It's our second Christmas together here at the Institute and we wanted to continue the tradition of sharing our traditions for Christmas! Like last year, they may not be the same for everyone, but they help bring us together across Greater Europe, and that's what the Institute it all about. So from the Institute for a Greater Europe, we wish you all a Merry Christmas!
Ana Popova - Ruse, Bulgaria
Celebrating Christmas in Bulgaria is all about a miraculous process of weight gain. The traditional Christmas’ Eve dinner is made of an odd number of dishes which should not contain meet. However, drinking 45% Mulled Rakia without the consumption of any animal would not meet the standards of a true Bulgarian. Your grandmother has at least put some effort into hiding the meat in pickled cabbage leaves and has created the wonder of Sarma.
The enjoyment of this dazzling array of tastes is followed by a heart-warming tradition called Koleduvane. Christmas Carolers visit the homes and sing songs wishing health and happiness, starting their rounds on Christmas Eve. The positive power of these wishes chases away the demons, which makes the visit of these young men an especially positive experience for Bulgarian households.
The whole evening in expectation of the Koledari singers is spent with the family around the fire, where a huge block of oak or cherry tree called Badnik keeps the house warm all night long. This embodies one of our oldest Christmas traditions which have been around since pagan times and is used to tell our fortune. If the stump burns heavily and bright, the year is going to be one of much health and fertility.
Peter Merritt - Niagra Falls, Canada
The Christmas season in Canada is the happiest time of the year. The festive feelings begin early into December when many people decorate their house and front yards with flashy, colourful, and cheerful christmas celebrations in anticipation of the big day. Many children receive advent calendars from their parents, as a daily reminder that Christmas is right around the corner.
The centrepiece of the Christmas season in any house is the Christmas tree. Households decorate their Christmas trees with garland and ornaments special to them, no two Christmas trees are ever the same. As the day draws near, families gather from all across the country (and globe) and embrace each other’s company. On Christmas Eve, children are allowed to open one gift and hang up their stockings to be stuffed.
Cookies and milk are left out, in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. In the early hours of the morning on the 25th Santa Claus comes down the chimney and delivers presents to all the children. These presents are opened with great excitement on the morning of the 25th, followed by a day of eating sweets and festive foods. In the evening Christmas dinner is served. The most common Christmas meal is Turkey with ‘all the trimmings’, such as mashed potatoes, gravy, and a variety of vegetables. The day following Christmas is known as ‘Boxing Day’, it is a day where many stores have discounts and deals, so many people spend the day going from store to store to stock up on Christmas gifts for next year!
Lucia Nafziger - Cologne, Germany
In the morning of the 24th every child in Germany jumps out of bed to open the final door of their “Adventskalender”. The advent calendar plays a major role during the christmas festivities here. The excitement of receiving a small surprise everyday from the first day of December on, makes the waiting for christmas a tiny bit easier! The tradition can be traced back to the German Protestants who drew chalk marks on doors or lit candles to count the days leading up to Christmas. Next to the advent calendar we still light up candles to continue this tradition. On Christmas Eve the faces of everyone around the festively laid tables are illuminated by the four candles on the “Adventskranz”. Each one having been lit on one of the four preceding Sundays, on which we often sing carols. Not seldom however, the wreath fades into the background between enormous piles of “Plätzchen” (biscuits of various sorts) and different creations of “Lebkuchenhäuser”. The typical dinner on Christmas Eve varies between carp, mainly eaten in many Catholic families; potato salad with sausages or goose roast.
“Adventskranz” and “Plätzchen”
Timothée Albessard - Paris, France
Christmas, in France, is a long, commercial wait full of convulsing LEDs and glittering advertising for a single, short event that we never seem to get done with. Christmas, therefore, is Brexit. Yet it is a rather more seasoned one. Turkey, venison, name your own meat and you will have it slowly cooked in a thick, exquisite sauce for three hours. Such cholesterol-friendly delicacies inevitably go hand-in-hand with the Frenchiest treats: carefully chosen wines, and bubbly glasses of champagne for those who did not sign up for church. There are, after all, many kinds of holy water.
On to polemics now. Christmas dinners always go political, and it should be even more so this year with the current strikes in France (cannot blame you for calling it a pleonasm). Add some foie gras to your dinner table and the brawl is complete, when your classic, half-drunk uncle is calling you a vegetarian extremist if you dare say force-feeding geese is not your favourite cup of tea.
The only way to ease people’s minds is to start quarrelling about whether Santa Claus is to drop Christmas presents in the evening of the 24th, or in the morning of the 25th. Open up another bottle of champagne, gather the kids under the garlanded tree and pretend your grandparents’ gift is the most beautiful pair of socks you have ever received, and it surely will be a merry, merry Christmas.
Marcell Ottó Ormándy - Békéscsaba, Hungary
Christmas in Hungary is a celebration of family. Since Father Christmas, called Mikulás in Hungarian, comes on the 6th of December, we also celebrate the coming of Jesus during these 3 days. On the 24th, on Christmas Eve, also knows as the Evening of the Saint (“Szenteste”) people usually fast until the evening, and have the Christmas Dinner, families also get together to decorate pine trees. On the 25th gifts are exchanged and people sit together for the Christmas Lunch with the wider family. Hungarians get the day of the 26th off as part of the holidays, but there aren’t any habits regarding that day.
Hungarians also observe Advent, the period of waiting, by creating a circular wreath with 4 candles. The candles are lit each Sunday before Christmas, the first being the longest and the last being the shortens to make up for the time difference. The candles are all lit on Christmas Dinners and Lunches.
Abhivardhan - Allahabad, India
Allahabad, which these days, is known as Prayagraj, is popular for its Kumbh festival of Hindus and the Ganga-Jamuni culture, which an assortment of different religions and cultures. Different people from India in the North Belt live here and share a legacy since the British Raj after the Mughals and Nawabs in Lucknow. Allahabad is the centre of the North Indian Catholic Diocese and other religious institutions as well, which established a pro Indo-Western culture of Christmas here in a special way. We celebrate it no different, but we resemble it as pluralistic and one, which itself embarks a unity in diversity in our city. People here, whether Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Parsis, celebrate Christmas in their own Indian styles as they do with an International event like Kumbh at a city level like no other city in India. We have been that different and ironic over the relishing habit of regarding Christmas as a symbol of peace and diversity like Ramadan, Holi and other fests. Greetings for the same!
Adrian Waters - Rome, Italy
In Italy the Christmas festivities begin on 8th December when they celebrate the Immaculate Conception, i.e. the conception of Mary, as God absolved her of all sins when she was still in the womb according to the Roman Catholic tradition. On this day Italians put up their decorations and prepare the Christmas Tree. One notable aspect of Italian-style Christmas is the traditional model of the nativity scene, known as the presepe. It can be found in churches, in other public places and in family homes and often it depicts the town of Bethlehem in meticulous detail.
Most people associate Italy with good food. And as a matter of fact a lot of delicious food is consumed during this festivity. This includes panettone (a sweet bread with candied fruit inside), pandoro (which does not have the fruit, but it is shaped like a star and usually covered with icing sugar) and torrone (nougat). The most important meal of this festivity is on Christmas Eve when Italians cook a huge dinner, based mainly on seafood. Religious people often go to church for a mass after eating.
Shabneez Ramjane - Rose-Hill, Mauritius
Christmas in Mauritius is one of the times when Santa Claus gets to take a deep dive into a lively tropical summery island with temperatures rising to 27 or even 32 degrees at times. With tourism at its peak, hotels make sure they have special packages for tourists to experience Christmas in a very exotic and unique way.
Along with marvellous flame trees blooming, and rare tropical fruits like lychees and Dragon Eye fruits - “Longan” in creole – being readily available at this time of the year, during Christmas, you will also find shopping centres burgeoning with late night shopping, as well as street hawkers selling Christmas gifts and cards, firecrackers, clothes and miscellaneous stuff mushrooming around every corner of the street.
In Mauritius, Christmas trees are normally put up on Christmas Eve, and these vary from natural pines to artificial ones. Being a melting pot of diverse religions, ethnicities and races, Christmas celebrations differ widely. While most Mauritians would rather be enjoying the animated night life or spending time at the beach eating BBQs, dancing sega, among others, many Catholics would be attending the mass in Churches, while other families would simply be having a normal evening with a special meal, depending upon the religion and tastes, and wine, rum, whisky, and champagne. Fireworks are usually blown at midnight, and after the kids are asleep, parents would put their gifts under the Christmas Tree which the kids open the next morning on the 25th.
Diego Sánchez - Lima, Peru
Thanks to our cultural diversity, Peru hosts different traditions to receive and celebrate Christmas. Probably, the most common one shared by all cities in Peru consists of eating the famous “panetón”. Originally from Italy, this sweet and delicious bread found itself a place in most families’ tables within the capital city. Accompanied mostly with a cup of hot chocolate and butter, despite awareness of its impact on health, it represents a moment of joy to each family that reunites for Christmas’ Eve dinner (December 24th). However, apart from complementing the Eve’s dinner with a juicy and applauded turkey, including the champagne, many Limean families have started to prepare and bake a “lechón” (piglet), instead. Furthermore, a traditional Christmas in a Christian/Catholic family from Lima cannot exist without preparing a “pesebre” in their homes (Christmas Manger) that symbolises the birth of Christ. In spite of the strong religious influence of these practices, Limean families seek to have this dinner with joy and creativity, especially after the famous last hour rush on the 24th to buy presents and ingredients to make this dinner possible. Finally, this tradition cannot come to an end without the popular “recalentado” (to heat and cook all leftovers from Eve) that all families continue to share for the lunch on the 25th.
Elena Ruxandra Seniuc - Suceava, Romania
Christmas in Romania is all about visiting your relatives and eating as much as possible. These all-you-can-eat buffets are often compulsory and if you dare to engage in a never-ending food-denying process with your grandmother, I am telling you, she’ll win; no one refuses grandma’s food. Unlike Bulgaria, Romania’s Christmas food is mostly made out of pork (and sometimes there’s some rooster if you’re lucky). From Sarmale to Aspic or Cozonac (nutty sweet bread), these are all guilty of your latest weight gain. However, the star of the Christmas dinner is always the Russian/Romanian Boeuf (or Olivije) Salad. Made out of finely chopped boiled potatoes, carrots, parsnip, peas, gherkins and ham (or other meaty products), all mixed with industrial quantities of mayo, it represents the pièce de résistance of a good hospitable host. Late in the evening, the family gathers to exchange impressions and the latest family feud/gossip. The night ends with homemade sweets and cakes, a glass of wine, and watching with satisfaction the execution of the former Communist leaders, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena, streamed on a yearly basis on national TV, hoping that some miracle will actually bring a change for the better for the future of this beautiful country.
Pablo Garfias - Catalonia, Spain
Catalonia, a region of Spain that has seen its fair share of participation in recent global news, has a rather odd tradition for Christmas; that of ‘el caganer’, or ‘the defecator’ in English. Literally, it involves a crouching figurine in people’s homemade nativity scenes, hidden amongst the different and more established characters of the three kings, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. There are likely many questions running through your head, the most probable being: ‘What? Why? When? How?’. Well, this eschatological image traces back around 200 years to somewhere between the late 18th century and beginning of the 19th century and its meaning is still debated; everyone seems to find their own meaning in this controversial albeit ironic figure in the otherwise holy scene. In the rural, agricultural communities, the caganer symbolises fertility and makes the chances of a good harvest more likely for those who choose to put them in their nativity scene. Others believe that he is meant to humble the authorities by adding humour and irony to the strict religious practice - a meaning that one might find most popular today if they were to stro