The Christmas season is considered the "most wonderful time of the year" in many cultures around the world.

A season of gift-giving, merry carolers singing songs of good tidings, and more time spent with family can bring comfort even in times of war or a pandemic.

Below are Christmas holiday traditions in several countries outside the United States.

Ukraine: A military buildup on the border signals Russia may invade Ukraine in the coming weeks, but the holiday season could serve as a much-needed respite amid rising tensions.

In Ukraine, there are two days that people celebrate as "Christmas." The first is Dec. 25, for the Catholic Christians, and the second is Jan. 7, for Orthodox Christians. Both are considered government holidays.

One Christmas tradition in Ukraine centers on a feast that occurs when the first star is seen, considered the "first star of Bethlehem," according to Ukrainian People.


Sweden: The creation of the Gavle Goat is a famous Swedish Christmas tradition. But perhaps just as well known is how people attempt to burn the gigantic straw goat down and have succeeded 28 times.

Every year since 1966, the town of Gavle has created a massive straw statue of a Yule goat, which is a common theme for Christmas in Sweden. The statue this year stood at 42 feet.

But the goat was torched this year on Dec. 17, just over a week before Christmas, which was the first successful attack since 2016 under 24-hour surveillance, according to the BBC.

Burning the statue down is illegal and carries a sentence of three months. This year, a man in his 40s was arrested, but Swedish reports said he denied arson.

If the goat statue survives, it is typically taken down sometime after Jan. 1.

China: Christmas may not be a public holiday in China, but it has been catching on in the mainland, where there are tens of millions of Christians.

One tradition is to exchange red apples called "peace apples" on Christmas Eve, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The holiday is seen by young people in China as being akin to Valentine's Day, when friends and loved ones can go out to dinner or exchange romantic gifts, according to tour company China Highlights.

Afghanistan: Food and drink play important roles in the lives of the Afghan people.

One tradition that goes back over a thousand years is drinking tea many times throughout the day, a practice that is observed especially on Christmas, according to an article on the website of New Zealand's National Army Museum. The tea is usually either green or black Chai tea. The first cup is sweetened with sugar, but the second cup is sugarless and offered with sweets on the side. When guests are full from tea, they must turn their cups over so the host knows to stop refilling the cups.

Iraq: Christmas in Iraq has changed a lot over the past 20 years, largely because the Christian population dwindled as the country was torn apart by war.

Years ago, Christmas day was filled with long feasts, festivals, church services, and fireworks, according to the New York Times. Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, there were roughly 1.4 million Christians, but that number shrunk to about 300,000 after years of conflict, including the rise and fall of the Islamic State, CNN reported.

The Iraqi Cabinet approved an amendment in 2018 to make Christmas a national holiday, and a unanimous vote in Parliament made it official last year, according to Vatican News.

Australia: In Australia, Christmas is a summer holiday, and it's not unusual to see people surfing in Santa hats.

Christmas dinner is served outside since the weather is nice, and block parties are a staple of the season, according to Families often pile into cars for road trips, go on hikes, or play Christmas games outdoors. Some of these games include a "decorate a Christmas hat parade" in which children decorate their Santa hats and parade them in front of family and friends. Another game includes "Christmas Tree Jenga" where families set up a game of Jenga in the shape of a Christmas tree. Some families will even use paper cups instead of wooden blocks.

Philippines: The Philippines have the longest celebration of the Christmas season, spanning four months, according to CNBC. The Christmas holiday stretches across the months that end in "ber," meaning September, October, November, and December. The holiday ends the first Sunday of January during a feast called the "Feast of the Three Kings."

One tradition is creating a "parol," which is a lantern made out of bamboo and cloth used to light the paths that led Filipinos to churches for prayer and worship. Today, parols are hung up in houses for the holiday.

Another tradition in the Philippines is Simbang Gabi, a nine-day ceremony that takes place from Dec. 16-24, in which families get up as early as 4 a.m. to go to mass, according to the Philippine travel website Kapwa Travel.

The tradition honors the workers who got up before dawn to go worship instead of in the middle of the day when they would have had to travel to church in the heat. Tradition has it that if someone completes the entire nine-day mass, his or her Christmas wish will come true.


Mexico: Similar to the Philippines, Mexico also has a nine-day tradition, spanning from Dec. 16-24, called Las Posadas, in which children light candles and walk around their neighborhoods, knocking on the doors and singing carols to neighbors. They also ask if the neighbor has any lodging, a tradition to honor Mary and Joseph searching for lodging in the Christmas story, according to the travel website Green Global Travel. Each night, one neighbor has a Christmas party, so eventually the children are invited in for food, music, and fireworks.

How gift exchanges play out depends on the location in Mexico, according to the website. Some families exchange presents on Christmas Eve, while others wait until Jan. 6, in a celebration devoted to the Bible's three wise men.