here are some facts about Swiss Christmas traditions, celebrations and customs.

  • Many Swiss Christmas traditions have similarities with the Christmas customs of their neighbours –France, Germany and Italy. Festivities usually begin on Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve.

  • Advent calendars are popular in which a cardboard flap is opened every day leading up to Christmas.
  • Real Christmas trees are popular in many homes during Christmas in Switzerland. Hiking through the forest to find the perfect tree is often an important part of the Christmas celebrations.
  • Many people light real candles on the tree on Christmas Eve, and again at New Year to bring good luck. Children often open presents while the candles are being lit, as is the custom.
  • Father Christmas is known as Samichlaus and he usually visits on Epiphany, January 6th. In some parts of Switzerland, the Three Kings are said to bring gifts on that day too.
  • Some villages celebrate the coming of Father Christmas on December 5th. In some areas, people ring bells, play musical instruments and wear a large lace and cardboard bishop’s hat.
  • Parades and processions are popular during Christmas in Switzerland. During New Year, people march through villages, wearing masks and costumes and making as much noise as they can.
  • The traditional holiday meal, eaten on Christmas Eve, is ham with scalloped potatoes and melted cheese. Walnut cake is usually eaten for dessert, and most families make lots of holiday biscuits.
  • The winter sports season in Switzerland traditionally starts on Christmas Day, and many people go skiing or sledding. The week between Christmas Day and New Year is usually spent visiting family and friends.
  • Some Swiss believe that animals were given the power to talk on the first Christmas. Many farm animals are given extra food on Christmas Eve to thank them for their part in the birth of Jesus.

What next? Learn more about Switzerland, or visit our Christmas Around the World section to discover how Christmas in celebrated in other countries.

Christmas in Scotland: Facts About Scottish Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Scottish Christmas traditions, customs and celebrations.

  • Christmas in Scotland was actually banned in the 17th for religious reasons. Until the early 20th century, Christmas was celebrated quietly and discreetly. Today, it is widely celebrated, along with the Scottish New Year, called Hogmanay.

  • Many Scots practice ‘first footing’ on New Year’s Eve. The first person to enter the home after midnight should be male, dark and carry a traditional gift of shortbread or whisky.
  • Edinburgh, Glasgow and other large cities all hold large Hogmanay celebrations, with bonfires and fireworks. In some years, almost 400,000 people crowd the streets of Edinburgh on New Year ‘s Eve.
  • Some Scots believe in keeping a fire going all through Christmas to keep away evil spirits. Mistletoe hung from the ceiling or in doorways is also said to keep evil spirits out and bring good fortune.
  • A traditional dinner at Christmas in Scotland includes broth, smoked salmon, turkey and Christmas pudding. Bannock cakes, made from oatmeal are also popular during the festive season.
  • Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day, is also a public holiday in Scotland. Tradesmen and servants were once given Christmas boxes or gifts, which is probably where the name came from.
  • Burning the branches of a Rowan tree is a popular Scottish Christmas custom. It is thought that any bad feelings among friends or families are removed as the wood is consumed by the fire, to ensure a happy year ahead.
  • In some parts of Scotland, Christmas Eve is also known as Sowans Nicht. The name may come from a dish of oat husks and water, known as sowans.
  • Fire is an important part of Christmas in Scotland. Some Scots dance around a bonfire on Christmas Day, and in Burghead, residents take turns to carry a huge burning barrel on their head.
  • The Scottish enjoy watching pantomimes, which are traditional British plays performed at Christmas They are often based on a fairy tale, have childish humour and lots of audience participation.

What next? Learn more about Scotland, or visit our Christmas Around the World page.