Christmas on Paulista Avenue, São Paulo, Brazil.

It’s brandy and a mince pie for Santa in Britain, while some families leave carrots for reindeer. Australians leave out beer with cookies for the man in the red suit, while other countries leave nothing at all.

In Europe, many countries recognize St. Nicholas Day as a major celebration, while New Year’s is a bigger observance in other parts of the world. With Florida’s population exploding, many people are incorporating unique perspectives into a most festive season. Here’s some expat insight from residents in the surrounding counties explaining the nuances that allow their cultures to shine during the holidays. 


Menu and Traditions: A traditional menu in Ukraine includes a full feast with caviar, mashed potatoes, cabbage salads, beet salad with pickled herring, potato salad, baked pork or any meat, fish and champagne.  

Pine trees are put up on New Year’s Eve. Santa Claus comes on New Year’s Eve and puts presents under the tree. These are opened after midnight. Trees are decorated and candles lit. The New Year’s party continues all night long.

Christmas is strictly a religious observance on January 6, known as the epiphany, to acknowledge the birth of Jesus Christ. Over 80% of Ukrainians are Christians, with the majority practicing the Eastern Orthodox religion. Santa is not part of this celebration; people attend church services. 

As for Santa: Santa travels differently in Ukraine; with three white horses and a long, warm coat. Sometimes he is alone, other times he has a young woman companion who is his granddaughter. There are no sweet cookies or luscious milk to drink. Instead, Saint Nicholas is showered with shots of vodka during his travels to help warm him up and keep his nose from turning red or blue from the frosty air.

-Viktoriya, Ukraine native in Florida.

Christmas market in Lviv, Ukraine


Menu and Traditions: Though ham and turkey are staples for the Christmas holiday in Mexico, this country leaves the gravy behind, taking the bird to a different level with a mole; a sauce that has unique nuances depending on the region in which it’s prepared. Tamales, atole and ponche are also traditional food items popular for the holidays and are found during the posadas as well.

Atole, a thick drink like hot chocolate, is made with masa harina, a cornmeal that is also used to make tortillas. Ponche is a hot fruity punch made with fruits like prunes, guava, apples and pears as well as hibiscus, cane sugar and spices. It can be served with or without alcohol.

While trees are up for Christmas, a bigger focus is the nativity display. Many Mexicans are Christians with over 75% distinguishing as Catholics. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, which is when families get together to celebrate. Children leave milk and cookies for Santa. On Three Kings Day, January 5, children leave their shoes hoping for gifts and money. 

-Laura, from Mexico City, Mexico


Menu and Traditions: Brazil’s Christmas menu is similar to a Thanksgiving meal in the U.S. It’s a delicious spread of turkey, gravy, ham, stuffing, etc. However, the country is home to diverse groups of people, who also have entwined their heritage with Brazil’s customs. “My favorite is turkey, [which] for me tastes like Christmas,” says Gisele of her native country’s tradition.

Nearly 90% of Brazilians identify as Christians. It’s summer in Brazil during the holiday season, making beach trips a staple event. Houses are decorated inside and out, complete with trees, lights and festive wreaths. Decorations are put up in the beginning of December and left up until January 6. Nativity scenes are immensely popular, known as Presepio, and are set up in churches starting at the beginning of December. Santa Claus is known as Papai Noel or Bom Velhinho, which translates to “Good Old Man.” Children often leave a sock in hopes Papai Noel will exchange it for a present. Amigo secreto, or secret friends, are immensely popular in social circles and work groups.

Families get together and celebrate on Christmas Eve. At midnight, gifts are exchanged. Santa makes an appearance for all to see, but no treats are left for Father Christmas.

-Gisele, Brazil native in Florida

Christmas market in Wroclaw, Poland


Menu and Traditions: 

Wigilia, a traditional Christmas Eve vigil and supper, is observed in Poland. Many attribute the entire 24th of December as Wigilia, encompassing the tradition of midnight Mass in the predominately Roman Catholic country. Many fast before serving 12 dishes during dinner. These items represent the 12 Apostles. 

Historically, Saint Nicholas would bring gifts on December 6. However, in different families and communities, he sometimes appears on both December 6 and 25. 

Pierogis are dumplings made from farmer’s cheese, onions and potatoes. Families make a light beet soup called borscht. A main signature dish is golumpki, which are stuffed cabbage rolls.

Meat is left out of the evening meal, though fish may be served. Before dinner, a wafer is shared, giving each other best wishes. 

“Our Polish relatives send the sacrament from Poland and as we go around the table breaking off a piece of the Host (a wafer blessed by a priest thought to have undergone transubstantiation). We tell of what we are thankful for and our prayers for the next year. It’s a great time. Then some of us try to make it to midnight Mass,” says Kim, a Polish American with family in Krakow, Poland.


Menu and Traditions:

Though a majority of Lebanese practice Islam, nearly 40% of Lebanese distinguish themselves as Christian. Lebanese Catholics decorate Christmas trees and set up nativity scenes on December 5, right after St. Barbara’s Day. Catholic families also attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Visits to family and friends begin Christmas Day and continue through the New Year. Streets throughout towns and cities are decorated with festive designs, beginning in mid-November.

The holiday is focused on family, food, religion and celebrating the birth of Jesus. Santa is honored as a saint. As such, it is customary for a family member to dress up as Santa, giving out gifts after dinner and before mass. 

A traditional menu consists of several courses:

Cold mezza: tabouli, fattoush (bread salad), kibbi naye (raw meat), hummus, baba ghanouj (eggplant dip with garlic, lemon and tahini) and grape leaves. 

Hot mezza: fried cheese rolls, fried kibbi, sambousek (meat pies), makanek (Lebanese style sausages), soujok (spicey lamb and beef sausage) and fries. 

Main Meal: either chicken or lamb with rice and a plethora of nuts. 

Dessert: Buche de Noel, or Yule Log cake and Mighli, a rice pudding spiced with cinnamon and caraway, with optional toppings like coconut, pistachios and almonds. It is a traditional dessert to celebrate a new baby or Christmas. 

There are also Christmas chocolates, sugar-coated almonds, and liquor shots as well as Lebanese coffee. It is courteous and essential to present a gift to the household you are visiting. An older tradition was for the younger siblings to journey first to visit their parents, then the eldest sibling.  

Courtesy of Sherine Akl and Helen Attieh, owners of A Taste of Lebanon, a catering company honoring their heritage and designed to bring authentic Lebanese cuisine to Northeast Florida

Christmas tree at Byblos in Lebanon


Menu and Traditions:

Holiday celebrations begin on December 7, the day of the Immaculate Conception, continuing until January 6, Three Kings Day.  Although gifts are usually exchanged on Christmas Eve, it is Niño Dios who distributes gifts to children. 

New Year’s Eve is also an incredible celebration in Colombia. According to Viviana, “They go all out. It’s even bigger than Christmas.” In the U.S., most people get together with friends on New Year’s. However, in Colombia, it’s customary to spend this evening exclusively with family, usually at home with a lot of music and dancing. Unique to Colombians, on New Year’s Eve, many eat 12 grapes at midnight to bring good luck. Some also walk around the block with a suitcase to entice a productive year of travel.

Pork roast, ajiaco (chicken and potato soup) or tamales are popular for mealtime. Many Colombian families make a brothy-type soup called “consome” to have ready for the evening to help with the hangover, especially for New Year’s festivities. 

-Courtesy of Viviana, Colombian-America

Puerto Rico

Menu and Traditions:

On the island of Puerto Pico, the holiday season begins right after Thanksgiving, making it one of the longest celebrations in the world. Decorations are put up at this time and left until mid-January for all to enjoy.

Parrandas are a popular occurrence. Friends and families gather quietly outside a house late in the evening with instruments to sing traditional carols. The intention is to burst into lively song surprising, and potentially waking, the household with merriment. As Puerto Rican native Mayredlis explains, “Parrandas are Christmas carols on steroids.” On Three King’s Day (January 6), children leave shoeboxes with grass for the camels as well as milk or water for the kings.

Traditionally, a jubilant, music-filled festival called las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian signifies the end of the holiday season.

A signature celebratory menu consists of rice with pigeon peas (arroz con gandules), pork roast (lechon asado), potato salad, boiled pig stomach (cuajito) with boiled green banana and morcilla (blood sausages with rice). Flan and tres leches are classic options for dessert.

-Courtesy of Mayredlis, Puerto Rican native

Christmas tree lined road in San Juan, Puerto RIco

Kindly note, although these topics were researched, they ultimately represent the experiences of Florida residents either native to the respective region or with family in the respective country. We understand traditions, values and faiths within each area vary. The insights provided are specific to individuals and their knowledge of the respective region.

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