Have you celebrated any of these Christmas traditions onboard? - UAM

10th Dec 2019

Christmas traditions from around the world

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Christmas means something different to each of us. Not everyone celebrates it, but come December it is pretty hard to escape it. For those of you who are working, Christmas is unlikely to be the boozy time off that those with a 9-5 office job enjoy!

The likelihood for crew is that Christmas onboard will be busy and team celebrations will be either before or after the 25th. The variety of nationalities onboard can often make for some unique Christmas celebrations.

If this is your first year onboard, or you are working with a new team you might be interested to learn a little more about some of the different Yuletide traditions around the world.

Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe

Being a bad boy or girl on the run-up to Xmas doesn’t just get you a piece of coal in your stocking.  Instead, you’ll be scared out of your wits by a visit from ‘Krampus’ on December 5th.  This half goat, half demon comes armed with rusty chains and bells. Not a guy you’d want to meet on a night out in Antibes.

Kramupus a Sesto 03


In Germany, children leave a shoe outside the house on the 5th December and on Christmas Eve a pickle is hidden within the branches of the Christmas tree.  Good children get sweets in the shoe, and bad children get a tree branch stuffed in their footwear.  The child who finds the pickle first gets a gift from Santa, the first adult to find it gets good luck for the next year.

Most countries have a punishment for the bad children and a reward for the good compelling exceptionally behaviour from children in the lead up to Christmas.


Greece is plagued with Goblins called Kallikantzaroi during the twelve days of Christmas.  Beginning on Christmas Day the Kallikantzaroi, distracted from their habitual task of attempting to unseat the earth by sawing down the ‘lifetree’, return to Earth to cause mischief including ruining food, breaking things, and urinating in the flowerbeds.



To ward off these miscreants, many Greek households replace the Christmas tree with a cross wrapped in a sprig of basil hung on a wire above a wooden bowl.  Dipping the basil wrapped cross in holy water and sprinkling it around the house each day protects the household against the Kallikantzaroi.  You will also find May Greek households with Cullenders on their doorsteps at night as, apparently, the Kallikantzaroi become confused and stalled at the doorstep while trying to count all the holes.


In Brazil, it’s popular to take part in a local version of ‘Secret Santa’ (Amigo Secreto).  The amigo secreto gives small gifts each day in December using a false name, revealing their true identity on Christmas Day.

onboard secret santa

Secret Santa is a great way to keep the Christmas spirit alive onboard during the long shifts. And if you don’t want the responsibility of picking the names, there is an app for that!

South Africa

Even more unusual than the Japanese preference for KFC, December is when a rare cracker-pulling delicacy is in season in South Africa; deep-fried Emperor moth caterpillars.

deep fried Emperor moth caterpillars

Deep fried Emperor moth caterpillars

Yum!… Pass the gravy.


From Sweden comes a tradition sparked by a tail of human compassion befitting the true spirit of the season. For the Swedish, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day on December 13th.

The tradition is based on stories told by Monks who brought Christianity to Sweden about a young girl, Lucia, in Ancient Rome.  Lucia secretly took food to Christians imprisoned beneath the city and would wear candles on her head so that she could carry more.

St.Lucia celebrations in a Swedish church - 13.12.2006 - By Claudia Gründer (Claudia Gründer) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

St.Lucia celebrations in a Swedish church – 13.12.2006

Today, children visit churches, hospitals, rest homes, and schools following a girl dressed as St.Lucia wearing a crown of candles.  They sing carols and hand out gingersnaps.

Czech Republic

If you’re a single woman in the Czech Republic and want to know whether marriage is on the cards, then a Christmas Day tradition is to stand with your back to your front door and throw a shoe over your shoulder.  If it lands with the toe pointing towards the door, it’s wedding bells next year! Who needs Tinder anyway?

Czech shoe throwing

Czech shoe throwing



During Christmas many homes in Catalonia bring a whole new meaning to the ‘Yule Log’ by sporting a ‘Caga Tio’, a hollowed out log with two wooden front legs and a face painted on it.  From 8th December, children ‘feed’ the ‘pooping’ log.  On Christmas day the whole family beats the log with sticks while singing a song asking the log to ‘poop’ out sweets and presents.


Modern caricature caganers

The Catalonian predilection with ‘evacuation’ continues with the nativity scene which, in addition to the traditional characters has, in attendance, a peasant taking care of business with his trousers around his ankles.  The additional character is ‘El Caganer’ which quite literally means ‘the crapper’.


In Poland, a seat at the Christmas Eve table is always left vacant. The vacancy is thought to be either left for anyone who is less fortunate or alone at Christmas, for Jesus, for the Holy Spirit, or for the spirits of departed family members.

Wigilia potrawy 554

Traditional setting of the Christmas Eve table in Poland

The meal consists of no less than twelve different courses, one for each apostle.  No meat is served.  You’ll need to try each of the twelve courses, and each has a tale or tradition connected to it; eating the noodles and poppy seeds, for instance, will ensure your prosperity for the coming year.

The Best of the Rest

There are a surprising number of traditions, characters, and practices out there and, if we included them all here, we could go on forever but we felt the following final three were worth a mention.

On Christmas day in Slovakia, the man of the house hurls a spoonful of ‘Loksa’, a popular Christmas desert made from bread, milk, poppy seeds and honey, at the ceiling for future happiness.  The more sticks, the better your luck.

In Caracas Venezuela, the locals have a tradition of going to mass early at Christmas wearing roller skates.  It has now become so popular that the local government even closes off major roads to traffic.

In Ethiopia on Christmas Day afternoon, Ethiopians like to play a local version of hockey called ‘Gaana’ which, according to local tradition, was played by the shepherds tending sheep when Jesus was born.

Celebrating christmas onboard

This will all depend on owners and guests but there are a few things you can do to keep the Christmas spirit alive:

  • Christmas attire – even if it is below deck or just a pair of antlers
  • Secret Santa – you can either go classy or trashy
  • Decorate – ok cabin space might be limited but you can add some Christmas cheer still
  • Eat and drink – this might have to be after the Christmas period
  • Plan a call with family – even if you have to move this for guest demands it is good to try to plan a family catch up. You can wish each other a Merry Christmas, it just might have to be a tad before the 25th
  • Designate a Santa – if you have decided to go with gifts/ a secret Santa this is the perfect opportunity for someone to dress up!
  • Go for a swim – and if you want to keep it festive we recommend a Santa hat and red swimwear!

Christmas is about shared experiences and combining your favourite Christmas traditions to make up a unique onboard celebration is a great way to do this.



Adam Royle