• 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