The USA is my number one Christmas country – I’ve seen no other place where people put so much effort into decorating their houses and public places for the holidays! There’s no way around the colorful Christmas lights and jolly Christmas music in the malls and towns – just soak it all in and you’ll get into the Christmas spirit. You’d like to learn more about the top 11 American Christmas traditions? Here you go!
Christmas in America is observed on December 25th, which is a federal holiday. On Christmas Eve, December 24th, many families go to church, read the story about Christ’s birth and gather to spend time together. The most exciting part of Christmas for children is definitely the morning of December 25th – that’s when they wake up and Santa Claus has filled their stockings with sweets, candy and little treats. If they’ve behaved well throughout the year, they will most likely find additional gifts under the Christmas tree. Later that day, families meet up for their traditional Christmas dinner and enjoy the time they get to spend with their loved ones. Christmas is a time to spread peace and love, which we so desperately need in our world.
In the US, many traditions and customs from different countries melt together in this magical time of the year – here’s my list of 11 American Christmas traditions that let you celebrate the holidays like a local:
Christmas Lights / Decorations
In many areas of the country it actually looks like it’s shown in Hollywood Christmas movies – houses are decorated with colorful lighting, glowing Santas, snowmen and reindeer, wreaths and garlands. Some houses have huge inflatable Christmas figures in their front yard. For a whole month the country turns into a winter wonderland!
The Christmas Tree
In the US I have seen the most beautiful and colorful Christmas trees! Many people put up their Evergreens by the end of November, right after Thanksgiving. They like to decorate their trees with very colorful ornaments, which often represent memories or experiences of their lives. The tree is often left up well into the New year.
Ugly Christmas Sweaters
Usually worn ironically by hipsters and intentionally by drunk uncles or grandpas… I love them! For some reason those hysterically ugly, mostly knitted Christmas sweaters from the 80’s are super popular in the US. Especially younger people enjoy having Ugly Christmas Sweater themed parties and parades – who wouldn’t want to revive an old sweater that has been sitting in your grandma’s closet for a few decades?! This is real recycling, friends!
The Elf on the Shelf
The Elf on the Shelf is a little elf doll that parents put up in their homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas. According to the story, the elf is in their home at daytime to observe the children’s behavior and he flies back to the North Pole at night to report to Santa what he’s seen. He’s back at the family’s home in the morning when the children wake up, each day in a different spot. The kids are not allowed to touch their elf, but they can talk to him and tell him their Christmas wishes.
Milk and Cookies for Santa
American children make sure Santa gets snacks and stays hydrated throughout his long journey around the world – they leave out milk and cookies for him. In many homes even his reindeer get little treats and carrots!
SantaCon is an annual event in many cities and towns throughout the US. People dress up as Santa or other Christmas related characters and go out bar hopping. Unfortunately in many places these Santa parties get a little out of hand, Santas get drunk and behave accordingly in public… It’s super fun to see so many Santas in one spot though – make sure you have a good explanation ready for your kids!
In most American families who celebrate Christmas, people hang up stockings on Christmas Eve, which are to be filled by Santa Claus with candy and little treats. Christmas stockings are empty socks or sock shaped bags that are hung from the fireplace mantel.
A Kiss beneath the Mistletoe
The tradition says to kiss while standing under the Mistletoe – a refused kiss means bad luck. After the couple kisses, they are supposed to pick a berry off the Mistletoe. Once all the berries are gone, the Mistletoe has done its magic and no longer provides good luck for any further couples.
Sending out greeting cards to friends and family in the weeks before Christmas is part of the traditional celebration in America. Many families create individual Christmas cards with photos of their family, especially their children.
Traditional Christmas meal
What would Christmas be without a mouthwatering dinner? The traditional American version of a Christmas meal could include turkey with stuffing or ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and vegetables such as carrots, turnip and parsnips.
For dessert eggnog, gingerbread cookies, yule log and fruitcake are popular choices. Most people don’t seem to be very fond of the fruitcake though, apparently it doesn’t taste very good.
Eggnog / Coquito
Eggnog is a sweetened, creamy, dairy based beverage, that’s mostly consumed in the wintertime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My favorite version of it is Coquito. Coquito is traditionally served in American households with a Puerto Rican background and tastes like a sweet, thick and creamy coconut dream.
I really hope you enjoy this special time of the year and wish you and your families happy holidays!
Especially for expats and au pairs, who are far away from home, it can be a tough time. Dive into the American Christmas spirit, hang out with your friends and be amazed by the colorful lights and decorations.
Merry Christmas y’all!