Written by ,
21st December 2016

One of the best things about living abroad is celebrating local traditions. Find out how expats celebrate Christmas in countries across the world.


One thing that expats tend to miss the most when relocating abroad is celebrating Christmas in the country where they were brought up and spent those magical Christmases of their childhood. Although flights home from within Europe are affordable and easy, the further away one is from Britain the more difficult it is to come home. Many expats decide to avoid travelling home during this peak period and make the best out of Christmas traditions in their new country instead. Here we look at Christmas traditions in common expat countries and see how easy it is to incorporate British holiday customs wherever you are.

In Australia…

Christmas in Australia takes place in the middle of summer. Trade snow for sand, and turkey for seafood. As a predominantly Christian culture many of the same Christmas traditions take place in Australia such as midnight mass and regular church services. Like the UK, the Christmas holiday in Australia is surrounded by family. Instead of gathering around a dining table for a Christmas feast, families gather around the barbeque or at the beach for a smorgasbord of seafood with lots of prawns, cold beers and outdoor fun. Most families will display and decorate a Christmas tree (however they are often the plastic variety), and opening presents on Christmas morning is part of the annual ritual.

Christmas in Australia takes place in the middle of summer.

In USA/Canada…

British expats in North America will enjoy a very similar style Christmas to the UK. Depending on where you are you could expect a lot more snow than you’re used to back at home. Expect streets dazzled with Christmas lights, homes with decorated pine trees inside and the same classic carols that you’re used to in the UK. Canadians and Americans follow the British tradition of a big turkey feast however it is less common to have a Christmas pudding afterwards. North Americans tend to leave cookies and milk out for Father Christmas instead of mince pie and brandy. Church is a part of many families’ Christmas regime while other families celebrate Christmas purely as a holiday.



Food is an important part of Christmas wherever you go


In Spain…

Christmas in Spain is truly something to be experienced. Most people in Spain share a Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve which includes a truffle-stuffed turkey followed by a midnight mass. After the midnight service it’s common for people to wander the streets carrying torches, playing music, greeting their friends and neighbours, and wishing everyone a “Feliz Navidad!”. On Christmas Day some children may open presents, and seafood is often enjoyed with family. The biggest holiday celebration takes place on Spanish Epiphany on the 6th of January. This tradition is more significant than Christmas in Spain. On Epiphany Eve children leave shoes on window sills or under the Christmas tree and gifts are left for children by Kings in the morning.

In France…

British expats can still celebrate a familiar Christmas while living in France however the French have some local traditions that differ from the UK. A midnight church service is attended by many and the Christmas meal (called Reveillon) is eaten upon returning from the service, in the wee hours of the morning. In some parts of France thirteen different desserts are eaten afterwards. Food truly is a focal point of the Christmas holiday in France. Expats will notice nativity scenes decorating homes, businesses and public spaces, and yule logs form an important part of French Christmas tradition. French Noel isn’t concentrated into just one day (Dec 25th). The French tend to drag out gift giving and feasting throughout the month, making the celebrations last for longer.

Food truly is a focal point of the Christmas holiday in France.

In China…

Less than one percent of Chinese are Christian, so Christmas isn’t much more than a retail holiday in China. That being said, people in urban China are starting to celebrate Christmas and the giving of apples on Christmas Eve is becoming popular. Those who do buy into Christmas will display plastic Christmas trees in their homes adorned with lanterns, paper chains and paper flowers. Christmas carolling is becoming more common and Sheng dan lao ren (aka Santa) brings presents to the children of families who celebrate. Expats in China can easily find midnight mass services and despite there being a lack of Christmas atmosphere among Chinese, it is common for groups of expats to come together and enjoy their home Christmas traditions while abroad.

Just because you are miles away from Britain doesn’t mean Christmas can’t be enjoyed. Whether returning home for the holidays, partaking in your host country’s local Christmas customs or finding other expats to spend the holidays with, there is still plenty to be excited about as an expat celebrating Christmas abroad. For more information about moving, living and buying property abroad contact the Overseas Guides Company today.

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