Christmas in the USA: How It Is Celebrated, and Traditions

Petr Novák

Christmas, often abbreviated as Xmas, is regarded by most Americans as the most important time of the year. Families from across the USA gather together, sing carols, and open presents from Santa Claus on the morning of December 25. Turkey and stuffing, ham, and eggnog flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg are staples on the holiday table.

Christmas in the USA: How It Is Celebrated, and Traditions | © Anthony Quintano,, © Markus Spiske,

  1. Table of Contents
    1. When Christmas Is Celebrated in the USA
    2. Santa Claus and the Eight Reindeer
    3. American Christmas Traditions and Customs
    4. Christmas Food and Candy in the USA

    When Christmas Is Celebrated in the USA

    The Christmas season in the USA slowly kicks in following Thanksgiving. Stores become packed with decorations, American homes are adorned with lights, and Christmas movies begin to dominate television programming.

    While Christmas is celebrated on the same dates as in most parts of the world, traditions and customs vary:

    🎅 December 24 – Christmas Eve

    In most states, Christmas Eve is not a national holiday. People usually work or travel to join the rest of their family. Last-minute shoppers can be found decorating their homes with lights, buying gifts, and hanging stockings on their fireplaces in the evening.

    🎅 December 25 – Christmas Day

    Christmas Day is the most significant day of the Christmas season in the USA. Eager children wake up early in the morning to open their presents from Santa Claus. While some families consider Christmas Eve as the primary day for dinner, others wait until Christmas Day to have their feast.

    🎅 December 26 – The Day After Christmas

    Most workers and students enjoy this day as a public holiday. Families get together, and tables are filled with an abundance of food.

  2. Santa Claus and the Eight Reindeer

    In the USA, gifts are delivered by Santa Claus on the night of December 24, entering homes exclusively through chimneys and fireplaces. Despite being a bit overweight, Santa occasionally gets stuck in a chimney.

    Instead of relying on American Airlines, Delta, or other airlines, Santa uses a flying sleigh pulled by a team of reindeer. According to the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, there are eight of them: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner (also known as Donder and Dunder), and Blitzen (also known as Blixem and Blixen).

    The original team of eight is occasionally joined by the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a less-known reindeer named Olive.

    Children wishing to get in good favor with Santa and his crew leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa and a few carrots for the reindeer. Santa, the bearded man from the North Pole, keeps a list of both good and naughty children. The good children open their presents on the morning of December 25, while the naughty children find only coal in their stockings.

  3. American Christmas Traditions and Customs

    Every year, neighbors compete to see whose tree is taller and who has more lights on their house. The most enthusiastic decorators start adorning their homes at the end of November, their light installations often overflowing with kitschy representations of Santa Claus, reindeer, and other characters. Americans spend about $6 billion each year on Christmas decorations.

    The center of Christmas celebrations is the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Every year since 1933, a giant spruce tree sourced from a state on the east coast of the USA has been displayed there. The record is held by a 30-foot tree imported from Connecticut in 1999. The tree lighting ceremony takes place annually in late November or early December.

    The National Christmas Tree is displayed from December 1 to January 1 near the White House in the northern part of Ellipse Park. The initial lighting ceremony is traditionally attended by the President of the USA.

    Among the most popular Christmas movies in the USA are Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Elf.

  4. Christmas Food and Candy in the USA

    Traditional Christmas food in America varies from family to family based on ethnicity. The dishes served are similar to those at Thanksgiving. Predominant choices include roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, ham, roast beef, and pudding. The pudding is usually filled with plums, nuts, ginger, raisins, or cloves.

    American Christmas cookies primarily consist of pies – apple pie, carrot cake, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie. Gingerbread and candy canes dominate among smaller treats. Sweet white and red candy canes, often sold with mint flavor, are classic Christmas candies that must be colorful and shaped like snowmen, Santa Claus, or stars.

    Hot chocolate, apple cider, and eggnog are the favored beverages during Christmas in America. These are served with or without alcohol.

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