A person holding a globe Christmas bauble

Christmas across continents, Part 1: Golden pigs, love hotels, and Nonna’s broomstick

‘Tis the season, and we’ve enlisted our worldly Local In-Market Experts to spill the cocoa on how Christmas traditions unfold in their neck of the woods. Hold on to your sleigh bells because here’s Part 1 of our festive rundown:


A Czech-mate Christmas: Golden pigs and fairy tales galore

Petra in Prague:

In Czechia, the main celebration takes place on 24th December, which we refer to as Christmas Day. In the morning, families will decorate the Christmas tree together and, if there’s enough snow, go for a walk to make snowmen.

There is a superstition that those who manage not to eat anything on Christmas Day until Christmas dinner is served in the early evening will see a golden pig, which will bring them luck and abundance. I’ve never seen one myself!

A Czech Christmas dinner usually consists of fish soup as a starter, followed by carp and cold potato salad (made of potatoes, carrots, gherkins, onions, mustard, mayonnaise, eggs, pickle juice, and peas). Dessert will be Czech Christmas sweets. Families bake a variety of these sweets in the days before Christmas. The most famous include Czech vanilla crescents or beehive cookies.

After dinner, Czechs unwrap their presents and sing Czech carols, and some play musical instruments such as the violin or piano. The devout go to Church in the evening.

Small children believe that Baby Jesus is the one who brings them presents, so they leave the window open for him on Christmas Eve. Before Christmas, children write their wish list for presents and leave it outside the window for Jesus to collect. Parents collect the list so they know what to buy.

It’s common to watch Czech fairy tales on TV on Christmas Day. Czech TV broadcasts one fairy story after another. The most popular Czech fairy tale is Tři oříšky pro, which translates as ‘Three Wishes for Cinderella’. The Czech version was made in 1973 but has since become popular in other countries such as Norway. You can watch in on YouTube with English subtitles here.


Japan’s KFC Christmas: Where love hotels are busier than Santa’s workshop

Ayako in Tokyo:

Christmas is known worldwide as a celebration for Christians but in Japan, it is a secular event which is not influenced by religion. Only about 1% of Japanese identify as Christian – for most Japanese, Christmas is purely a fun event without a broader meaning.

Around the world, Christmas tends to be a time for families to get together. In Japan, it’s more an occasion for lovers, with romantic dinners and sometimes marriage proposals. Christmas Eve is actually one of the busiest nights for Japan’s ‘love hotels’. By contrast, New Year is seen as a time for families.

Christmas in Japan was kickstarted in 1900 with a specific event: Christmas sales from Meiji-za Theatre in Ginza. It became more popular in the years following the Second World War. If you’ve heard the buzz about Japan’s KFC Christmas, here’s a finger-lickin’ tale: in 1974, a group of tourists were supposedly looking for turkey for their Christmas dinner but couldn’t find any, so ended up in KFC instead. Allegedly, KFC’s marketing department heard about this and decided to promote their menu as the ultimate Christmas meal, using the slogan “Kentucky For Christmas”. These days, people might roast their own chickens at home or whip up a hearty beef stew.

Come Christmas Day, most shops stay open and the cities buzz with life. Children tend to receive one gift from Santa (thanks Mum and Dad!). A popular dessert at Christmas is a sponge cake decorated with cream. If you’re feeling scholarly amid the festivities, you can even read an academic paper about this cake here.


Italy’s panettone pizzazz and a broomstick-riding Nonna

Simona in Rome:

Italians love to celebrate Christmas with our families and friends. We have different ways of doing it – some of us like a big dinner on Christmas Eve, while others can’t resist a festive lunch on Christmas Day. No matter what we do, we all love to eat, drink, and have fun from 24th to 26th December.

The Christmas Eve dinner is extra special because we play games like tombola (similar to bingo) and cards. It’s a great way to spend time with our loved ones and have fun. And at midnight, we exchange gifts, which is the perfect way to end the evening.

Did you know that the tradition of giving gifts during Christmas dates back to ancient Rome? The Romans had a series of festivals called the Saturnalia, which was celebrated from the 17th to 23rd December. During this time, slaves were given temporary freedom and were treated as equals with their masters. As a way of promoting goodwill, everyone exchanged gifts during this festival.

During the Christmas holidays, the most traditional and commonly served desserts are pandoro, panettone, and torrone (nougat). Although there are many other regional desserts, these three are the most popular throughout the country.

Christmas celebrations end on the 6th January with a special tradition called La Befana. La Befana is an old woman who travels on a broom, dressed in rags and soot, and enters houses through the chimney whenever possible. On the night between the 5th and 6th January, she visits homes and leaves gifts and sweets for the well-behaved children, while the less well-behaved ones receive pieces of coal (which are actually made of sugar and only look like coal).


How Canadians turn winter blues into holiday hues

Caroline in Montreal:

Although Canada and the US are similar in many ways, we like to march to the beat of our drum, and that includes Thanksgiving. Ours is in October, not November like our southern neighbours. So on 1st November, while the rest of the world is nursing a candy hangover from Halloween, we’re already thinking about tinsel and fairy lights, and plotting our Christmas décor strategy.

As the days grow shorter and colder in early November – after the clocks turn back – Canadians respond by illuminating our homes with a dazzling array of multi-coloured lights and festive wreaths. Because when the sun goes down at 5pm, why not make your home visible from space?

Many Canadian Christmas traditions will be familiar to our friends across the pond. We’ve got the classic children’s letters to Santa, raucous office parties, sneaky Secret Santas, Christmas baking bonanzas, majestic Christmas trees, and holiday movie marathons.

What sets us apart is the Santa Claus parade – a lively spectacle in most major cities. Picture this: families lining the streets, Main Street awash with festive fervour, local clubs and merchants flaunting decorative floats, and at the grand finale, St. Nicholas himself leading the charge with his faithful reindeer posse.

Come November and December, our churches and community centres transform into Christmas bazaars. Here, local artisans peddle handcrafted treasures, from ornaments and fruit preserves to knitted caps, mittens, baby clothes, and, yes, even dog bandannas. Because everyone deserves a touch of Christmas flair, even our four-legged friends.

As we inch closer to 25th December, Canada goes into hibernation mode. Schools shut down for two weeks, businesses grant a mini escape to their employees, and the nation tends to hit the snooze button. Winter activities take centre stage – icy escapades of skating, sledding down snowy hills, and, for the adventurous, tubing downhill on inflatable tubes.

Christmas Eve marks the official kick-off, with religious adherents flocking to churches for a merry Mass. Kids, powered by sugar, track Santa’s journey on the NORAD website. The night is filled with suspense as cookies and milk are laid out for Santa, accompanied by carrots for the reindeer. Children try their hardest to stay awake, even if they don’t have a chimney, anticipating Santa’s grand entrance.

The morning of 25th December is a festive frenzy as children rip into their presents. The day often begins with a candy-fuelled breakfast, while lunch takes a backseat to the culinary masterpiece in the works for dinner. This feast usually involves roast turkey or ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and other sides like mashed yams topped with marshmallows, roasted Brussels sprouts, diced turnips, salad and dinner rolls or Yorkshire pudding. Before the feast, there’s the time-honoured tradition of popping Christmas crackers.

And after, those with room for dessert dive into Yule logs, boxes of chocolate truffles, Christmas trifles, candy canes, or peppermint bark. Christmas cake seems to have lost its popularity, maybe because we’re too busy enjoying other sweet indulgences.

For those eager to burn off the holiday calories, 26th December brings salvation in the form of Boxing Day sales. Picture it: a nation collectively tightening its shoelaces, ready to sprint for the best discounts at local stores.


Fasten your festive seatbelts because this is only Part 1 of our worldwide holiday adventure. Don’t forget to read Part 2 for more ho-ho-ho highlights from around the world!

 . . .

Get in touch today to find out how Oban can help your business achieve international growth using our unique network of Local In-Market Experts.

Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion.
Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.

Skip to content