How to Celebrate Christmas in Eastern Europe

Experience holiday traditions and special events in 15 countries.

How to Celebrate Christmas in Eastern Europe
••• Getty Images/Stuart Black/Robert Harding

Christmas is an important holiday that is celebrated in Eastern Europe according to the religious calendar observed in each country—while some countries celebrate Christmas on December 25, Orthodox countries observe Christmas on January 7. As a result, if you're hoping to travel through Eastern Europe for the holiday season, you should understand when these traditions take place in each of the following 15 Eastern European Countries.

In addition to the Christmas customs experienced in American culture, many of these countries also celebrate the Pagan tradition of celebrating the winter solstice, also called Yule, which was meant to symbolize an appreciation of the sun. 

From Latvia to Belarus, each of the following countries celebrate the Christmas and winter solstice holidays with their own unique traditions, customs, and special events perfect for a family vacation during the holiday season—just make sure you know when the country you plan to visit celebrates their Christmas.

Latvian Christmas Traditions

Latvia offers a combination of Christian and Pagan traditions to celebrate both Christmas (December 25) and the winter solstice (a few days before) holidays, and many Latvians mark the holiday season by offering 12 days of gifts leading up to the 25th—much like in the American song "The 12 Days of Christmas."

Latvian Christmas traditions are quite similar to those of the United States, with children across the country believing in a Santa Claus who brings presents to good boys and girls families preparing elaborate dinners to share with friends.

In fact, the country is thought by many to be one of the origins of the decorating of evergreen trees; the first mention of a Christmas tree was one decorated in Old Town Riga's Town Hall Square in 1510.

Lithuania Christmas Traditions

Lithuanian Christmas traditions are influenced by Lithuania's Roman Catholic heritage, and as a result, the country celebrates Christmas on December 25; however, the origins of many of these customs come from those of the winter solstice, which predates Christian influence in Lithuania.

In particular, Lithuanians are known for decorating their homes with handmade straw ornaments—made with either real hay or plastic straws—as well as serving 12 meatless dishes for a Christmas Eve feast. The tradition of decorating evergreen trees is relatively new to the country, though in LIthuania they break religious wafers before the meal and sometimes serve fish as an exception to the vegetarian rule.

Estonia Christmas Traditions

Estonians celebrate Christmas on December 25, but the festivities associated with the winter solstice, called Jõulud in Estonia, begin as early as St. Thomas' Day, the first day of the solstice (December 21). Christmas traditions in Estonia on this day start with a period of rest followed by a long day of brewing beer, butchering animals, and preparing food for feasts throughout the week.

Jouluvana is the Estonian Santa Claus, accompanied by Pakapikk, a Christmas elf that helps distribute gifts to good boys and girls, and although traditions saw a decline in the early 20th century, there has been a resurgence in the celebration of Christmas customs across the country.

Poland Christmas Traditions

Christmas in Poland is celebrated on December 25th with a Christmas Eve feast served on December 24th.

Poland Christmas Traditions

Christmas in Czech Republic

Christmas in Czech Republic is celebrated December 25. The Christmas carp is an important Christmas tradition in this country.

Christmas in Slovakia

Slovakia's Christmas traditions vary according to region, but share some similarities with Czech Christmas traditions.

Christmas in Hungary

Christmas in Hungary is celebrated over a 3-day period, from Christmas Eve (December 24) to December 26.

Christmas in Romania

Romanian Christmas is closely tied with pagan traditions and involve a Christmas pig slaughter and the singing of Christmas carols.

Christmas in Russia

Christmas is most widely celebrated on January 7 in Russia. Ded Moroz brings presents to children to celebrate the New Year.

Christmas in Ukraine

Ukraine celebrates Christmas on January 7. Christmas Eve, or "Holy Evening" is the most important day associated with the Christmas celebrations in Ukraine.

Christmas in Croatia

Christmas in Bulgaria

Christmas in Serbia

The Orthodox tradition has most people in Serbia celebrating Christmas on January 7.

Christmas in Albania

Albania's relationship with Christmas is unique due to historical precedent as well as the religious demographic of the country.

Christmas In Belarus

Though Belarus acknowledges its pagan heritage with the solstice celebrations predating Christmas observances, New Year's traditions often take precedent.