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Celebrate Christmas Around the World On Santa's Sleigh

Written by Alice McLeod on 21 / 12 / 2023

Gap Year Advice

Hop on board Santa's updated sleigh to see how they celebrate Christmas around the world.

We all have our weird and wonderful traditions at Christmas: mince pies by the fire, chocolates on the tree, opening presents before church or after? But Christmas traditions go way beyond our home shores and there are some fantastic ones overseas that we should all be experiencing at some point in our life, gap year or not.

So hop on board the Leap's version of Santa’s sleigh and let us see how they do it around the world. Welcome to the Leap's magical mystery Christmas tour...

First stop: Austria

Similar to Germany, Austria is all-things Christmas with a ‘Christkindlmarkt’ taking centre stage (alongside the huge Christmas tree) in most towns offering a multitude of decorations, mulled wine and gingerbreads. On Christmas Eve, the trees are lit and carols are sung around it.

On the 6th December, treats like nuts, mandarins, and chocolate are delivered from St. Nicholas, who is accompanied by Krampus, a horned monster, dressed in rags and carrying chains, who’s thought to punish children who have been bad.

Children in Austria don't believe in Santa Claus but in the Christkind (Christmas Child) who is depicted as a golden-haired baby with wings, who delivers the presents under the tree.

Did you know? Christmas Eve is traditionally a day of fasting so fried carp conventionally takes centre stage in the meal. However, roast goose is now becoming increasingly popular. Not surprisingly.

You could combine Austria with other European countries in a interrailing trip; click here for popular routes, and click here for our five step interrailing guide.

Down to: Kenya

In Kenya Christmas is all about spending time with family. Everyone will often go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and after that is when the fun really starts. You might end up partying, dancing, and singing carols all night, so church the next morning might be a sleepy affair. The big Christmas meal is called 'nyama choma' which is often a barbecue of goat, mutton, beef, or chicken. Kenya is made up of many different tribes, each with their own traditions and dishes.

Did you know? Because there is no snow in Kenya Father Christmas arrives in a Land Rover or car, sometimes a bicycle, or even a camel.

If you like the sound of being immersed in a totally different culture then check out our Kenya team programme. You'll spend five weeks based on the coast where you'll take part in community and marine conservation work, really getting to be part of the local rural communities.

Around to: Ecuador

Christmas is probably the most celebrated festival in Ecuador with its rich religious culture. It’s very family orientated with family sizes quadrupling with all the relations gather together. On Christmas Eve, the head of the family hosts, providing food and Christmas trees. Presents are brought and hidden from the children who have been taken outside in search of the Star of Bethlehem.

On their return, the presents are revealed and the exchanging of presents begin. This in itself is an official ceremony, with the head of the family handing each gift out one by one.

Houses are decorated with Christmas cards, dolls, mugs and lights and nativity scenes. Life size nativity scenes are also installed in malls and markets across the main cities and Christmas carols are sung with families surrounding the nativity scenes at their home or at Church.

Did you know? The festive meal on Christmas consists of many many multiple variations of rice, such as cheesy rice, rice with corn, spicy rice, rice with stew, sweet rice... you get the idea.

Up to: Costa Rica

Another one for the sun-loving, BBQ-loving ones amongst you. But this doesn’t mean the Christmas spirit isn’t around… Fiesta, parades, rodeos, street parties, bull runs, and dance festivals are among the many festive activities that can be enjoyed. The Christmas light display in San Jose is also one of the most impressive around the world.

Tropical fruits, flowers and Christmas lights decorate the houses, whilst a ‘pasito’ (nativity scene) is located in the centre of the display to keep that little touch of festive tradition.

The main Christmas meal is eaten after Midnight Mass, with chicken, pork, eggnog and rum punch being the traditional festive goodies to be had. Check out our Costa Rica programmes if the pura vida of tropical life appeals to you.

Did you know? Christmas Trees are THE festive thing for Costa Rica. The most important and grand tree stands in front of the Children’s National Hospital in San Jose representing hope for the coming year whilst shining it’s light on the children inside.

Over to: Venezuela

As a country they go big on fireworks to create on of the most colourful Christmases of all - seen across the Caribbean! Here they line the shores and skylines with the big bangers, backed up with folk music (their alternative to carols), if you can hear it.

Presents are bought by ‘San Nicolas’ (St. Nicholas) and are given at midnight on Christmas Eve once Midnight Mass has been attended. In Caracas, roads are even shut early in the morning during the few days running up to Christmas for locals to roller skate to early Church services.

Did you know? It is tradition to wear yellow on New Years Eve to give you good luck in the coming year.

On to: the Philippines

Most Filipinos are Christians with 80% being Catholic, so Christmas is widely celebrated here with Santa, Christmas trees, lights and all, with the most popular decoration being the ‘parol’: a bamboo pole with lit star or lantern on the end.

But forget Christmas Day; Christmas Eve is the most important part of the festival for the Filipinos with houses being opened to all friends and family to join the midnight feast that happens after Midnight Mass. This main celebratory meal includes roasted ham, fruit salad and rice cakes.

Did you know?They like to extend their Christmas celebrations for as long as possible, beginning their carol singing as early as September.

Down and Finally to: Australia

When you think of Christmas around the world, you most likely swap snow for sun and turkey for a barbie on the beach. Well, Australia is exactly this. But you don’t have to feel like you’re missing the Christmas you’ve always known at home as, apart from being the other side of the world, their festivities are actually very similar to here in the UK, with Christmas trees, carols, wreaths, lights, the works…

However, as you may expect, they’ve added their own Aussie touch on things. Ditching the holly, they’ve gone for a more Aussie vibe with ‘Christmas Bush’ decorating the houses (native trees with flowers that turn a deep red during the few weeks running up to Christmas) and seafood being the dish of the day, with prawns and lobsters lining the BBQ.

Did you know? Santa gives his reindeers a rest in Australia as he swaps them for kangaroos, locally known as the ‘Six White Boomers’.

Spread Some Cheer

Now you have your own personal guide, there’s no excuse to not experience the amazingly different festivities of Christmas around the world or perhaps introduce some new ones to shake up your own weird and wonderful traditions. If you've made the decision to do some travelling in the New Year then get in touch and we can help you plan your perfect gap year.
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