Here at Academic Year in America (AYA), our exchange students come from over 50 different countries. Our host families often find that hosting an exchange student makes the holiday season better as they experience different holiday traditions – like those listed below.
Here are 5 different holiday traditions and meals celebrated around the world.
Holiday Traditions in Albania 🇦🇱
New Year’s is widely celebrated in Albania. Rather than a Christmas tree, many families in Albania put a “New Year’s tree” in their home and give gifts to one another on New Year’s Eve. That night, adults celebrate with friends and family, while children anxiously await the arrival of the Old Man of the New Year (Albania’s version of Santa Claus).
Traditional Food: On New Year’s Eve, dinner typically lasts for hours and is shared by friends and family. Some traditional dishes include a roast, oven-baked turkey, and kadaif – a traditional Arab pastry.
Holiday Traditions in China 🇨🇳
In China, the color red is a symbol of good luck and happiness. During the holiday season, people often paste red paper pagodas onto windows and decorate their houses with red paper lanterns. Also, many families decorate Christmas trees – called “Trees of Light” – with red paper chains.
Traditional Food: The word for Christmas Eve in China is Ping’an Ye, which means “peaceful or calm night.” Ping’an Ye is similar to the Mandarin word for apple, “pingguo,” so on Christmas Eve a common tradition is to give apples – symbolizing peace!
Holiday Traditions in Poland 🇵🇱
In Poland, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th each year. That night, the Polish Santa Claus, Mikolaj, brings small gifts to well-behaved children, which he puts inside boots, shoes, or stockings. Legend has it, Mikolaj travels on foot, on horseback, or in a sleigh pulled by white horses.
Traditional Food: Wigilia, a family dinner served on Christmas Eve, is a Polish tradition. Traditional dishes include almond soup, sauerkraut, and meatless pierogis. During Wigilia, families save a seat at the table for a potential lonely traveler – or loved one joining in spirit.
Holiday Traditions in Italy 🇮🇹
In Italy, Christmas celebrations extend past December 25th and into the new year. On the night of January 5th, Italians celebrate the arrival of La Befana – a friendly witch who flies on her broomstick to deliver gifts to children. Before children go to sleep on the 5th, they hang stockings in hopes that La Befana will pay them a visit.
Traditional Food: Italy is world-famous for its traditional Christmas dishes. The traditional Italian Christmas dinner, which lasts for hours on Christmas Eve night, usually includes at least five courses – such as soup, pasta, meat, fish, dessert, and sparkling wine. Unique to each family, generations pass traditional recipes down to the next.
Holiday Traditions in Brazil 🇧🇷
Rio de Janeiro hosts one of the biggest New Year’s celebrations in the world with live music and incredible fireworks displays. It’s also home to the legend of the sea goddess, Iemanjá. Before New Year’s, a Brazilian tradition is to please Iemanjá by lighting candles or throwing flowers into the ocean. For added luck, some even fill a raft with bouquets and send it out to sea.
Traditional Food: Traditional holiday meals in Brazil include plenty of fresh and dried fruits, such as raisins. Raisins symbolize good luck in Brazil – and if you eat seven after midnight, you’re guaranteed good luck for the year to come.
Hoping to experience unique holiday traditions from around the world for yourself? Consider hosting an exchange student with AYA – learn more today!