7 Intriguing Holiday Traditions Around the World You’ll Want to Adopt

26 November 2019
by Samantha Johnson

There’s nothing quite like holiday traditions to celebrate your heritage and family memories.

If you’re looking for inspiration—especially if an AncestryDNA® test revealed ties to a region of the world you didn’t realize you had—here are seven interesting holiday traditions from around the world.

Ireland: A Candle in the Window

It’s Irish tradition to place a candle in the front window on Christmas Eve. The light was sometimes said to serve as a welcome for Mary and Joseph.

Snow-covered window with three lit candles at night.
Candles in the window provide a welcome

To carry on this tradition today, you can also use electric candles.

Scandinavia: Lye-Soaked Fish & Wreath Cake

Scandinavian families have been feasting on lye-soaked fish (known as lutefisk) at Christmastime for centuries. But the taste of cod and lye isn’t for everyone.

Stacked cake with icing and mini-Norwegian flags.
Sweet kransekake by Jeremy Noble  / (CC BY 2.0)

If your taste buds lean toward something sweeter, you might prefer the show-stopping, icing-laden kransekake, which means “wreath cake.”

Greece: Christmas Boats

How about this for a charming holiday tradition from the Greek islands: carrying a small model boat from house to house as you sing Christmas carols?

Small wooden ship with string lights attached.
Christmas boat in Greece

In addition to their role in Christmas carols (Kalanada), model ships large and small are displayed throughout the holiday season, often decorated with festive lights.

Great Britain: Christmas Pudding

This festive dessert has been a mainstay of the Christmas table in Great Britain for centuries. One fun tradition is everyone in the household (or at least the kids) stirs the mixture and makes a wish.

Closeup of Christmas pudding with holly berries on top.
Christmas cake

Another is the inclusion of small silver coins in the cake; whoever gets the coin can take it as a sign of wealth in the coming year.

The cake, made with dried fruits, spices, and alcohol is usually prepared weeks in advance but can be made months (and in some cases up to a year) before.

Finland: Christmas Peace

Need a bit of relaxation in the midst of the hustle-bustle of the season? In Finland, the “Christmas Peace” period commences on Christmas Eve and continues for twenty (yes, TWENTY) days, during which residents focus on peace and quiet.

Exterior of Pori Old Town Hall.
Pori Old Town Hall, Finland by Samuli Lintula / (CC BY 2.5)

A “Declaration of Christmas Peace” ceremony is broadcast on television on Christmas Eve.

Nigeria: Palm Fronds to Symbolize Peace

Palm fronds are a symbol of peace in Nigeria. During the Christmas season, it’s Nigerian tradition to decorate homes and other buildings with palm fronds—some natural, some woven into designs—sometimes with Christmas lights.

Closeup of palm frond.
Palm frond by Felix Burton / (CC BY 2.0)

The palm fronds represent the gift of peace that came with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Mexico: A Piñata Filled with Treats

A Mexican piñata is a treat-filled vessel that blindfolded party guests take turns swinging at until it breaks and rains down treats. It plays a starring role in the 9-day Christmas celebrations known as Las Posadas.

Colorful hanging piñata.
A nine-pointed star piñata

Piñatas arrived in Europe in the 14th century and were brought to Mexico by the Spaniards in the 16th century. Interestingly, there was already an existing similar tradition among both the Aztecs and Mayans.

Here’s to Happy Holidays

Could one of these traditions be a new holiday favorite for you and your family? 

If you’re one of the many AncestryDNA test takers who have found living relatives (for example, Tom who found family members in Ireland), you have a unique opportunity to share knowledge about holiday traditions.

Here’s to a wonderful holiday season!