Global holiday traditions

Words by Quintessentially

17 December 2021


We check in with our various offices around the world to hear how they traditionally celebrate the holiday season.

As a global business, we are lucky to be exposed to diverse traditions and experiences. Constantly curious, we wanted to hear how some of our other locations typically celebrate the holiday season. Here's a selection of responses. And from us, at Quintessentially's London headquarters, we wish you all a very merry Christmas.

Australia – Happy Holidays

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Holiday foods: Prawns on the barbie

'Australian Christmas takes place during our summer, so it's obviously a very different atmosphere to the Northern Hemisphere! It can get very hot on Christmas Day, so people love to be outside in the sun. On Christmas morning, you can usually witness 'Surfing Santas' at major beaches like Bondi.'

Belgium – Vrolijk Kerstfeest

Holiday foods: Hot wine, hot chocolate with peket, tartiflette

'Dutch Christmas tradition revolves around food. We eat speculoos and marzipan, tartiflette – raclette cheese on potatoes with bacon – and drink peket, a liqueur from Liège that comes in many flavours. Also, the 6th December celebrates Saint-Nicolas, wherein children receive gifts, sweets and clementines. We love Christmas markets, too!'

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Croatia – Sretan Božić

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Holiday foods: Dried cod

'In Croatia, we plant young wheat on St Lucia's Day, 13th December, to allow it to grow by Christmas – we use it as a decoration, and it's believed to bring good luck in the coming year. Zagreb hosts amazing Christmas markets, and we typically enjoy dried cod on Christmas Eve that has been prepared over several days by soaking in water and beating it to soften.'

Denmark – God Jul

Holiday foods: Roast pork and duck, boiled potatoes, cabbage and gravy, risalamande

'Danish Christmas is very much about candles! One is the Advent wreath, with four candles for each Sunday in December. The other is the calendar candle, marked with 24 lines and burned a bit each day. We also enjoy risalamande – a big rice pudding topped with cherry sauce.'

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Dubai – عيد ميلاد مجيد

'Many families in Dubai follow western Christmas traditions… We have become known for our amazing outdoor Christmas markets. As the season approaches, it brings the best weather of the entire year. Families love to gather and shop outside, enjoying the perfect conditions.'

Egypt – عيد ميلاد مجيد

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Holiday foods: Fattah, kahk, gingerbread

'Most Egyptian Christians are Coptic Orthodox, meaning they celebrate on 7th January. Having fasted for a month, families gather on Christmas Eve to attend midnight mass and share a feast, oft featuring fattah – chunks of meat on rice, topped with bread soaked in broth and a very garlicky dressing. We also love kahk, crumbly biscuits coated in powdered sugar, and many families follow western Christmas traditions as well.'

Finland – Hyvää Joulua

Holiday foods: Glögi

'In Finland, Christmas Eve is the main event of the holidays, and the night Santa arrives to deliver presents. It is spent with the family, decorating the tree, drinking glögi – mulled wine – and doing the quintessential Finnish thing: bathing in a Christmas sauna.'

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Georgia – გილოცავთ შობას

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Holiday foods: Seafood, glazed ham, roasted turkey

'Alilo is the traditional Georgian Christmas celebration. People dressed in religious costumes carry flags and banners through Georgian cities and villages, collecting sweets and singing carols. They also gather donated gifts – to be compiled in a church, then distributed to orphanages, nursing homes, and penitentiaries.'

Germany – Fröhliche Weihnachten

Holiday foods: Goose, mulled wine, Christmas cookies

'The Advent wreath is a beautiful and favourite custom in Germany. Dating to 1839, this special tradition involves a lush fir wreath, symbolising hope and life, adorned with red and white candles. Today, many of us gather before the first Advent to create homemade wreaths; one candle is lit daily until Christmas arrives.'

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Greece – Καλά Χριστούγεννα

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Holiday foods: Comfort stews and soups, roast pork or beef, rustic pies

'On Christmas Eve, it's common for children to walk from home to home in their neighbourhoods to sing Greek Christmas carols or kalanta. After wishing their neighbours happy holidays, they are often rewarded with sweets, dried fruits and small change before heading home to enjoy traditional regional food with their families.'

Hong Kong – 聖誕快樂

'During the Christmas season, poinsettias, tinsel, Christmas lights and nativity scenes decorate homes, churches and public places. Also, there is a street in Hong Kong that only sells Christmas trees and other plants in the weeks before the holiday. Christmas trees are especially popular with Christians in Hong Kong.'

Italy – Buone Feste

Holiday foods: Panettone and pandoro sweet breads

'Santa Lucia's Day is celebrated in several Italian regions and commemorates a 4th-century Sicilian girl who brought food and aid to the Christians hiding in the catacombs. She wore a candle-lit wreath on her head to light the way and free her hands to hold the food. Now, it's celebrated as a festival of light where children receive gifts.'

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Japan – メリークリスマス

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Holiday foods: KFC, roast chicken ordered from a hotel restaurant or Dean & Deluca

'New Year's day is the most important holiday for us. Families gather and play games or visit temples and shrines to pray. At Christmas, we love to eat. Our festive meal is called osechi, which the whole family enjoys amongst socialising and friendly games.'

Montenegro – Srećan Božić

Holiday foods: Pecenica, sarma

'The festivities in Montenegro begin on Christmas Eve, called Badnji dan. The tree is cut a few days prior by a man from each household, then on Christmas Eve, it's cut into pieces called badnjaks, and one is given to each family member. We often eat pecenica, roast pork, and sarma, stuffed cabbage – with many cakes!'

North Macedonia – Среќен Божиќ

Holiday foods: Baked cod or trout, kidney bean soup, potato salad, aivar, sarma

'Christmas celebrations here begin on 5th January, which is called Kolede. Children sing carols to their neighbours on this day and are given fruits, nuts and coins in return. When the singing has finished, people gather around big bonfires to share the festivities with their communities. We enjoy aivar – red pepper dip – and sarma, cabbage leaves filled with rice and spices.'

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North Macedonia

Norway – God Jul

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Holiday foods: Gingerbread and risengrynsgrøt

'Many families have their own traditions, but many of us decorate the Christmas tree, make a gingerbread house, or eat the favourite risengrynsgrøt – a hot rice pudding served with sugar, cinnamon and butter. An almond is hidden in the pudding, and if the almond turns up in your portion, you win a marzipan pig!'

Poland – Wesołych Świąt

Holiday foods: Carp, borscht, pierogi, poppyseed cake

'We really love Christmas carols in Poland: there are thousands of them! After eating a traditional holiday meal, we share gifts and sing carols together. It makes for a joyous and festive occasion.'

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Portugal – Feliz Natal

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Holiday foods: Roast octopus, cod

'Following Christmas Eve meal, families gather outside in their local village or city around a giant bonfire to drink wine and share festivities. The fire is fed and lasts until Christmas morning – or sometimes, until the New Year! To manifest good luck, many of us wear a new piece of clothing and eat 12 raisins, making 12 wishes, at midnight, before banging on the window with pots and pans to scare away the evils and enter the New Year afresh.'

Romania – Craciun Fericit

Holiday foods: Sarmale

'Romanians love Christmas carolling – this tradition has been traced back to the 4th-century! We also enjoy sarmale, a traditional dish with minced meat mixed with rice and herbs, then covered in pickled cabbage or sauerkraut. It's served with polenta and sour cream.'

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Serbia – Христос се роди

Holiday foods: Česnica

'As Orthodox Christians, we celebrate Christmas on 7th January, after exchanging gifts at the New Year. It's a family-oriented affair; on Christmas Eve morning, the male head of household cuts branches off of an oak tree, bringing them home to light later that evening. We also enjoy česnica, a traditional round bread baked with a coin inside that is eaten ceremoniously.'

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Slovenia – Vesel in blagoslovljen Božič

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Holiday foods: Potica

'We usually gather on Christmas Eve for dinner and maybe midnight mass, then have Christmas breakfast and open presents the next morning. We traditionally celebrate around an at-home nativity scene, and burn frankincense, and bake a bread called potica, which is wrapped in circles and stuffed with walnuts, hazelnuts, poppy seeds, honey and cheese.'

South Africa – Ukhisimusi oMuhle (Zulu), Krismesi emnandi (Xhosa), Le be le keresemese e monate (Sotho), Geseënde Kersfees (Afrikaans)

Holiday foods: Meat, mulled wine, malva pudding

'Since we're in the southern hemisphere, Christmas comes during summer. Everyone likes to take advantage of the weather and celebrate outdoors by exploring our amazing beaches, mountains, forests, waterfalls and national parks. We swap snow for sunshine to celebrate outdoor with our loved ones and connect with nature!'

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South Africa

Sweden – God Jul

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Holiday foods: Glögg

'Each Sunday until Christmas, a candle is lit, until after four weeks, all of the candles are alight. And on each of these Sundays, many Swedes enjoy glögg – a hot, spicy mulled wine with blanched almonds and raisins – and pepparkakor, delicious gingerbread biscuits.'

UK – Merry Christmas

Holiday foods: Roast turkey, potatoes, cranberry, bread sauce, yule log

'Many families in the UK enjoy singing Christmas carols. It's customary to open advent calendars during December, anticipating the big day, and to receive a stocking full of gifts from Santa. Also, we typically receive Christmas crackers during the big meal – which is always followed by the Queen's customary speech!'

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USA – Happy Holidays

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Holiday foods: Eggnog

'In a country as diverse as the US, populated by so many cultures, it's hard to speak of one particular tradition. What is universal is the sentiment of slowing down, sharing food and gathering with loved ones – regardless of religion, this the vital component of any American holiday celebration.'

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