Every Christmas, our family partakes in a popular Christmas tradition from France. I am embarrassed to say: I learned about this tradition from a cheesy “Hallmark Channel” Christmas movie. The tradition centers around the Santa of France named Pere Noel. The cheesy movie taught me that if your kiddos leave their shoes under their beds (or near the fireplace) on Christmas eve, Pere Noel will fill them with treats/candy. When I learned of this tradition, I knew we would do it. I laid the groundwork by telling my daughter that Santa has different traditions around the world. I told her something like, “Maybe if we’re lucky, the Santa from France will come by; he leaves candy in your shoes if you lay them out on Christmas Eve. We should just try it and see if he comes.” We dramatically picked out her favorite pair of shoes, laid them under her bed, and pleaded with Pere Noel to swing by … you know, from France. The next morning, she squealed with delight to find her shoes filled with her favorite treat: Lindt brand chocolate balls. Every Christmas, the candy in her shoes on Christmas morning excites her just as much as her presents in the living room. As I thought about this tradition, I started to wonder about other fun events that take place for Christmas internationally.
It turns out, France is not the only place to do the treats in the shoe tradition. Kiddos from Germany, Iceland, and the Netherlands also leave their shoes out for treats during the Christmas season.
In Finland, families play a game with their breakfast on Christmas morning. The kiddos eat a breakfast of porridge with cinnamon and whoever gets the bowl with the hidden almond inside is the “winner.” It is noted that parents usually hide a few almonds so that all the kids will “win.” A sweet tradition!
Ukraine celebrates Christmas from Christmas day all the way until January 7th! They parade through town singing carols and have a fun tradition with a special dish called, “Kutya.” They throw a spoonful of Kutya toward the ceiling and if it sticks: it is predicted that they will have a good harvest that year. Here is a link to a recipe for Kutva for any families who would like to try it: https://www.food.com/recipe/ukrainian-christmas-kutya-77525
Swedish families design their own advent calendars for Christmas time. Either the parents do them, or they make it a family activity and the children take part as well. I have heard of a few families doing that here in Oregon this year! Amazon has a cool one that has pockets you can fill with goodies: https://www.amazon.com/Pockets-Learning-Personalized-Christmas-Calendar/dp/B009DJ7U0W
In El Salvador, children celebrate Christmas by lighting fireworks. Smaller children use little fireworks called volcancito (little volcanos) or (estrellitas) little stars, while older children use roman candles. Fun!
The Yule Lads are 13 tricky elves that come out in Iceland during the 13 days leading up to Christmas. Kiddos leave their shoes out each night and will either receive treats if they are good, or rotten potatoes if they are bad! The elves each have their own special name, here is the link for more info: https://www.momondo.com/discover/christmas-traditions-around-the-world
Hiding the household broom is a tradition in Norway. Families strongly believe that witches and evil spirits come on Christmas eve and will use their brooms to wreak havoc.
In Venezuela, families roller skate to church on Christmas eve morning. There are no cars allowed on the streets these days to uphold this important tradition. The evening is reserved for eating a tamale dinner. Yum!
Italy takes Christmas very seriously. They celebrate Christmas from early December to January 6th. Children go caroling and play music on Shepard’s pipes. Kiddos also dress in Shepard’s clothes and sandals. Many Christmas markets and events take place including a midnight mass that is held by the pope. One Italian tradition that American’s can take part in is indulging in a delicious panettone (a cake). Zupan’s has a few choices, here is their link: https://www.zupans.com/search/panettone/.
Different families have varied traditions. In this unconventional year that is 2020, it may be fun to mix things up a bit by indulging in fun, international traditions. Celebrating Pere Noel has greatly enhanced our Christmas the past few years. It is hilarious to me that my kiddos fully believe that Santa comes all the way from France to bring them chocolate, but I guess it’s not as far fetched as the traditional Santa stopping by every house on Earth. The magic of Christmas is important this year and embracing international traditions may bring a little more magic to our households. Best of luck to you all in making a memorable Christmas for your families.
Stephanie McCoy was born and raised in Portland, Oregon-where she still lives. She recently graduated with a Master’s in Education degree from Concordia University. In her free time: she likes to read and write, get outdoors, embrace her kiddos and husband, and watch travel documentaries.