In Finland people light candles on the graves of their loved ones on Christmas Eve. A large majority of Fins go to the graveyard no matter their religion. Because so many candles are lit, cemeteries are actually an optimistic place to be.
In Italy an old woman named Befana brings gifts to the good children on the eve of Epiphany. This happens on December 5th. Befana comes from a legend – she was busy cleaning when the Wise Men came and asked her to take them to Jesus. She regretted not helping and went to find Jesus herself with a bag of gifts but never found him, so she continued doing this every year.
In Belgium St. Nickolas comes to the house twice: once to see if the children have behaved and once to bring gifts.
Mexico is the country where the poinsettia comes from. Poinsettias are the red flowers typically sold around Christmas time in many countries throughout the world. It came from a story about poor Mexicans who couldn’t afford presents and picked weeds for Jesus instead – the weeds then bloomed with red flowers on the altar. The flower always withers after the holidays.
In Ukraine it is traditional to hang a decoration that is shaped like a spider on the Christmas tree. The story comes from a story about a widow and her children who couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. Spiders heard the children crying and spun beautiful webs around the tree. Ukrainians believe that spiders and their webs bring luck to the family.
In Australia Santa’s sleigh is pulled by “six white boomers”. Boomers mean kangaroos and they are as white as the snow.
In Austria it is believed that Santa has an evil twin called Krampus that punishes naughty children. Krampus has long horns and looks like a beast.
In Ireland people leave out mincemeat pies and a bottle of Guinness for Santa.
In Brazil Papai Noel takes your sock by the window and leaves you gifts. This is similar to the tradition in Western cultures to hang socks up and fill them with sweets and small gifts. But in Brazil the sock is instead exchanged for presents.
In Japan it has become traditional to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas. That is why Christmas advertisements usually involve KFC – just like in other countries like the Czech Republic, Coca-Cola is associated with Christmas.
In Sweden goats are almost as important as Santa Clause. They are usually made of straw and are in everyone’s houses around Christmas time. Swedes used to believe that it was the Christmas Goat and not Santa that brought children gifts on Christmas.