celebrating Christmas
The observance of Christmas around the world varies by country. Source: Justin Tallis / AFP

Lights, trees, wreaths and presents are all that celebrating Christmas is about. Right?

But for international students currently studying abroad, Christmas may look a little different. You don’t have your family with you. Your friends are scattered around the country, or the world even. This leaves you alone, and that doesn’t feel very Christmassy at all.

Now just because you are away from home does not mean you can’t join in on the festivities. Many universities organise Christmas events to make international students feel closer to home during the holidays. 

Take the University of Birmingham, which hosts a Countdown to Christmas and Student Mentors Match Up Catch Up for all students staying in the halls over the holidays.

Many international students have benefitted from this, like Arianna Petrelli from Italy — opening their eyes to the ways Christmas is relished by different cultures and sowing the seeds of new friendships.

f“My housemates and I are having an international Christmas dinner before everyone goes back home for the holidays, and I can’t wait to make them try all my family’s traditional dishes (they never had Frittelle or Tiramisu before, so I get the honour to introduce them),” she says.

“It’s definitely more challenging than I thought because finding the right ingredients in the UK can be a struggle sometimes. But who doesn’t like a good challenge,” she shares. 

As an international student, there’s never a better time to immerse in the Christmas traditions in the country you are studying in or, better yet, to share your traditions with your friends. 

This is a very merry holiday and we love nothing to see how the joy is shared. Here’s a list of five countries celebrating Christmas in their unique ways:

celebrating Christmas

In Austria, celebrating Christmas often involves including Krampus, a horned figure from European folklore that is used to scare children. Source: Joe Klamar / AFP


If you thought Christmas is all about fairytale lights and joy, think again. In Austria, they have a long-standing tradition that will give you the chills.

The Krampus Hunt is based on the legend that St. Nicholas would come and give gifts to children that have been good. Naughty kids will have to face Krampus, the half-man, half-goat. 

Men dress up as the scary character for the annual Krampus run where they parade through the streets and — you guessed it — scare children. 

Australia and New Zealand

Celebrating Christmas is always associated with cold weather or snow — but not in Australia and New Zealand, where the holiday falls during the summer. It is hot and humid, perfect for a beach trip.

As a result, many often hit the beach on Dec. 25 to enjoy a barbecue and play a round of cricket with loved ones. Many even come together to sing Christmas carols by the beach. 

The Philippines

Celebrating Christmas in the Philippines is four month affair. For locals, Christmas takes place in the months that end with “ber”, that is, September, October, November and December. They start as early as Sept. 1 and sometimes last until the beginning of the new year. 

The city of San Fernando, which is known as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines,” hosts a Giant Lantern Festival every year where lanterns are used to represent the Star of Bethlehem. The night sky is illuminated by the thousands of rotating lights that make up each lantern. 

celebrating Christmas

Celebrating Christmas in Japan involves a visit to the good ol’ Colonel Sanders. Source: Bruce Bennett / AFP


Only 1% of Japan’s population is Christian and Christmas is not recognised as a national holiday. Yet, Japan can claim to have one of the most unique Christmas celebrations in the world.

Instead of families getting together to enjoy a meal and open presents, most head out — to the nearest KFC. Their goal is to buy a bucket of fried chicken to indulge in together. 

This strange yet unique tradition began in 1974 after the fast food chain launched a successful campaign titled “Kentucky for Christmas!”. This campaign did so well that unit today, many order their buckets months in advance or queue in long lines to get their hands on this “finger lickin” good meal.


Poland begins its Christmas celebrations on Dec. 24 when families reunite for dinner or as they call it, “Wigilia.” While dinner is not served until the first star appears in the night sky, they first start by sharing an “oplatek,”  a paper-thin square tasteless wafer that is made out of flour and water. 

This tradition started hundreds of years ago and is still practised today. Each family member breaks off a piece as they wish each other Merry Christmas.

This marks the end of a fast and usually begins with the head of the household and carrying on with other members of the family, including older relatives, guests and children.