Upstate Familyt Resource Center


Holiday Traditions From Around the World You Can Share With Your Family

13 Dec, 2022  /  by Upstate Family Resource Center

By: Jessica McKinney

There are so many fun and fascinating holiday traditions across this wonderful world of ours!

My parents are immigrants from Belgium and during my childhood we celebrated several Dutch traditions that my husband and I shared with our children.

Growing up, on December 5th, we always make sure to put a shoe in front of our fireplace (we had one in Texas, never used it, but it served its purpose for Sinterklass). Tradition says that Sinterklaas will come and leave little presents in the shoes for good children like an orange or chocolate. For naughty children, Zwarte Piet or Black/Sooty Peter (*Piet is a controversial figure, as he is often depicted with a black face. However, this is in reference to the legend that he worked in a coal mine and so his skin was black with coal) would come with Sinterklass and take the naughty children to work in the mines.

Sinterklaas and Sooty Piet

I know this could be scary for a child but even at a young age I never believed in Piet- though I did tease my Dad that he was coming for him. Let’s not forget how we all know some fantastical tales that would scare children into behaving. (I’m looking at you Brothers Grimm) Since the birth of my daughter in 2011, I have shared this story with my children and they have loved to put out their shoes since they could walk. No fear of Sooty Piet!

This visit from Sinterklaas and Piet coincides with the Feast of Saint Niklaas (St. Nicholas) on December 6th. Many other European countries recognize the historical figure of St. Nicholas– like in the Ukraine, where he is celebrated on December 19th.

While here in North America we are used to celebrating Christmas on December 25th, the main Christmas meal in Ukraine, called Sviata Vecheria (or Holy Supper) is eaten on January 6th or the 12th Day of Christmas. Traditionally, nothing is eaten all day- though some will drink holy water in the morning.

Traditional Sviata Vecheria

Traditionally in the Ukraine, the Christmas meal does not begin until the first star is seen in the sky. So lots of hungry people go outside as soon as it starts getting dark in the afternoon to try and spot the first star. The star represents the Christmas Star (remember the one the three Wise Men followed?) that shared the news that Christ was born, so Christmas feasts can begin!

Another holiday tradition, while not based around Christmas, is a Russian tradition to ring in the New Year. An interesting fact: did you know that New Years is celebrated twice in Russia?

In Russia, New Years Day is a time to not only clean your home, but a time to restore body, mind and spirit. Many Russians will take a special bath or banya.

Banyas are an integral part of Russian culture. They typically involve a steam room featuring wooden benches along the perimeter and an altar-like bench in the centre of the room for treatments. The treatment using involves being thrashed by large birch leaves then dunked in a bucket or pool of ice-cold water. (Source:

One of our wonderful English as a Second Language students, Svetlana, shared, “For our foreign friends, I want to explain. First you take a steam bath in the steam room, then you go outside and pour a bucket of cold water on yourself, then again you warm yourself in the sauna and relax.”

I hope I have shared some interesting tidbits and snippets of Christmas traditions from cultures around the world. I will leave you with one last tradition:

Back in the day (once my father received the VHS tape) on New Years Eve, the Wouters family (and now the McKinney family) would watch this classic short video along with thousands in Germany where this skit has been televised for decades on German television. So, without further ado- I present “Dinner for One”.

(Please note this video as the traditional introduction in German, however, the skit is in English)

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