Christmas Around the Globe

Twinkling lights, the scent of pine from the Christmas tree and mince pies, warming drinks and the familiar melodies of our favourite carols are all associated with Christmas in the United Kingdom.  Family get together and traditionally enjoy a roast dinner and perhaps an afternoon ramble to work off the Christmas feast.

At Camps we are a global family and we felt how great it would be to let you know how our in-country teams and communities chose to celebrate at this time of year.

Costa Rica

In the majority of Costa Rica, Christmas is similar to how it’s spent in western culture. They put up similar Christmas trees featuring baubles and ribbons with a star on top, and a nativity scene is often the centre of attention with the families making small offerings of flowers and fruits to the front of the figurines.

For their Christmas food, which they eat at midnight on December 24th after midnight mass or ‘Misa de Gallo’, they often eat tamales and spiced rum. The tamales are made of specially prepared corn dough, stuffed with pork, meat, rice and vegetables, and cooked wrapped in banana leaves. (Don’t they sound yummy!)

In Térraba, the indigenous community that Camps works with, they have another tradition. They don’t celebrate Christmas but practise the local tradition of ‘The Bull and the Mule and Snail’, in which local people dress up as the different characters and parade around the town. The leader of the community sounds on a large shell to let everyone know that the cultural festival is about to start.

The Snail represents a guide within the community keeping their local traditions alive, while the Bull and the Mule represent the western culture. The festival is a visual display of the people of Térraba resisting disappearing as a culture or as people, especially around this time of year when a lot of Costa Rica is celebrating a more westernised Christmas.

Credit – Elides Rivera – Térraba community


The Christmas period starts with a religious ceremony called ‘Novena’ on the 16th of December that lasts for 9 days until Christmas Eve on December 24th, with each of the 9 days representing a month of pregnancy before Jesus was born. During this time families, neighbours and groups of friends gather each night at a different house to pray, sing carols and eat.

After attending midnight mass on the 24th, much like Costa Rica they go home to eat their meal and open their presents! Their traditional Christmas food is often a big dinner of turkey and stuffing, which is made with prunes, raisins and sweet bread, accompanied by rice and hot chocolate in more rural areas, they will tend to serve pork, chicken or guinea pig which is accompanied by potatoes, plantain and yuca. Their meal is known as ‘Cena de Nochebuena’, which translates as “Christmas Eve Dinner’

Christmas trees are mainly seen in the cities, and the tendency now for conservation purposes is to avoid plastic trees and get a natural one which will be planted again.  Some people will put lights in the trees found in their garden. Ecuadorians also have a long standing tradition of displaying a classical nativity scene at the bottom of their Christmas trees.



Early Peruvians immediately identified with the festival of Christmas due to the rural nature of the nativity story, where the baby Jesus was born in a barn. It has now become one of the most important celebrations of the year!

In Cusco, the Plaza de Armas is decorated with nativity animals in lights from about the 10th of December onward, and the whole city becomes festive.

Well off families tend to eat roast turkey, while the lower economy areas they usually eat more chicken. Everyone however enjoys hot chocolate and panettone, which is a cake/bread that’s filled with fruits and sometimes chocolate.

One of the most distinct aspects of Christmas in Peru is the ‘chocolatada’, where in the week leading up to Christmas it is popular for communities, churches and individuals to give cups of hot chocolate, toys or panettone to the poorer children or pensioners.

Photo Credit –


As the majority of Cambodian’s are Buddhist, Christmas isn’t actually a national holiday, however it’s still used as a commercial holiday and is celebrated throughout the hotels, restaurants and shops as it is a great excuse for a party and did you know, Cambodians love to party!

They don’t have a specific traditional Christmas meal, but the hotels and restaurants often serve up a slightly more western style Christmas dinner which can include roast turkey, pork and a mix of side dishes.

As they do not celebrate Christmas in the same way, not as many people have Christmas trees and if they do, they’re mostly there for decoration rather than representing anything. Cambodians that are Christian celebrate Christmas much in the same way we do in western culture, attending church services and carol service.


Photo Credit – Brad Marsellos


Christmas is celebrated widely in Malaysia, especially in the Malaysian part of Borneo.

In the city it’s common to see decorations everywhere in entertainment places, hotels, resorts, restaurants, and the homes of those who celebrate. In the villages, you do not see so many decorations. For those that can afford it they will have Christmas trees and decorations in their homes and to some Christmas is such a big occasion they have an open house for anyone to visit and enjoy the merriment and feasts.

For our in-country manager, Mel, who grew up in a household that celebrated Chinese New Year, to the Harvest Festival, finds Christmas a special time of the year to spend with close family and loved ones.


For most Kenyans living in the cities, Christmas means it’s time to head home to visit their family. Christmas day is mainly celebrated by Christians whereby they assemble in churches, worship together and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ through singing.

After the service, a BBQ is prepared, including meat from goats, sheep, chicken and cows. Some communities prefer a traditional Swahili beef pilau or chapatis (something you will get to sample when you visit Camp Kenya 😊) with drinks such as sodas, beers or locally made coconut palm wine.

Christmas trees are commonly placed in houses as well as public places during the festive season as a sign of everlasting life with God and are decorated with lights and ornaments.

In Swahili/Kiswahili,  Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Heri ya Krismasi’ and the response is ‘Wewe pia’ (you also). In the Maasai language it’s ‘nchipai e Kirismas’.


Christmas in Uganda ‘Sekukkulu’ is the most important holiday of the year and is celebrated on the 25th December.  Everything comes to a halt for Sekukkulu and people will return home to their families and communities in both urban and rural areas.

As Uganda is a predominantly Christian country, the birth of Jesus Christ is the centre of the celebrations with festivities beginning on the 24th.  On Christmas day people attend church, sing carols and wear traditional dresses and headwear.

As for the feast itself, chicken plays a central role for families.  It is smoked, seasoned, and wrapped in smoked banana leaves and then steamed together with the matoke, a type of plantain. A variety of meats are also cooked and served with sweet potatoes and rice.

Sekukkulu is not about the giving and receiving of presents as it is in the western world but instead about spending time with family, enjoying music and food.



Christmas Day is an annual holiday in Tanzania, and many people celebrate Christmas by travelling back from the cities to the villages to spend time with their parents and grandparents.

Christianity is one of the major religions in the multinational country of Tanzania and involves Christmas traditions of family getting together and putting up decorations, normally made from recycled materials.

It’s a custom to kit out children with new clothes at Christmas time – whether these have been bought at a market or hand-sewn. Children expect new clothes at Christmas and it’s an exciting time for them so parents always try their best not to disappoint!

Christmas is a religious festival and usually starts with a midnight mass on Christmas eve in the Catholic churches across Tanzania and ends with a joyous dinner with the family of mainly goat or cow.  On Christmas day a feast would typically be spicy pilau dishes, which are a mix of rice and meat.

In cities such as Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar the locals spend the evening in musical gatherings and theatre performances.

Interested in more traditions from our destinations? Then read more in this series with our blog ‘Who is Trick or Treating around the globe?’

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