• Institute for a Greater Europe

The Institute Presents: Traditions of Christmas 2020

This is the third Christmas we've celebrated here at the Institute and what a year 2020 has been. Throughout all the crisis at the start, to the pandemic mid-way through, we've been pushed to the end just as many others have. Neverthless, this year was a great one for us, and we thank everyone who has managed to make this one of our most active and impressive years yet, despite the whole situation. This Christmas we're going to be reflecting a lot more on all the people who've helped us get here, and invite all to do the same from where they're from.

In this edition we've managed to get over 37 countries to join us in exploring their traditions, encompassing a good amount of what we like to call Greater Europe. For those wondering why there aren't more, don't worry Orthodox Christmas traditions are coming up soon on the 7th of January!

We hope this collection opens up your eyes as to how we each celebrate Christmas our own way in Greater Europe, and wish you and your family a wonderful Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays wherever you are!

Philippe Lefevre - Chair of the Institute


Thanks to everyone who participated this year! We have a huge amount of traditions to share with you this year, see below the countries we've managed to include and an overview of the wonderful people who helped. See this map for all the countries we've involved this year!

Albania - Lutjona Lula

Austria - Julia Vassileva Latvia - Bella Bērziņa

Belgium - Alex Luyckx Lithuania - Greta Kundrotaitė

Bosnia and Herzegovina - Sara Udovičić Malta - Matt Micallef St John

Bulgaria - Ana Popova Mauritius - Shabneez Ramjane

Canada - Peter Merrit Moldova - EA

Croatia - Iva Brajković Netherlands - Puck van Vlerken

Cyprus - George Pepios Norway - Jakob Matthiessen

Czechia - Eva Faltusova Peru - Diego Sánchez Borjas

Denmark - Kian Vandsted Poland - Maria Popczyk

Estonia - Anna-Liisa Merilind Portugal - Miguel Silva

France - Timothée Albessard Romania - Ruxandra Seniuc

Germany - Lucia Nafziger Slovakia - Lukáš Dravecký

Greece - Valentina Koumoulou Slovenia - Amanda Teršar

Hungary - Marcell Ottó Ormándy Spain (Catalonia) - Pablo Garfias

India (Allahbad) - Abhivardhan Sweden - Beatrice Semmelweis

Ireland - Stefanie Fox Switzerland - Katharina Burren

Italy - Adrian Waters UK - Philippe Lefevre

Kosovo - Lorena Sekiraqa USA - Jack Lashendock

Albania - Lutjona Lula

Christmas atmosphere in Albania is very vivid and bright and despite general understanding of Albania as a "Muslim country" this might be surprising!

The fact is that Albania is a as Muslim-majority country with orthodox and Catholics being the second largest religious groups. However, the entire country is lightened up for Christmas and New Year and almost every house puts up a tree, despite the religion. This can be explained through history throughout which religions were imported to the country by different civilizations crossing by, but the most recent influence is that of communist where religion was banned for 40 years. This is considered to have created a secular society.

However, in the country, all religious holiday are a way to stay close to the family. The biggest celebration is that of New Year’s Eve where people gather with families and cook traditional dishes. The food that mustn’t miss in the tables that night is ‘Baklava’, which is often a topic of pride for each family.

Austria - Julia Vassileva

The pre-Christmas time is very important for Austrians. Starting four weekends before Christmas, four “advent-candles” are being lit each Sunday, accompanied by Christmas songs. Christmas markets are particularly important in December, with traditional Christmas food, such as mulled wine, Langos (Hungarian fried dough), or Kiachl (in the Western part of Austria). Cities are decorated with lights and Christmas trees.

Austrians celebrate Christmas eve as the most important day of the three days of Christmas. A particularity of Austrian Christmas is that Austrian children do not believe in Santa Clause, but in the “Christkind”, or child of Christ, and angels which bring the presents. Traditionally, families have dinner on Christmas eve, then suddenly, in the room where the Christmas tree stands, presents “appear” and the candles are lit. Traditional Christmas songs (many coming from folklore) are sung.

As the majority of Austrians are Catholic, two additional dates are important. The first is the Stephansdom, Vienna - by Author

5th of December, which is St Nicolas day, when the

“Saint” (dressed in a costume) visits households and brings presents to the good children; those who have been naughty are scared by Krampus (an obscure monster-like hairy creature). The second important date is after Christmas day: the 6th of January, when the three holy kings (organised by the church, usually three children in costumes) visit houses, give their blessings and receive donations.

Belgium - Alex Luyckx

In Belgium, the festive period begins on December 6th with St. Nicholas' Day. The saint patron of children distributes gifts to the wiser children and salt and coal to the more dissipated ones. Then comes Christmas. Families gather around the Christmas tree to distribute gifts and share a good time by the fire. As in many countries, turkey is the traditional dish. However, despite the cold and snowy weather that is common in Belgium, the Christmas log, a chocolate or chestnut ice-cream cake, is the country's favourite dessert. After the meal, some families continue to brave the cold to go to midnight mass and then share a mulled wine.

Another tradition is that the youngest children prepare a small presentation (poem, nursery rhyme, music) for their grandparents. Finally, a typical Belgian pastry of the winter period is the cougnou, a sweet brioche that perfectly accompanies the hot chocolate of the youngest as well as the oldest.

Bosnia and Herzegovina - Sara Udovičić

Christmas in Bosnia, at lest for me is one of the most magical days of the year. Every year, my family and I have a tradition where we go to our friends' house and all collectively celebrate it. There is a big Christmas tree under which are presents for all guests and there are a lot of festive decorations.

A few families that live all over the world gather and we all have drinks and have a great bonding time. We usually don't see a lot of those people because they live elsewhere so it's always fun catching up and seeing what's new in their lives. We have a big Christmas diner, with turkey, potatoes, all sorts of vegetables and a variety of deserts and Christmas cookies. We all bring presents and open them there. When I and other kids were younger, my friend's dad would dress up as Santa Claus and give us presents. Christmas is one of the best childhood memories that I have.

Bulgaria - Ana Popova

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 Christmas Dinner - by Author 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.

Canada - Peter Merrit

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!

Croatia - Iva Brajković

The Christmas period in Croatia is very much about traditions. It is customary to have an Advent wreath with four candles representing the four weeks of Advent. Every Sunday during the Advent period we light one additional candle. The younger members of the family and all those young at heart also have an Advent calendar filled with chocolates to count down the days until Christmas. On 6th December we celebrate Saint Nicolas Day when children wake up to find small gifts in their shoes. Another important date in Croatia is Saint Lucia's Day on December 13. It is a day when we plant wheat seeds in a small pot, so that it grows until Christmas. It is often said that the taller the wheat is, the more prosperous the coming year will be. In short, December in Croatia is all about anticipation of Christmas.

However, the most traditional part of Christmas is related to food. In continental Croatia we usually eat cod fish on 24th December as it is traditionally a fasting day. It is true that cod fish has a very strong smell and there are many people who cannot eat it because of it, but it remains a tradition in my family and I couldn't imagine eating anything else on Christmas Eve. Many Croatians go to Midnight Mass where we sing traditional Christmas songs. In my

family we open the gifts on Christmas morning. In

Wheat Growing - by Author contrast to Christmas Eve, you can be sure to

enjoy a real feast on Christmas Day in Croatia. In my family we usually prepare turkey or duck served with potatoes or a special type of pasta called mlinci. Dessert is, of course, mandatory and there are many traditional cakes and pastries. My personal favourite are simple Christmas biscuits filled with marmalade and a traditional Croatian layered cake filled with chocolate called Mađarica (literal translation is “Hungarian girl”, but it really is a classic Croatian dessert). Although it is impossible to escape the commercial aspects of the holidays, many people in Croatia enjoy Christmas festivities and keep the traditions alive year after year.

Cyprus - George Pepios

Christmas in Cyprus has always been a traditionally religious holiday, centred around the family. Testament to this is the fact that many Cypriots fast 40 days before Christmas Day to cleanse their body and soul for welcoming newborn Jesus. Young people do their part in celebrating the birth of Jesus by re-enacting the centuries-long tradition of going from door to door signing carols on Christmas Eve. They get rewarded either with small amounts of money or the two most popular sweet treats of the season: kourabiedes (almond biscuits coated in icing sugar) and melomakarona (cinnamon and honey syrup cookies glazed in nuts). Undoubtedly, Cypriot

Christmas revolves around the quasi-ritualistic consumption of copious quantities of home-cooked food. Feasting begins early in the morning of Christmas Day, as the 6am church service is followed by a zesty soup of egg lemon and a rich, meat-heavy lunch that usually involves extended family members and lasts for hours. However, staying true to tradition, children do not receive their presents on Christmas Day but on New Year’s Day, to honour Saint ‘Ai’ Vasilis, the Greek Orthodox version of Santa Claus.

Czechia - Eva Faltusova

The 24th of December is in the Czech Republic most festive and joyful day of the year dedicated to family, calm, traditions, and sort of retrospect of past year. And mainly to food (and getting fat too ☹)

Firstly, December is a month when every Czech kid opens every morning one window of the adventcalendar and agog waits till the Christmas Eve. At the same time through the month of December, moms and grandmas prepare according to their old family recipes Christmas biscuits (cukroví) which can vary among regions (For example I come from north-east Bohemia and our Christmas cannot be without a biscuit (bobaľky or Buchtičky se sirobem) with special sour sirup filling made from sugar beet and poppy). These biscuits are made carefully throughout whole month in order to be perfect at the Christmas Eve, where they complete the table with another sweet speciality called Vánočka. During the 24th tradition is to fast, so lunch is connected with Vánočka or other regional variants of apple strudel or Stolle completed with pearl barley with mushroom and garlic. After whole day of eating sweets, we all sit around the family table and eat potato salad with carb, schnitzel or sausage.

Cukroví Potato Salad and Carp Vánočka

by Dezidor CC BY 3.0 by Wuestenigel CC BY 2.0 By Ntr23 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

All in all, Christmas are for Czechs connected with traditions not only concerning food. The Czechs are famous for Christmas carols but mainly for the “Christmas mass” or Rybova mše from Jakub Jan Ryba that we tend to either sing or we go to a concert to church or we do the “midnight church mass” of the Christmas Eve.

With these carols there are many other traditions regarding future and storytelling as Christmas for Czechs are time to close the previous year and start a new one. That is why, every member of the family cuts an apple and if there is a star in the core of the apple that person will be lucky in the next year. Also a weird tradition is throwing a slipper, these are only for non-married women. So to explain, the women shall stand back to door and throw backwards a slipper, if the slipper is afterwards located by the toe towards the door it means that this women will marry next year…

So on you girls, to try this tradition if you will be stay “single” or will marry soon.

Denmark - Kian Vandsted

Christmas in Denmark is usually full of joy, good food and plenty of traditions. On 1 December, many Danes light the “special” candle that both counts down to Christmas (24 December), but also plays an important part in the famous Danish “hygge.” When the candle reaches day 13, Denmark celebrates Saint Lucy’s Day. This takes place mostly in schools, hospitals and retirement homes where a Saint Lucy designee, who is wearing a lighted wreath, is leading a procession followed by young girls (and sometimes boys) dressed in white who carries lighted candles in their hands.

The 24th of December is the big day where the family is gathered together to celebrate. The Christmas dinner usually consists of duck and Danish roast pork called “flæskesteg” (good luck pronouncing that) with boiled potatoes (both regular and sugar browned), brown sauce (gravy) and red cabbage. Hereafter follows the traditional Danish rice dessert, “risalamande,” with crushed almonds and topped with cherry sauce. The most

interesting part of the dessert is to find the one whole almond that is hidden in the dessert as the one finding it will receive an additional Christmas gift called “the almond gift.” When everyone is done eating, the family dance around the Christmas tree for a few traditional Danish Christmas songs (yes, this is another fun Danish tradition) and then the gifts can finally be opened. For 25 and 26 December, Danes celebrate the last Christmas days with family by eating Christmas lunch together.

Dancing around the Christmas Tree

by Upplandsmuseet CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Estonia - Anna-Liisa Merilind

Estonians are famously one of the most religious-indifferent nations in the world but since we still belong to the Christian culture space then Christmas is a big celebration for most people. The first of Advent marks the beginning of the holiday season and with each passing week, an additional candle is lit in the triangle-shaped candle-holder.

The day for bringing home a Christmas tree differs per household but my family usually does it a couple of days before Christmas Eve. In Estonia you can go to a state-owned forest and pick your soon-to-be Christmas tree yourself – you pay in the mobile app and the price depends on the length of the tree. Pretty cool! Then the tree is properly decorated together with the entire family and a star goes to the top of the tree.

Christmas Eve (24 December) is then the big day. Around four p.m., grandparents and closest family members gather to sit down for a formal Christmas dinner. My mom makes the best pork meat in the oven, served with mashed potatoes and pumpkin from my grandmother’s garden. My favourite dessert is the redcurrant-white chocolate two-layered cake. Everyone eats pretty quickly because they are anxiously waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. These days even my little brother has grown up but we usually always have Father Christmas come by and presents are only redeemed by a poem or a song or dance. The rest of the evening is quiet and a time for rest and reflection. On Christmas Day, we have a tradition of going to the forest for a 10-kilometer hike to get fresh air and already start working off the extra calories. All in all, December is a time for winding the year down, reflecting on the good and bad, setting goals for the next year, and cherishing the time spent with family.

France - Timothée Albessard

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.

Germany - Lucia Nafziger

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 Plätzchen

by dirkvorderstrasse CC BY 2.0. by Astrid Kopp CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Greece - Valentina Koumoulou

Χριστούγεννα (Christougenna), which in Greek means the birth of Christ, is celebrated on the 25th of December. Greece has its own version of Santa Claus, called Agios Vasilis, who visits children (sometimes not only children), not on Christmas Eve but on New Year’s Eve (that’s the saint’s name day) to deliver gifts to anyone who hasn’t been naughty all year. Greeks in order to honour him, cut a New Year’s cake, called “Vasilopita”, which contains a coin hidden in the dough and the person to find it in their slice is said to be blessed with good fortune.

While Saint Vasilis is the star of the show, Saint Nicholas (whose name day is in December) also has a place in Greek Christmas celebrations. He is the patron saint of sailors and he is honored during the holiday period with decorated boats, often found where you would expect a Christmas tree.

On Christmas Eve, children go out singing “kalanda” (carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. If they sing well, they might be given money or traditional Christmas treats, like kourabiedes and melomakarona.

These are a kind of Christmas cookies, which has really divided the Greek population into two sides for which is the best. Most people enjoy both, but everyone passionately favors one of them. Kourabiedes are buttery shortbread-like almond cookies, made with rosewater and covered in generous layers of powdered sugar. Melomakarona are soft and syrupy, topped with walnuts and slightly gingerbread-like flavor, but their most important ingredient is honey. As for Christmas dinner, pork is almost always served as the first meat to break the advent fast. However, stuffed turkey has become popular in recent years.

And with your appetite probably increased I wish you Merry Christmas or in Greek “Kala Christougenna”!

Hungary - Marcell Ottó Ormándy

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.

India (Allahabad) - Abhivardhan

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

Allahbad Celebrations - by Author

Ireland - Stefanie Fox

Irish people love to complain how Christmas arrives a bit earlier every year. This year, people were particularly ready to get stuck into Christmas preparations, keen to have something to chase away the pandemic anxiety and lockdown fatigue

Already on 17th November, Grafton Street, one of Dublin’s busiest shopping street, was lit up with the words “Nollaig Shona Duit” (“A happy Christmas to you” in Gaelic). Usually, the act of turning on the Christmas lights draws a huge crowd, but this year people watched from home on television or on livestream. On November 27th, Irish people of all ages sit down to watch the Late Late Toy Show, an annual special edition of the Irish late-night chat show, where children are invited to showcase and ‘review’ popular toys of the year, along with music and dance performances and celebrity guest appearances.

Irish children wake up on the morning of the 25th December and race downstairs to see what presents ‘Santa’ or ‘Santy’ (as Father Christmas is known in Ireland) has brought them. After a hearty breakfast of sausages, bacon, and eggs, families either attend Christmas mass, or in what has become a more popular tradition in recent years, head to the coast for a brave dip in the Irish sea.

Christmas Dinner is served around lunchtime on the 25th and typically consists of roast turkey, glazed ham, perhaps some spiced beef (a type of salted beef, cured with spices and then braised or boiled), gravy and vegetables (including the contentious by jackace CC BY-NC 2.0.

brussels sprouts). For dessert, there is either Christmas

pudding (dark pudding made with dried fruits, nuts, spices and lots of sherry or brandy) or trifle (three layers of sponge cake, strawberry jelly and custard topped with whipped cream). The rest of the day is generally spent stretched out on the sofa, nibbling on chocolates from the ‘Roses’ or ‘Quality Street’ selection boxes and watching the Christmas Day musical on RTE (Ireland’s national television broadcaster), like ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ or ‘Mary Poppins’.

Italy - Adrian Waters

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.

Nativity Scene Pandoro

by Eusebius@Commons CC BY 2.0. by Nicola since 1972 CC BY 2.0.

Torrone Panettone

by Alberto Piso CC BY-SA 2.0. by Becky E CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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.

Kosovo - Lorena Sekiraqa

In Kosovo, Christmas is one of the manifesto’s which serves best for portraying the inter-ethnic and inter-faith coexistence. Such coexistence goes beyond tolerance, it is entrenched in harmony and celebration. Composed of a predominantly Muslim population, Christmas in Kosovo does not fall short to relish the country, just as it does in any other Western culture. Even though, for a typical domestic household in the capital city of Kosovo, Pristina, the Christmas traditions - Christmas tree, dinner and presents - are a celebratory typology, highly associated with the New Year’s Eve. Nevertheless, outside the households, on the Christmas Eve, Pristina turns vibrant on Christmas ornaments, markets, whereas lively gatherings, typically with drinking and music, are omnipresent among the youth. On the other hand, for those who come from a Christian/ Catholic, or inter-faith background, Christmas’s Eve embarks a night journey which includes a fusion cuisine at the dinner table, and a prevalence of Rakia and Wine. Departing from the dinner table, the journey of the night continues at the Christmas mass in the city’s Mother Teresa Cathedral.

As such scenario portrays best the Kosovo’s youth embracement of diversity, it also unfolds a peculiar cultural future: there is never enough of an excuse for a celebration!

Latvia - Bella Bērziņa

Usually the beginning of festivities and preparation for Christmas starts with the beginning of Advent, when a Christmas tree is placed on the Dome square in the centre of Riga Old Town.

Christmas market gathers local artisans and usually one can find traditional food and drinks in abundance brought to the Old Town from around Latvia and cooked on open fire in the middle of the square.

Naturally, in the past, the festive table featured food that could be found locally in the winter season - that is, grey peas, pork in many forms, sauteed sauerkraut, and other food that can be stored for longer periods from autumn. Nowadays, it is quintessential to eat, bake or decorate ginger biscuits, which are called piparkūkas in Latvian, and are traditional for Baltic and Scandinavian countries. Many pagan traditions that persisted for centuries, are also now mostly left in the past and in globalised world Christmas in Latvian homes is more similar to what it is around the world, with The Nutcracker being on show every day in Latvian National Opera, many watching global classics - Home Alone, Harry Potter and other movies, and eating delicacies coming from across the globe.

But there is one global tradition that locals believe to come from medieval Riga - according to The Chronicle of Livonia,in 1510, members of Blackheads brotherhood have taken a tree decorated with paper flowers outside to the market square and after dances have set it on fire after the celebrations have ended. We can’t know for sure whether the Christmas tree was decorated for the first time in Riga, or has the tradition started elsewhere, but every year a big Christmas tree is placed where it is believed the tree was decorated for Christmas for the first time. Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus, or Merry Christmas!

Lithuania - Greta Kundrotaitė

Christmas in Lithuania is influenced by both Pagan and Christian traditions. The main event Kūčios (Christmas Eve) is celebrated on the 24th of December when families gather together for a peaceful dinner. There needs to be at least 12 different dishes, served on a white table-cloth. The number symbolises gratitude for every month of the year.

No meat, egg or milk products are allowed and all the dishes must be tasted to ensure rich and healthy upcoming year! The two must-be dishes on the table are Christmas wafers taken from the church and Kūčiukai (small pastries) served with poppy seed milk. After the dinner many families, even those that are not particularly religious, go to church for Shepherd’s Mass. Lithuanians do not clear the table overnight as they believe that spirits come at night to share the food. On the Christmas morning children find long-awaited gifts from Santa Claus under the Christmas tree and people dedicate their time to visit friends and relatives.

by Thomas Cizauskas CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Malta - Matt Micallef St John

One cannot understand or relate to Maltese culture without a proper insight into Christmas in Malta. Christmas in Malta has played a critical religious, social and cultural role in the calendar year. However, Christmas traditions in Malta have started to adapt to the Western adaption of the holiday, particularly influenced by British and American customs. Just like most of the Western world, Maltese families start their preparations for the festivities sometime in November. However, the traditional custom is for Christmas-related activities to commence sometimes between the 8th and 13th December.

The Maltese are incredibly enthusiastic when it comes to decorating their homes. Some go to extremes, adorning the facades of their homes with so many lights that make you wonder how many numbers could be found on their electricity bills. However, a typical Maltese home contains a modest Christmas tree, but also tends to have religious decorations, namely the presepju and the bambin. The presepju is a crib portraying the scene of the birth of Christ, which may vary from containing miniature statues of the holy family to a whole scene of the entire village of Bethlehem. The bambin is a medium-sized statue of the baby Jesus that is normally found lying in a wooden cot covered in vetches (known locally as gulbiena).

A typical Christmas day starts on Christmas Eve with the mixja bil-bambin, a procession by children with the bambin statue organized by local religious institutions. Most villages also hold local live presepji, where actors re-enact the nativity scene in authentic conditions. This is followed by a midnight mass, known mainly for the famous priedka tat-tifel, a short monologue by a young child explaining the nativity story. Some families choose to open their gifts right after this mass or wait until the next morning. On Christmas day, families tend to gather for large lunches, eating a variety of meats and sweets, such as panettone, imbuljuta and pudina tal-Milied. It’s a long day but possibly the most significant holiday of the whole year.

From all of us here in Malta, il-Milied it-Tajjeb u s-sena t-tajba!

Mauritius - Shabneez Ramjane

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.

by Per Edin CC BY-NC 2.0.

Moldova - EA

Christmas in Moldova is not very different from the way it is celebrated in Romania, and I would dare to say that it is in the villages where traditions are still respected in their (as much as possible) rawest form. Not only has urbanisation and communist-influenced architecture made it much harder to respect the traditions, but times have changed - some traditions may seem odd or less appealing compared to the glowing and chic (capitalist) atmosphere you can have now for nearly 30 years. Romanian/Moldavian Christmas traditions are an interesting mix of religious and pagan customs, abounding with superstition. I don't want you to think that Moldova/Eastern Europe is some kind of Wild West, so please allow me to give you some insights and you might better understand what I mean.

One of the traditions is that on Christmas Eve, 24 December, children go from house to house to sing "colinde" - or winter carols. Winter carols are ritual texts with religious content dedicated to Christmas and New Year. Carrying a handmade Star on a stick, the carol singers go from house to house to announce the birth of Jesus Christ - an allegory of the three wise men who were led by the Star to the place in Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born. So when a group of children knock on your door and ask if you are willing to host the carol singers, you should not only let them in, but also shower them with gifts, because gift giving is supposed to bring happiness and prosperity to your household. Usually the carol singers receive buns, sweets, nuts, fruits, but also money.

Another tradition is the sacrificing of the pig a few days before Christmas - a tradition full of rituals that you may not find very appealing, especially if all your life the meat that ended up on your plate was taken from the supermarket shelf. Google it if you dare, if not - skip the sacrificing part and start dreaming (if you find pork yummy) of all the homemade sausages, roast pork, sarmale (stuffed vine leaves, dolmas) and dozens of other dishes (this time, you better believe the stereotype that Moldovan women are great cooks [yes, (not pleased to admit) women are often the main cooks in Moldovan households]).

Moldovans love to bake bread, and even more so for the holidays. For every occasion (Easter, Christmas, wedding, baptism, funeral, etc.) we have a special kind and shape of bread. At Christmas we bake "Craciunei" - sweet, braided bread, (this time) in the shape of a figure eight, which we give to the carol singers. The craciunel obtained from the first dough is placed on the icon and kept there until the next Christmas to bring well-being to the home and family. After a year it is given to the birds - believing that in this way they will make many eggs and many poults will come out (remember the superstition I mentioned above).

In Moldova, Christmas is celebrated on both 25 December and 7 January - according to both the new and old calendars. While there is no tension in society about this and most of us use both occasions to celebrate, some may want to make a point and celebrate according to their (geo)political preferences - pro-Romanian (EU) or pro-Russian, accordingly.

There are many other traditions, also around New Year's Eve - but you'd better dare to visit either Romania or Moldova and see for yourself. These countries are still very unexplored, yet they have so much to offer!

Netherlands - Puck van Vlerken

It all starts a few weeks before Christmas with decorations. Usually it starts 4 weeks before Christmas by lighting a candle each week until Christmas known as the ‘advent’. The cities are covered in lights, trees, bells and balls, and wreaths. All the churches display all kinds of nativity scenes. But the houses are not decorated until after the 5th of December, because then we celebrate a national holiday that comes with its own decorations. In these weeks people plan their Christmas days and dinners, and send out Christmas cards to all their loved ones.

The days before Christmas are all about the food shopping and preparations. In most houses you can find all kinds of treats in the shapes of wreaths to hang in the Christmas tree. On Christmas eve people gather with family for a nice meal and older generations go to the Christmas mass in church. At midnight we eat a biscuit with butter and ‘muisjes’ (which literally means: little mice). It’s a traditional treat to eat when a baby is born. The ‘muisjes’ taste like anise. Blue for a boy and pink for a girl, so at Christmas we eat the blue one

Christmas day is usually spend with family as well, starting with a nice brunch, going for a walk, playing games and then having a nice dinner. The next day, the 26st of December, we call ‘second Christmas day’ and most people spend it the same as ‘first Christmas day’, but then with the other side of the family.

One very typical Christmas meal, that most families have at least one of these days is ‘gourmetten’. Gourmetten is having a table grill on the middle of the tables and a lot of food (especially meat) in small pieces that everyone can cook for themselves on the grill.

Kerstkransjes Beschuit met muisjes Gourmetten

by wieswies CC BY 2.0 by Erwin Schoonderwaldt CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. by kattebelletje CC BY-NC 2.0.

Other days, we put a multiple course meal on the tables usually starting with a ‘pasteitje. It’s a pastry cup with a very thick chowder in it. Followed by a big roast with a lot of side dishes, a nice dessert and coffee and tea.

One last dish that is worth to mention is the ‘kerststol’. It’s a bread with raisons and almond paste in the middle. Slices of the bread are eaten as a snack or for breakfast or lunch.

Christmas for us is all about spending time with people you love, lighting up homes and being kind to each other (yes, it sounds very cheesy but it is the way it is 😉). Sometimes people give a present or two, but its not traditional to give a lot of presents to everyone, and Santa doesn’t come to the Netherlands.

Pasteitje Kerststol

Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0. by Takeaway CC BY-SA 4.0.

Norway - Jakob Matthiessen

We always dream of a white, cold and snowy Christmas here Norway. Ideally, Norwegians want to spend Christmas with the whole family, gathered

either in our homes or in a cabin far out on the countryside. The main Christmas celebration is on Christmas Eve; the evening of December 24. Most families would typically go to church in the afternoon (mostly because of the tradition), followed by the long family dinner with the national specialties such as dried ribs of mutton ( “pinnekjøtt”), or crisp ribs of pork (“ribbe”). Some traditional families even serve Smalahove (sheep heads), which is surprisingly good! Rounds of Akevitt shots (potato-based liquor) will be served while singing the classic songs throughout the meal. Walking/dancing around the Christmas tree after dinner is an old tradition in Norway, still alive particularly among families with children.

Throughout the rest of the Christmas break, Norwegians like to stay active – either up in the mountains downhill skiing and racing through the ski slopes in forests on their cross-country skis. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Put on your wool clothes, and get out there!

View over Oslo and its fjord from a viewpoint close to my home - By Author

Peru - Diego Sánchez Borjas

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.

Poland - Maria Popczyk

In most homes in Poland, among believers and non-believers, Christmas starts on the 24th of December, and it lasts 3 days. This long-awaited period contains many rituals and symbols mainly (but not only!) related to Catholicism.

Christmas Eve is the most important moment of Polish Christmas celebrations. Not only is it the last day to buy your presents, but it is also when families decorate their Christmas tree, prepare for the Christmas dinner, open the presents and – for practising Catholics – go to the Midnight Mass. On top of that, you are supposed to be fasting until dinner.

What is special about the Polish Christmas dinner? Firstly, the richness of it: normally, the supper consists of 12 traditional dishes, which is a commemoration of the twelve disciples. Some typical dishes include the red barszcz (beetroot soup) with small mushroom pierogi (dumplings), a Christmas carp, krokiety (croquettes stuffed with cabbage and mushrooms) and such deserts as makowiec (poppyseed cake).

Secondly, the different stages of the dinner: most families sit around the dinner table with the appearance of the first star, which recalls the Star of Bethlehem. Moreover, just before starting the dinner, Poles share opłatek – a special, very thin wafer with religious images. When sharing opłatki, family members wish all the best to each other. After dinner, some families would sing Christmas carols.

Thirdly, there is a non-Catholic Christmas tradition: leaving an extra seat for the unexpected guest. It was an old pagan usage to wait for the souls of the deceased relatives. Nowadays, Polish homes leave an additional set of dishes and cutlery for a traveller or a homeless person.

Finally, Christmas time lasts three days because while you are supposed to spend the 24th and the 25th at home, the 26th is dedicated to visiting other relatives and close friends. You usually have to visit all your aunts and uncles, update them on your life (this is when you’re asked about your job, private life and political opinion, which can lead to interesting clashes), exchange some leftovers from the Christmas table, and most importantly enjoy this very special time all together.

Portugal - Miguel Silva

Christmas in Portugal is all about spending quality time with your family, i.e. eating, drinking and jointly complaining about something (or each other), aka Portuguese family-bonding. It is the time of the year where family members gather to see and spend time with each other. It also functions as a sort of Champions League finale for grandmothers who finally have the chance to go all-in by trying to stuff everyone at the table with copious amount of whatever is being served. Even though you already politely declined 4 times, in the end it’s grandma, so you always end up saying yes against every single plea of your overfilled stomach.

Though specific traditions vary a lot from household to household, certain staples are bound to be present, namely the Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch. On Christmas Eve dinner the traditional choice is boiled codfish served with a generous amount of olive oil alongside boiled potatoes, chickpeas, chopped onion and chopped parsley. Some families still preserve the tradition of going to Missa do Galo – “the Roosters’s Mass” – around midnight. Others might choose to simply stay at home and watch Home Alone (the cornerstone of every Christmas in Portuguese television).

The (treats-filled) intermezzo which started after the dinner of the 24th is brought to a halt when the roasted turkey, chicken or even (young) goat is taken out of the oven on next day’s lunch and served in that second round of Christmassy food extravaganza. After lunch, it is customary to stay at the table talking with each other and enjoying each other’s company, in an act which our Spanish neighbors eloquently call sobremesa. The very same word means “dessert” in Portuguese, but dessert in Spanish goes by postre. Go figure…

Other frequently consumed Christmas treats include:

  • Bolo-Rei – a Port-wine infused sweet bread with candied fruit, various nuts and powdered sugar

  • Lampreia de ovos – hundreds of sugary egg yolk strands in the shape of an eel (candied cherries as eyes!)

  • Coscorões – orange-scented fried dough with a light coating of sugar and cinnamon

  • Rabanadas – aka French Toasts

Bolo-Rei Lampreia de ovos Coscorões Rabanadas

by distopiandreamgirl by Lucas de Almeida Marrão by andreadg by Francisco Antunes

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 1884 CC BY 2.0. CC BY 2.0.

Romania - Elena Ruxandra Seniuc

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.

Slovakia - Lukáš Dravecký

Christmas in Slovakia always requires a proper labour division in the family. The acquisition of a Christmas tree is usually in the hands of the father who sometimes decides to enlarge the family by a special Christmas guest – a living carp roaming the waters of a bathtub for several days until the Christmas day. Then, it is about the lobbying skills of children that many times manage to achieve carp pardoning in the closest pond and thus avoiding ending the carp´s life on the Christmas table. Decorating the Christmas tree and baking medovníky, honey gingerbreads, is usually in the hands of the mother who is often assisted though by children, eager to carve various forms into the gingerbread dough and competing in who hangs more decorations on the Christmas tree.

When it finally comes to the Christmas day, the first part of it is sacred to fasting. However, some exceptions are always allowed for medovníky and bobaľky, a sweet poppy-based bread dessert, popular especially in eastern Slovakia. The Christmas day becomes truly magical after the arrival from the evening Christmas mess. The first sight falls always on the Christmas gifts brought by Ježiško, the little Jesus, who visited the household, while the children with their parents were attending the Christmas mess.

But first thing first! There is the Christmas dinner which needs to be eaten. The Christmas menu starts with kapustnica, traditional sour-cabbage meat soup, often softened by a spoon of sour cream. The second place is reserved either to fish (those less fortunate carps) or to a rezeň in the schnitzel fashion, sided with cold potato salad. The third course is always a place for the family´s own traditions and can include either breaking a wafer with honey, cutting an apple for every member of the family or enjoying a plate of exotic fruit, what is the case in my family. And after the Christmas dinner, it is ultimately the time for Christmas presents! Usually they are unwrapped just by one member of the family at the time, starting with the youngest one.

Slovenia - Amanda Teršar

Slovenia is predominantly a Christian country, therefore Christmas represents one of the biggest holidays of the year. Traditionally, Christmas Eve is spent in the close family circle, some celebrate it with their extended family as well. As per tradition, families gather for a Christmas Mass at midnight, while it is a popular habit of young generations to gather at a bar next to the Church.

On Christmas Eve it is also popular to visit city centres and watch the Christmas lights, drink mulled wine and listen to Christmas Carols, or visit several free concerts around Ljubljana. There is no special Christmas food that is traditionally served, apart from ‘potica’, a walnut roll.

At Christmas, some children receive Christmas presents, however that is typical for younger families. In Christian families, St Nicolas delivers present, whereas in some other families, it is ‘Dedek Mraz’ (same as in Russia), a communist invention, Potica - by BockoPix CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. who brings presents on the eve of December 31th.

Spain (Catalonia) - Pablo Garfias

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 stroll down Barcelona’s Saint Lucia’s Christmas market, where El Caganer - by Roeland P. CC BY-SA 3.0.

caganers are sold not only wearing their traditional

white shirt, red trousers and red barretina (the Catalan hat), but also have the shape and faces of famous public people, whether political, cultural (yes that includes football) or religious. Adding to the ironic meaning behind el caganer is the idea that the feces were a birthday gift for Jesus “It was the only thing the little shepherd boy had to give the Baby… So it’s not at all disrespectful, it’s a great gift.” Nancy Duneuve told Rainsford. Its meaning has clearly been lost through time - or perhaps it never did have one. It might just be meant to be ridiculous, a reason to make the nativity scene more light hearted. I wouldn’t be making Catalan Christmas culture justice without at least briefly mentioning ‘el tio de nadal’, which directly translates to ‘the defecating log’ (you might be noticing a trend here). Every family and class at school gets their own log with a face drawn into the end of it, and much like the caganer, it too wears the distinctively Catalan hat, the barretina. After the feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December, kids begin to feed this log candy so that he grows fat in the days before Christmas. On Christmas day, the back-end of the log is covered with a blanket, and all of the kids grab a stick (any stick they find will do) and begin to whack the log collectively whilst chanting a traditional song with rather interesting lyrics (will be linked below). After leaving the room for a minute to give the log privacy, the kids storm back into the room and lift up the blanket that had been covering the log, only to find stacks of chocolate, turrón (a typical Spanish treat), and candy. There are more Catalan references that tie in with the eschatological, though none more during Christmas. I never did notice the caganer or the tio de nadal being so weird until it was pointed out to me that having a little defecating figurine in the nativity scene, and a log that you would feed and then whack with a stick for candy and sweets was strange at all. Evidently, it’s a tradition that flirts with the line between the serious and the silly and fun - perhaps all too telling of what Christmas should be, a practice based on something old and symbolic with a little quirk that can bring a smile and all those present a bit closer together.

Sweden - Beatrice Semmelweis

In the middle of the 19th century, industrialization had only begun, most people subsisted on agriculture, and by the middle of the 19th century, Christmas customs reflected an agricultural society and rural life. We in Sweden have a fairly strong tradition of food during Christmas. The Swedish Christmas food is probably most characterized by our fantastically large and rich Christmas table. The vast majority of us eat Christmas dinners once and maybe even several times each Christmas, and we do not seem to be able to get enough of our Christmas food.

Of course, our Christmas table has not looked the same all the time, but the Christmas table we have today is a little different than what we had in the past. In the past, there were also large variations in how the Christmas table looked in different parts of Sweden, but the most common that was on most Christmas tables was the Christmas ham. But jam, dip in the pot, pig's feet and Christmas sausages were also common on the Christmas table.

Lutfish and pickled herring could also be found, in different tastes the most famous is Branteviksill. After you had the ”sill” you eat meatballs, prince sausage, salmon, liver pate and beetroot salad brown cabbage and red cabbage, And at last the sweet table with butterscotch,almond mussels….. a lot of cakes

The biggest difference is probably still that in the past you spent so much more time preparing the food and above all, unlike today, you did most of the work yourself. You could start weeks before Christmas Eve by stopping sausages, preparing the ham and more, while today we basically prepare almost everything on the same day.

Today Christmas is a family holiday as it used to be a collective celebration, now the home slaughter is gone, no one gathers labor for one or more days of laundry, no one has to put up with Christmas baking and the Christmas cleaning it comes with Damerna Damm or another cleaning company. Although in many corners it still smells of orange, cinnamon, saffron but not from old notions of Christmas baking but from expensive scented candles or diffusers.

This year, the ready-made gingerbread dough was sold out and this can be interpreted as meaning that in many homes it has become a living reality to take back the custom that has been dormant for so long the big Christmas bake.

Switzerland - Katharina Burren

Counting days until Christmas by opening a little door from the Advent calendar every day from the 1st to 24th of December; making an Advent wreath with four candles on it – one for each week of the Advent; welcoming “Samichlaus” – a bishop figure dressed in red – and his helper called “Schmutzli” into your living room on St. Nicholas Day on 6 December and children receiving nuts and mandarins in exchange of reciting him a poem; baking Christmas cookies with the whole family; attending a candlelit church service early in the morning before sunrise,…

Even though the commercialization of Christmas has now also found its way into Switzerland, many of the Swiss Christmas traditions have a long history. Samichlaus by Pakeha CC BY-SA 4.0.

They are as varied and numerous as Swiss cheese,

sometimes inspired by the traditions of neighbouring countries sometimes so as unique that they change from one valley to the next.

While the Swiss Christmas festivities start already in late November and in some regions last until early January, the highlight of the season in most Swiss households is Christmas Eve on 24 December, where people exchange gifts they previously placed under the Christmas tree or which - for the children - have been brought by the “Christkind”. Also the Christmas dinner takes a great significance. However, there is no typical Swiss Christmas dish. Some families took over the tradition of Christmas goose from our German neighbours, in the French speaking part usually “Foie gras” must not be missing from the Christmas table and in the Italian speaking region of Switzerland, Panettone is an integral part of the Christmas dinner as is the singing of Christmas carols under the Christmas tree.

United Kingdom - Philippe Lefevre

In the United Kingdom we take Christmas to its Capitalistic best! The stores are screaming Christmas before Halloween is even over and you can bet the lights are on in every street. There’s always one person with so many lights you worry there’s going to be a fire and enough Christmas spirit to fill a swimming pool. If you can think of a single thing a coca-cola Santa Claus can be stuck on, be assured British Stores will sell it. Carols are also a major source of enjoyment (or not) at Christmas time, with amateur choirs belting out Carols left, right and centre. The noise from cities can hardly be described as festive but more abusive with the amount of Christmas music blaring out of them. Still, it is a very fun time of year. Some of my favourites I remember being forced to sing as a Child include the Twelve Days of Christmas, Silent Night, and Away in a Manger. However, if little cute songs aren’t your choice we have a host of rocking Christmas songs too, my favourite being Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade, it’s not a proper Christmas without that one.

When it comes to the day, Christmas Eve is where the food gets going. Usually there’s a family get together with a whole host of delicious “treats” that everyone manages to force down themselves. Depending on what kind of family you are, it might be food on Christmas eve Dinner or Christmas Lunch, but both are definitely just as filling. The meal is certain to include Turkey or Chicken, straight out of Charles Dickens a Christmas Carol. Following that are Brussels (With a host of Brexit memes) Sprouts, Cabbage, Roasted Vegetables and enough alcohol to pickle an elephant. Pudding (Dessert for you non-Brits) usually consists of Mince Pies and Christmas Pudding, a Sponge cake slathered in Brandy and set on Fire, and subsequently eaten without the fire.

Traditionally, the presents are opened December 25th Morning, to the screaming of little Children, where they are spoilt rotten, and the parents might just get some socks if they’re lucky. The rest of the day is spent playing silly games such as Charades, where you act out something and others have to guess, or just generally trying to be as festive as possible without alerting the police.

The Queen’s Speech is another important part of the British Tradition, depending on your Republican Sympathies. She often doles out important messages for the year ahead, and thus we are reunited as a country. The TV is often a focal-point of the celebration, with Christmas Specials of Doctor Who and various other stereotypical British shows.

Overall our Christmas is awash with Media, food and Capitalism, all gloriously mixed together with Family, making the most magical time of the year. Some might take it more religiously, some might not, but nevertheless, it’s Christmas no doubt.

United States of America - Jack Lashendock

The festive time of Christmas in America is celebrated in a variety of different ways and reflects the diversity of the American people. For many, the official start of Christmas falls on the Friday directly after Thanksgiving which always occurs at the end of November; Americans spend the day getting their Christmas trees (some even chop it down themselves), decorating the interiors and exterior of their house with lights and holiday cheer, and in the evening putting ornaments and lights on the Christmas tree while listening to holiday music and drinking eggnog.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, cities and towns across the nation become more festive each day and offer local residents and tourists alike many opportunities to enjoy the season. Small businesses and restaurants are always busy around this time of year. In many cases, people send Christmas cards to their friends and family with holiday wishes and yearly updates of their family’s, children, and even pets. Astoundingly, the US government estimates that 16.6 billion cards and parcels are mailed during this season. In America, Christmas is celebrated as both a religious holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, as well as a more cultural festival devoid of overt religious meaning.

On Christmas Eve, children leave out milk and cookies for Santa Claus when he comes down the chimney and stay up past their bedtime to try and catch a glimpse his sleigh. The next morning, parents generally have trouble keeping their children in bed and in households across the nation gifts are exchanged between family members. In the afternoon, the festivities continue with a large sit-down dinner. In some households the entire extended family joins one another at the table, while in others, Christmas dinner is a smaller and more intimate meal. Traditionally, lamb or goose is the main course, with a wide variety of side dishes (such as potatoes, vegetables, and bread), and served with wine. Following dinner and dessert, many families find the evening a grand opportunity to spend time with their loved ones and playing board and card games and opening up the smaller gifts piled into Christmas stockings.

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