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Christmas in our Destinations

As the holiday season approaches, we thought that this is the perfect time to explore the diverse and unique ways that Christmas is celebrated across the globe. This blog post will take you on a festive journey through some of our most captivating destinations – India, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Cuba and Costa Rica. From ancient traditions to vibrant festivities, let's unwrap the magic of Christmas in these incredible places!


India is renowned for its vibrant holidays and colourful festivals such as Diwali and Holi. However, as only 2.3% of the Indian population are Christian, Christmas is comparably a small affair in the country.[i] That said, there are pockets of the country, such as Mumbai, Goa and Kerala, where up to 26% of the local population follow Christianity… and they like to celebrate Christmas in style!

Goa in particular stands out for its lively Christmas markets, where locals and tourists alike indulge in festive shopping. On Christmas Eve, star-shaped paper lanterns are hung between houses, Midnight Mass is widely attended in historic churches filled with flowers and candles, and the air is filled with the aroma of traditional delicacies like Sorpatel, Bebinca, and Fugias. Moreover, instead of traditional Christmas trees, banana and mango trees are adorned with colourful decorations! Meanwhile, in Southern India, Christians put small oil-burning clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes, illuminating the night with a warm glow.

Sri Lanka

Although the majority of the population in Sri Lanka practice Buddhism, the magic of Christmas celebrations defies religious boundaries and is one of the nation’s most popular public holidays.

The festive season begins with a bang; the Advent period is ushered in on 1st December each year, with a dazzling display of fireworks. During this time, you’ll see colourful, vibrant decorations and festive lights embellishing homes as well as shopping areas. Communities unite, coming together to revel in the joy of the holiday season.

As the much-anticipated day approaches, churches play a crucial role in the celebrations, by hosting carol services, performances of the Nativity and Midnight Mass. The next morning, families and friends gather around the Christmas tree to unwrap the gifts brought to them by Naththal Seeya!


In Jordan, Christmas is a joyous and inclusive celebration that brings people of all faiths together in a festive spirit. During this time, public spaces and historical site are illuminated with twinkling lights. Urban areas come alive with the charm of Christmas markets, where locals and visitors alike can explore handmade crafts, sweet treats, and festive decorations.

Across Jordan, families gather for merry meals that blend together a mix of traditional Jordanian dishes, with more internationally recognised favourites. From the iconic mansaf, succulent lamb and yogurt infused rice, to wara’ dawali, stuffed vine leaves, the Christmas table becomes a delightful blend of local and global flavours.

Beyond the feasts and illuminated décor, Christmas celebrations reflect the harmonious coexistence of different religious and cultural communities in Jordan. The festivities incorporate both Christian traditions and local elements that resonate with the wider population, which is a testament to the shared joy and cultural harmony that define this special season.


In Egypt, the Christmas celebrations carry a distinctive charm. Only about 15% of the population are Christians, most of whom belong to Coptic Orthodox Church. Departing from the global norm, Coptic Christmas is celebrated on January 7th rather than December 25th, creating a unique dynamic to the festivities.

The celebrations begin a month before Christmas in the month called Kiahk. During this time, there is a 43-day period of spiritual reflection and fasting, from November 25th to January 6th. During this time, Coptic Christians eat a vegan diet, avoiding all animal products.

On January 6th, known as Coptic Christmas Eve, many people attend church for a special Midnight Mass service. Afterwards, families have a big Christmas meal, enjoying dishes they abstained from during the fast. One popular dish is 'Fattah,' a dish bursting with flavour from warm spices and succulent lamb. The following day, January 7th or Coptic Christmas Day, people come together for parties and exchange 'kahk,' sugary sweet biscuits, as gifts, delivered by Baba Noël.

Even though Christmas is rooted in Christian traditions, in Egypt, it is widely celebrated as a secular holiday, embraced by people of various faiths. The entire country gets into the festive spirit with glistening decorations hoisted in shops, hotels, parks, and on the streets.


In Kenya, Christmas is a very important religious celebration. Here, global traditions are blended with a unique and distinctive African flair. Homes are decked out with colourful seasonal décor, shops are decorated with artificial snow, and in urban areas, Father Christmas makes his grand entrance in either a Land Rover or atop a camel. Midnight Church Services feature carols and local dances, creating a spiritually infused atmosphere. The festivities continue at home and usually last throughout the night!

Christmas morning begins with a church visit, followed by the quintessential 'nyama choma' feast featuring barbecued meats with rice and chapati. Modest gift exchanges, often new clothing to wear to church, and charitable contributions are common, with Boxing Day extending the celebratory spirit.

In Swahili, "Heri ya Krismasi" conveys Merry Christmas, and in Maasai, it's 'nchipai e Kirismas.' This festive landscape further embraces African Nativity scenes, outdoor celebrations, cultural dances, community involvement, African Santa stories, and local crafts, creating a uniquely Kenyan Christmas celebration.


In Ghana, the Christmas season, which spans from December 20th to early January, is a vibrant tapestry of diverse celebrations. Over 66 languages are spoken across Ghana, and each language group has their own unique traditions and customs!

As the calendar turns to December, the air is charged not only with festive spirit but also the commencement of the cocoa harvest, a significant moment in the world's second-largest cocoa-producing nation.

As the big day approaches, churches become vibrant sanctuaries. Simultaneously, homes transform into havens of joy, ready for gift exchanges and indulgent feasts that feature the rich flavours of stew, okra soup, porridge, meats, rice, and the beloved doughy staple, 'fufu.'

As the year concludes, some seek solace in church on December 31st, expressing gratitude and praying for a prosperous New Year. This time becomes a poignant reflection, embracing hopeful new beginnings and a fresh start unburdened by the challenges of the past.


In Cuba, the celebration of Christmas has been subject to radical historical change over the years. Between 1969 until 1998, under the leadership of Communist leader Fidel Castro, Christmas was prohibited. However, in 1998, Christmas was reinstated as a public holiday in honour of a visit by Pope John Paul II.

Now, Christmas Eve, which is referred to as 'Nochebuena' or 'the good night,' is a significant occasion for many Cuban families. It is custom for families to join together for a festive meal of roast pork, often a whole pig, served with fried plantain, rice, and vegetables. More recently, there has been a steady increase in attendance at Midnight Mass church services after the Nochebuena meal.

In the town of Remedios, Christmas Eve is marked by a lively fiesta and parade called 'Las Parrandas.' Originating in the 1820s, it was a creative strategy by a young priest to keep people awake, ready for Midnight Mass. Today, Las Parrandas is a vibrant event with neighbourhoods competing in costumes and music, starting at 10 pm and culminating in fireworks at midnight.

Costa Rica

At Christmas time, Costa Ricans flock to the coast to celebrate the festivities! Homes are decked out with vibrant decorations, and families come together to create the Pasito or Portal—a nativity scene decorated with tropical flowers and fruit. Cypress branches are transformed into Christmas wreaths, embellished with red coffee berries and ribbons. Meanwhile, the streets sparkle with enchanting Christmas lights, whilst roadside stands peddle apples, adding a touch of festive charm.

Christmas Eve in Costa Rica commences with the 'Misa de Gallo,' or Mass of the Rooster, a tradition rooted in the belief that the only time a rooster crowed at midnight was at the birth of Jesus Christ. This unique celebration sets the stage for a joyous feast featuring chicken and pork tamales, wrapped in plantain leaves, accompanied by the delightful flavours of eggnog and rum punch. As Christmas Day dawns, gift-giving takes on a distinctive charm, with 'Niño dios' (Child God or Jesus) and 'Colacho' (St. Nicholas) taking on the role of joyful gift bringers.

The festivities continue into December and January, and include a number of lively celebrations —fiestas, parades, rodeos, street parties, bull runs, and choral and dance festivals. Notable events include the Tope, a significant horseback parade on December 26th, and 'Carnaval' on the subsequent day (27th), which features exuberant parades, dancing, and elaborate floats in towns and cities.

Wrapping up our global tour of Christmas celebrations (no pun intended), it is clear that each destination adds its own festive spice to the holiday mix. From the Coptic celebrations in Egypt to Las Parrandas in Cuba, the world paints Christmas with a colourful palette of traditions. Yet, amidst the diversity, the universal themes of joy, love, and shared moments shine bright. As we bid adieu to this festive exploration, remember, no matter where you are, the holiday season is the perfect time for laughter, warmth, and perhaps a touch of merry mischief. Until next time, Merry Christmas!!

If you would like to visit any of these destinations to experience the magic for yourself, why not get in touch?

Written by: STC Expeditions

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