Clogs Full of Treats, France
Forget stockings. In France, children leave their shoes by the fireplace and wake up the next morning to find small toys and sweets left behind in their footwear by Père Noël, aka Father Christmas. Back in the day, wooden clogs, or sabots, were left out at Christmastime. While wooden clogs are no longer in style, pastry shops in France still make sabots-shaped chocolates for the holidays.
Giant Lanterns, The Philippines
The city of San Fernando has been hailed as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. And for good reason. Every December, for the past 80 years, the city has hosted a Giant Lantern Festival, where participants battle it out over the best Christmas lantern, or parol—a popular decoration representing the Star of David. The festival’s parols are massive electrical marvels, some up to 20 feet tall with thousands of spinning, blinking lights. Children from all over the country attend the festival and get in on the fun by lighting parols of their own.
A Game of Genna, Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7, according to the Julian calendar, and is called Genna, or "Iminnent." Many Ethiopians wear a traditional shamma—a thin white cotton wrap with bright stripes—to early mass. Afterward, children play a ball game, also called genna. It’s said that when shepherds heard about the Messiah’s arrival, they expressed their joy with an impromptu game of genna.
Las Posadas, Mexico
In a 400-year-old tradition, children in Mexico reenact the holy family’s search for an inn, or posada, by going door to door in their neighborhood asking for shelter. On the ninth night of Las Posadas, they’re taken in by kindly innkeepers and led to a great fiesta. During the festivities, kids take turns whacking a star-shaped piñata that symbolizes the seven deadly sins. It’s broken to represent the triumph over temptation.
A Day of Light, Sweden
In Sweden, children celebrate St. Lucia’s Day on December 13 to honor the martyr St. Lucia, who died in Rome in the year 304. The light-filled festival, which coincides with the Winter Solstice, marks the beginning of the Christmas season. One lucky young girl wears a crown of candles, plays St. Lucia and leads a procession of other girls carrying candles as well as angelic “star boys,” all on a mission to illuminate a world of darkness.
Mele Kalikimaka, Hawaii
The best way to celebrate the holidays in Hawaii? A luau, of course. On Christmas Day, families gather for a traditional feast of kālua roast pig, poi and ahi poke. Hawaiians put a decidedly island spin on the most wonderful time of the year. Palm trees take center stage instead of evergreens. Carols are sung with the help of ukuleles. In addition, kids leave out plates of malasadas—Portuguese doughnuts—for Santa, who travels from place to place in a canoe led by dolphins.
La Befana, Italy
According to Italian folklore, the Three Wise Men stopped to ask an old woman—La Befana—for directions on their way to visit the Baby Jesus. They invited La Befana along on their journey, but she declined, saying she had too much housework. La Befana later realized the error of her ways, but it was too late. Now every year, on the night before January 6, La Befana flies on her broomstick in search of the Baby Jesus. She leaves toys and treats for children who’ve been good…and onions or garlic for those who’ve been naughty. In Venice, kids of all ages dress as La Befana and race boats on the Grand Canal.