Christmas in Europe - an overview
CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS IN EUROPE
1. AUSTRIA: Yes
* Flanders Yes
* Wallonia Not yet available
3. BULGARIA: Yes
CZECH REPUBLIC: Yes
5. CROATIA: Yes
6. DENMARK: Yes
8. FINLAND: Yes
9. FRANCE: Yes
10. GERMANY: Yes ( in German )
12. HUNGARY: Yes
14. ITALY: Yes
15. LATVIA: Yes
16. LITHUANIA: Yes
17. LUXEMBOURG: Yes
19. NETHERLANDS: Yes
20. POLAND: Yes
21. PORTUGAL: Yes
22. ROMANIA: Not yet available
23. SLOVAKIA: Yes
24. SLOVENIA: Yes
25. SPAIN: Yes
26. SWEDEN: Yes
England: Not yet available
Northern Ireland: Not yet
TURKEY: Not yet available
NORWAY: Yes ( in Norwegian )
GEORGIA: Not yet available
MOLDOVA: Not yet available
Jørgen Thøgersen e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Christmas traditions in ARMENIA
typical Christmas traditions –
The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the
Feast of the Holy Nativity and Theophany of Jesus Christ on January 6.
The celebration starts in the evening of January 5 as the church day
changes at 17:00 p.m., after the evening service. So the celebration of the
feast starts in the evening of January 5 and is continued on January 6. In the
evening of January 5 candlelight Divine Liturgy is celebrated in all Armenian
churches. People light a candle there and bring it home.
The week preceding the Christmas - December 30-January 5 - is
fasting period and people eat food of exceptionally vegetable origin. Not
all Armenians fast. Since New Year comes before Christmas in Armenia, our festivities
start on December 31 with New Year. We have a gorgeous table laid already
before midnight December 31, and the whole family gathers for clinking glasses.
Then during the upcoming 3-4 days people visit each other in their houses.
Nowadays the traditions have changed. Many people celebrate New Year
(December 31 night) either in restaurant, abroad or somewhere in Armenia (like
I will do). But during Soviet times, everybody stayed at home.
Christmas food ( and perhaps drinks ). No recipees - just a short
For us (and
for many other nations too) Christmas and New Year are different holidays. For
New year table we cook plenty of food, mainly of meat/chicken/fish origin. For
Christmas we cook fish, rice with raisins and drink white wine. The
New Year table is still there with plenty of different food
Christmas traditions in AUSTRIA
million out of 8 million people in Austria are roman-catholic’s, which
is why Christmas traditions and rituals are deeply inspired by
Christianity and its tradition. As a country reach of forests and trees, almost
no household and market square can be without a Christmas tree, which is often
a spruce or fir. The tree is in general decorated on the 24th of
December and stands until the 6th of January, which marks the
public holiday of the “Three Kings”. The tree is either candlelit or with
little light bulbs, trimmed with a lot of sweets and Christmas baubles.
As Santa Claus
and his reindeers don’t come to us, he brings his presents already on the 24th.
On this day usually families get together celebrate by going to church before
or after dinner and try to avoid quarrelling during that holy night.
There is not
such thing like a traditional Christmas meal. Some serve carp, some turkey and
some eat cold. In the weeks before this night, people prepare by lighting a
candle on the Advent wreath.
these weeks also many Christmas markets pop up. They are everywhere and one
gets the impressions that people mostly enjoy the little huts where hot drinks
on the basis of tea, fruit juice and a lot of alcohol are sold. While this is a
quite recent phenomena, singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” on the 24th
Christmas traditions in BELARUS
Remember in your childhood you dreamt about
receiving a present from Santa Claus? Perhaps you still do? Then
you should definitely come to Belarus, the country where people
celebrate not just one but two Christmases! How is it
possible? Today most of the world lives according to the Gregorian
calendar. The Orthodox Church, however, still adheres to the old,
Julian calendar. This is why all holidays are celebrated with the 13-day
Most of Belarusians are Orthodox Christians,
but the share of Roman Catholics and Protestants is also
verysignificant. That is why major religiousholidays like Christmas and Easter
aremarked as non-working days in theofficial calendar. People are free tochoose
which one they want to celebrate.
In Belarus, the ritual of Christmas is therefore
closely tied to the folk holiday of Kaliady, with people not
only going to church, but also observing rituals of pagan origin, and both
traditions fused into a single fest. In the present Belarusian language the
word “Kaliady” describes the whole period of Christmas celebrations. It
originates from the Latin word Calendae – the name of the first day of each
month in the Ancient Rome. Belarusian Kaliady is a folk holiday, which has its
roots in the prechristian time. It is connected to the winter solstice when the
day begins to grow longer and the year turns towards the summer. As
Christianity became the main religion on Belarusian territories, Kaliady were
timed to the holidays of Christmas and Epiphany.
The main idea of Kaliady ritual of the
pre-Christian time was to precipitate the spring and ensure the rich harvest
through certain rituals. In every family, three Kutsia (sacral
suppers) should be served during Kaliady.The first one, Lenten (or Great)
Kutsiais celebrated on the evening beforeChristmas. The table is full of
Lentendishes – herrings, all kinds of pancakes,fish and mushrooms, oatmealkisel (a
dessert made of fruit, berries and potato starch and sometimes served with
milk). There is straw beneath the tablecloth. Each family member
picks straws in order to determine who will be the most long-living. The dish
served last is Kutsia itself – porridge with honey, poppy seeds, nuts and
raisins. The master of the house is the first one to try Kutsia. A spoon of
this traditional porridge is always being placed on a separate plate outside the
house for the night. In the ancient times it was the offering to Zuzia, the god
is one of the
most characteristic Christmas traditions in Belarus. Groups of
dressed-up people wander from house to house, singing Kaliady songs
– “kaliadki” and “shchadrouki”. The most characteristic personage of this
performance is Kaza (goat), the person dressed and
maskedlike a goat. The master of the housevisited during Kaliadavanne is
supposedto treat the group with sausage,snacks, and sweets.
The Rich (also known as Fat,
Generous) Kutsia is served on the New Year’s Eve. During
this evening one finds on the table Kustia porridge with butter and
fried bacon, as well as various meat dishes.Another Lenten (also called
Hungry) Kutsia is served right before Epiphany – that is why it is
sometimes called Water Kutsia. Kaliady are also used for telling
fortunes, especially by young unmarried women. The fortune telling is
done in all kinds of ways. Here are some of them:
On the first day of Kaliady, in the morning or
in the evening, a young girl goes to a crossroad, with a piece of
a pancake or a bit of Kutsia porridge with her and listens from which
direction dogs will be barking. Her future husband should take her
away from home in the same direction. Young men and women go outside
and hug a fence, reaching with their hands as wide as they can. If
the number ofthe hugged poles is even, that means that they will be in a
couple next year. A married woman hides some items – for example a
piece of bread, a ring, a brush, a needle, and other small
things, and asks her girlfriends to come into the room one after
another and find the items. The one who finds bread will have a rich
husband; a ring promises a handsome husband; the brush will bring a
bad-tempered one; the needle means her future husband would be
Of course, with many Belarusians living in
large cities, it is becoming quite difficult to observe these rituals.
But urbanization is not the only reason why Christmas traditions are
not preserved by most Belarusian families.
During the Soviet times all holidays connected
with religion were fiercely eradicated. Churchgoing as well
as Kaliady rituals were strictly forbidden – especially for the
younger generation. Owing to the efforts of Soviet ideologists,
Christmas was substituted by the atheist New Year. It is no
longer “Svyaty Mikalaj” (Saint Nicolas) who is bringing presents to
children, but “Dzed Maroz” (Daddy Frost). Now thetraditional Christmas is
slowly coming back. People are free to attend Christmas services –
and many do so. Those who don’t often watch Christmas services live
on TV. Kaliadavanne ritual is also being slowly revived. What is the
typical post-Soviet New Year’s ritual in Belarus like?
Picture yourself as member of a typical Belarusian
family, living in a two room flat in a panel apartment block in
Minsk. On December 31 your father takes a good nap before the
exhausting festive night, which, he knows, will involve a lot of eating.
The mother doesn’t have this privilege – she is busy cooking: similarly to the
traditional Christmas celebration, the New Year’s table should be full. The
main “sacred” New Year’s dish is “Olivje” salad – a mix of mayonnaise,
potatoes, green peas, pickles, and some other ingredients. Don’t be deceived by
the French-sounding name – French people have never heard of such a salad. The
children have winter holidays: they eat tangerines and watch New Years’ movies
on TV. The evening comes and the table is set. The mother is already tired from
all the cooking, the father is rather hungry – he’s been saving his appetite
for the New Year’s festive meal. Your TV will not be turned off – it will lead
the family through the celebration, providingentertainment, music, and
necessary ideological sermons. The traditional assortment of TV entertainment
includes: never-ending stand-up comedies, pre-recorded music shows, and re-runs
of old Soviet comedy films. The comedy “S Legkim Parom” is an absolute “must” –
it is shown on every single New Year Eve. The name can be translated like ‘have
a light steam’ – this is a saying which people tell each other after sauna.
Filmed in the 70s, the movie is a story of a man, who, having had too much
vodka in sauna with his friends, ends up in Leningrad instead Moscow, in a
typical Soviet apartment, which he mistakes for his own. The lady living there
wants to throw him out, but in the end fells in love with the uninvited guest.
At 11 p.m. New Year comes to Russia (Moscow is in
another time zone than Minsk). Russian TV can be received by most Belarusians,
and many of them watch Putin’s speech, which precedes the chime of the Kremlin
clock. An hour later, shortly before midnight the familiar image of Alyaksandr
Lukashenka appears on the screen. This year he will deliver his annual New Year’s
address to the nation for the 14th time. Every time Alyaksandr
Lukashenka tends to speak long enough to get people anxious about missing
long-awaited 12:00 Of course, this never happens since the address is most
When the New Year arrives, people pour in “Soviet
Champagne” into their glasses (another relict of the Soviet times) and attack
the food. Children run to the New Years’ Tree in order to find their
presents. By 1 a.m. everyone is completely full. Nevertheless, many people find
strength to go for a walk downtown. Such New Year strolls are especially
favoured by Minsk citizens. The main avenue of the city is closed for
transportation, allowing huge crowds to wander up and down, drinking beer out
of bottles or champagne out of plastic glasses, listening to the Belarusian pop
music from the street loudspeakers and waiting for some miracle to happen. They
come home late after midnight, exhausted, tipsy, with running noses and shiny
eyes. Someone is happy; another one is looking for his/her cell phone that had
been lost somewhere on the corner of Lenin street while calling an aunt in a
The New Year has begun.
By Ales Kudrytski
Christmas traditions in BULGARIA
celebrations begin on December 24 and continue to St. Stephen’s day on
27.December. The ‘little Christmas’ is most celebrated from the following days
because on this night the Christ was born. This is the best day for the
children. Christmas Eve is the first incense evening.
It is believed
that as Christmas Eve goes, so goes the life during the following year.
Therefore the whole family becomes involved in performing the rituals.
So, it is also
Christmas Eve in Bulgaria; by tradition, it may be called "Sukha
koleda" (Dry Christmas), "Malka koleda" (Little Christmas) or
"Kadena vecher" (Incensed Night). For Orthodox Christians, Christmas
comes after 40 days and nights of fasting. The forty-day Advent, started on
November 15, finishes on this day. Folk beliefs hold it that the Mother of
Jesus began her labours on St. Ignatius’ Day and gave birth to God’s son on
Christmas Eve, but that she told of it only on the next day. According to
tradition, when bearing her first child, a young mother did not let others know
of the birth on the same day; instead people were told about it only on the
following day,when guests were invited into the home.
important role in this night goes to ritual bread, Christmas meals and wassail.
“Budnik” - this is Oak or Pear tree branch
which is brought home by a young man to keep the fire at night. Introducing
that tree, the man asks: “are you celebrating the young God?”. The women says:
“We praise and glory! Welcome”. The man adds: “I’m home whith me and God”
At the end of the tree there is a hole that
is filled whit oil, wax and incense.
This end is
wrapped in the white linen and stand by the fireplace.
From the rest
of the cut tree they make stakes for fencing of fields, to prevent looses.
are three types: true Christmas /kolak, bogovitsa/, industrial /cherkovnik/ and
Flour for them
is to be sown through tree sieves. Kneaded whit fresh water brought by a young
bride in a white clothes early in the morning.
Orthodox Church recommends 13 different foods on the Christmas-eve meal (salt,
pepper and sugar are seen as separate foods). The foods are vegetable and odd
in number for luck. Beans are a traditional Christmas Eve dish in Bulgaria, as
families gather that evening to a meatless holiday meal. There are always
walnuts on the table. Traditionally, wheat is boiled and dishes such as boiled
haricot, wine leaves stuffed with rice or grouts, and stewed dried fruit are
cooked. Wheat grains and the Ignazhden (Saint Ignatius’ Day) kolaks
(ring-shaped cake) are also put on the table. After the festive mass starting
at 12:00 am on December 25, all should drink a sip of wine so that the divine
blessing should come upon them as fasting ends. At the Christmas Eve table,
fortunes are told. To predict what the year is going to be, everyone cracks a walnut.
Once seated, no
one can leave the table. If something is needed, it will be taken from the old
man who has to walk bended. Table is not cleared until morning,
because it is believed that at night the dead come to eat and to take care for
the welfare of the living.
Legends say that if you borrow salt and don't return it, you will have trouble
with your eyes. If your ear aches on Christmas this is an indication that an
angel has passed by you. You make the sign of the cross three times and
whatever you think of will come true.
participate as major figures in the ritual known as Koleduvane. Its purpose is
to wish health, good luck and fertility to the heads of households, to their
houses, livestock, land, etc. The koledari, as those participating in the
ritual are called, are divided into two age groups. Each group may consist of
10 or more koledari who divide the homes of their village or neighborhood among
themselves; to be sure each will be blessed. The preparations include the
learning of songs and dances, and the decoration of costumes, which include the
kalpaci (fur hats) decorated with bouquets of boxwood and wild geranium, carved
wooden staffs, yamurluci (hooded cloaks) which are made to size, sandals, and
new fancy leggings. The magnificent embroidery on the white shirts is
Christmas is still a very special family holiday in modern Bulgaria. In the
cities, the koledari tradition is not followed as strictly as in the villages.
However, city dwellers should not be surprised if kids (survakarcheta) knock on
the door after midnight on Christmas to sing a song, wishing happiness, love,
health and wealth during the coming year.
Christmas traditions in CROATIA
The majority of the population in Croatia is Roman Catholic. Their Christmas traditions will be described
as soon as I have the contribution.
But there are also a Christian orthodox minority in the east of the
country. Here is a description of their
This is a tradition of Christmas celebration of Serb origin orthodox
population in villages in Western Slavonia. This is how my father remembers it
from his youth so I am not sure all of this is still practiced, especially
because in many villages only elderly population remained since the war in
Serb Orthodox are using Julian calendar in church practices so Christmas
is celebrated on 7 January.
2 day before Christmas day is called “tucindan” meaning “beating day”.
That is a day when parents do not beat children (my Dad is 80, so when he was a
kid beating children was acceptable disciplinary measure), but also children
try to behave, so it is kind of a truce between children and parents. On that
day family would kill a pig that will be prepared for Christmas lunch).
It is believed that you should not owe anything on Christmas so people
would make sure they return anything they borrowed during the year, money or
things, before Christmas.
On Christmas eve pig would be prepared on traditional way (on a stick,
baked slowly on mild fire for hours). In evening all family would bade and ware
fresh clean clothes. Head of the house, usually father, would bind a big bundle
of straw and bring it to the house, greeting all family members wishing them
health and marry Christmas and they would reply and throw on him mixture of
grains. Straw is spread on the floor in corner of the room and covered with
blanket and there family (or at least children) would sleep on Christmas eve.
Little bit of straw and grains they would put in the middle of dining
table and cover it with table cloth. Also rope that bundle was tied with would
be left under the table.
People fasts approximately 2 weeks before Christmas and on Christmas eve
dinner that is served is without meat, consisting of dishes with fish and
vegetables. Before dinner family says a prayer and eats traditional special
kind of round bread without yeast “pogaca”. After midnight meat is allowed.
Also on Christmas eve group of young man carry through the village a
small model of church with candles lit inside and baby Jesus going from house
to house singing Christmas song and getting gifts (food, apples etc.).
Mass on Christmas eve is called “jutrenje”, or morning mass and is
served at 3 AM.
On Christmas day in the morning before going to church family is going
to stables to feed cattle, and they throw grains on cows and pigs. That should
probably guarantee abundance of food for cattle during next year.
Men mostly go to church during morning and women stay home to prepare
meal. They again bake “pogaca” called cesnica. A coin is placed in the dough
before baking. At the dining table is placed a basked, on bottom goes mixture
of grains, some walnuts, apples and few sugar cubes, on top of that is placed a
bread called “veseljak” (meaning jolly man) decorated with walnuts and little
branches of basil, and on top of it pogaca cesnica. In basket next to the bread
3 yellow wax candles are placed, one is designated for people, one for cattle
and one for crops. They are lit at the beginning of the meal and at the end the
one that burns faster means that what that candle represented will be less in
next year. Next to basket on the table glass with honey is placed. At the
beginning of the lunch pogaca is covered with honey and family members break pogaca
(mostly men, because women are working around kitchen). The one that gets a
peace with coin is considered lucky and that coin is kept and should not be
spent. After that honey rakija is served and lunch is eaten. Of course all say
prayer before eating. Leftovers of the pogaca and veseljak bread is kept for a
week until religious day called young Christmas, when it is used to cook
special dish and is eaten.
On Christmas day people stay home and do not go to visit family and
friends. That is done next day. First guest that comes to the house sits on the
straw and should sit quite still for few minutes. It was believed that in that
case hens will sit still on eggs all next year. That evening straw is carried
out of the house. Little bundles of straw are tied and hanged on the branches
of the fruit trees in orchard. I guess that also should bring lots of fruits in
Also that evening a party would be organized in village and that was
usually opportunity for guys and girls to check out each other.
In Orthodox calendar St. Stephen’s Day (Sveti Stevan) is two days after
Christmas, not next day.
So there it is. My Dad is not a man of that many words but he was so
happy I asked that he went into so many details I was surprised. I remember
some of it since my uncle was practicing more or less all if this until
1991 when war started and him and his family fled from their village.
Christmas traditions in the CZECH REPUBLIC
CHRISTMAS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC
For Czechs like for other Europeans,
Christmas is really important period. Not that much for religious reasons,
however. As you may know, during the Communism period, the religion was
strictly prohibited and made out of the Czech Republic the most atheistic
country in Europe. Some parts of Moravia (especially south and north) are the
exceptions – the religious tradition remained there. With the democracy having
settled in the country, the recovered tradition is spreading out in all over
the Czech Republic and many churches are now open for singing Christmas carols
in, many charities put their moneyboxes to collect some money mostly for
Christmas is a family holiday, where
no one should stay alone at home. If someone lives alone, he or she is usually
invited by family or friends to come over and join for the dinner.
The gastronomic part of Christmas is also very
important – we the Czechs like eating and drinking and it counts double for
Christmas period. Large
majority of people, adults or kids, sit in front of TV and watch the marathon
of fairy tales. As you probably do not know, Czech Republic has a
rich cinematographic past-present-and hopefully future, and there are a lot of
great played fairy tale stories. And during the Christmas week, TV does not
show anything else, it is actually very popular.
In Czech Republic, the Christmas Day is 24th December and the most important moment
is the evening. After the Christmas dinner (see below for details), a
"baby-Jesus", Ježíšek in Czech, goes around and distributes presents. He cannot be
seen by anybody. This is the
reason one cannot say how he looks like and you do not really find him on any
drawings, paintings etc., unlike the Belgian Père Noël for instance, who looks
pretty much like Santa Claus.
Just before the Christmas, all households
tend to tidy the flat (as many families live in a flat instead of a house),
make the cookies and decorate the place – usually bowls of apples and nuts are
set around the house and Nativity scenes are arranged. Once gathered around Christmas tree
(usually somebody from the family rings the small bell, which is supposed to be
the noise of baby-Jesus leaving the room), the presents are distributed by the
youngest member of family.
After this is done, many Czechs go, even
those who are not believers, to the Midnight Celebration in church.
and other food
The dinner is held on 24th December in the in late afternoon
early evening, according to a custom with the first coming out star. The
Christmas dinner looks pretty much the same all over the households. A fried carp with
potato salad. Potato salad consists of chopped boiled potatoes, carrots, peas,
onions, salami, gherkins and mayonnaise. Some people who do not like carp
replace it with other fish or simply with a very popular pork, having thus a
for Christmas dinner.
All over the Christmas times, Czechs eat a
lot of special home made sweets. There are
hundreds of sorts of Christmas sweets, they are very good and sometimes one
regrets that the Christmas times is the only period in the year when you can
have them. But here, the tradition is usually respected, Christmas sweets are
for Christmas and not for any other occasion.
habits (their practice depends on people)
– people usually hang few branches of
mistletoe, either a natural one or the one coloured on gold, somewhere in the
apartment. On the Christmas Day, people kiss one
each other below mistletoe, which is supposed to give them luck, joy and health
in the next year.
Cutting apple in two pieces:
Take a nice apple and cut it in the middle
horizontally into pieces. What you will see on both halves is a shape of a
star. If the star will have five or more hands everyone will meet at the dinner
table next year in health, if the star looks like a cross someone may day or be
ill. Also the start should be clean, i.e. without traces of worms etc. The best
deal for this habit is to choose a really nice apple.
Little boats made out of a nut shell
Take a half of a nut shell and put a very
small candle into it. They you put it on a plate/basin filled up with water,
making thus of it a small boat. If it goes further from the edge, it means that
you will travel a lot in your life. If it remains next to the edge, it means
that you will rather remain where your roots are. If it sinks immediately, it
means that you will die prematurely, which is the reason why some people do not
like practicing this habit that much. I tried once to show it to my Belgian
family-in-law. All of candies sank immediately, that is why I got only a lot of
laugh from their side and my boats got a nickname "Kursk".
Throwing a shoe
To find out what is going to happen to the
unmarried girl in the house, she is supposed to stand and throw a shoe behind
her to the door. If the shoe turned with the heel to the doorstep the girl will
stay at home, if the other way the girl will get married and leave.
Some scales from the fish that is served
as a main dish on Christmas day should be put under the table. It means luck
and everybody should have enough money all year round.
On Christmas day, 24th December, is no
eating day until dinner. Small children are told that if they manage to do that
they will see a Gold Pig. I tried and I must say that it was a difficult task
and moreover, I never saw a Gold Pig.
Christmas traditions in DENMARK
The most important traditions in a nutshell
A very good thing about Christmas is that you do not get fat from the
food and drinks you have between Christmas and New Year! It’s the
period between New Year and Christmas, which is dangerous!
But let’s look at the most typical Danish traditions for this time of the
celebrated from the fourth Sunday before Christmas – normally very late
November or very early December. Almost every home has an Advent Wreath with
four white candles. The first Sunday one candle is lit. The second Sunday two
candles are in use. And so on. There are no special festivities related to
advent – apart from the church services, which mark the start of the
new church year.
is by far the most
important day in the Danish Christmas
. The day ofChristmas Eve. The special Christmas church service is
in the afternoon. Almost everybody goes to church on that day – not only the
very religious persons. It’s normally the only time each year, when I go to
church. You have to come early, if you want a seat in the church,
especially in the small churches in the countryside. The church
service that afternoon is normally very festive and the room nicely decorated.
And the priest will make an effort to make a sermon, which will interest
everybody there, not least the children.
Back home after the church service the kids will watch inciting special
Christmas programmes on TV. And the “food engineers” will perform in the
kitchen. Young kids will often get their first presents in the
afternoon – to keep them somewhat quiet and a bit “out of the way”!
The main living room will have a nice Christmas tree. A green
fir tree, which has been bought some days earlier. In families with
children the tree will often be nicely decorated during the afternoon – but
without the kids seeing it. The tree will have many white candles, decorations
of all sorts and not least a big silver or golden star in the
top – symbolising the star over Bethlehem. The Christmas
presents (everybody gets presents on Christmas eve) will be put under
the decorated tree. All a very nice sight!
will be served around
1800. The main course will be roast
pork withcrispy skin. Or duck. Or goose. All with the
traditional sweet and sour red cabbage.
This is followed by the very traditional and very rich dessert
called riz à l’amande.
And VERY important: the boss in the kitchen has put a
wholealmond in the riz à l’amande. The person who then gets that
in her or his portion has won a special present – the “almond present”! Attention:
If the family has young kids, the mother often cheats and gives each of them an
almond too. If not, hell will break loose! The drinks for the dinner
will either be beer or – more often nowadays – wine.
Now the next big moment comes: Somebody will go to the next
room and light all the candles on the Christmas tree. The door opens
– and the kids (and adults alike) will see the impressive tree “in all its
might”. With all the presents underneath.
No, no – no presents handed out yet!
First, everybody has to dance around the tree. In a circle – holding each
other’s hands. Andsinging a number of Christmas hymns and songs. Starting
dancing in one direction and soon turning around and doing it the other way
around. The children can hardly wait for the presents – but they
(normally) do. Everybody trying to guess what is in the different nicely
wrapped packages. Not least the big ones!
When this is done one of the kids will distribute the presents. One after
one. Everybody opens her or his gift right away and kisses “thank you” to the
happy “donor”. Next present… With many family members, not least children, this
“present operation” can take hours. But normally good fun. The very
small kids are – before they are put to bed – normally more interested in the
used wrapping paper than in their gifts. But as long as everybody is happy
Christmas is a jolly good one.
All along the un-packing of presents all sorts of homemade
cookies and different chocolates are at disposal.
It will be very late, before everybody will be in his or her beds. So
next morning is a very late morning. Except for the children who wake up early
to play with their new toys!
And except in my home, where my mother had her birthday on December 25.
But this is a different story.
Christmas traditions in ESTONIA
Christmas in the Estonian Way
The Estonian word jõulud (Christmas) is of ancient Scandinavian
origin and comes from the word Jul.
In Scandinavia and Estonia Jesus Christ's birthday is marked by the
pre-Christian word Jul in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Jol in Icelandic, Joulu in Finnish and Yule on the British Isles. So we can say
that like Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic and British people,
Estonians live in Jõulumaa.
Old Estonians celebrated winter solstice - the
birthday of the Sun. Starting from winter solstice, the days grew longer and
the sun rose higher in the sky. Jõulud was celebrated from St. Thomas's Day
(December 21) until Epiphany (January 6) long before Christianity reached the
region. Jõulud, which
involved excessive eating and prohibitions on several types of work, was seen
as a period of rest in the middle of the long dark winter. Now Christmas is a
mixture of the traditional, the modern, the secular, and the religious. Like in
other Nordic states, Estonia's celebration of Christmas mostly falls on
Christmas Eve. However, Christmas season starts from Advent with people buying
Advent calendars or lighting Advent candles.
The tradition of bringing Christmas tree home was
spread to the countryside in the 19th century by the local Baltic-German
population. The Christmas tree has always been an evergreen fir-tree, except
for a few places, where because of lack of woods, pine was used instead. The
first Christmas tree decorations were toys, sweets and later candles.
is considered to be silent time. In the old times, no
guests were allowed to come on the first day of the holiday. Moreover, if the
guest was a woman, it was seen as a bad omen. The same belief was about the New
Year's Eve. For Christians, the 24 and 25 December was holy time - people
stayed at home, read the Bible and sang chorales. Näärid, or the festive events
of the turn of the year, were a joyous holiday in both traditions.
Christmas was also called beer holidays and the beer
or mead brewed on St. Thomas's day had to last until Epiphany. Brewing the ale
was men's work, and it had to be started in the middle of the night so that an
evil eye would not ruin the important act.
Each year on December 24, the President of Estonia
declares Christmas Peace and attends a Christmas service. The tradition was
initiated by the order of Queen Kristina of Sweden in the 17th century.
Traditional Estonian Christmas food
is pork with sauerkraut or Estonian sauerkraut (mulgikapsad),
baked potatoes and swedes with hog's head, white and blood sausage, and brawn, also
potato salad with red beet and paté are eaten. From desserts gingerbread and
marzipan among others are very popular. The most highly regarded drinks during
this holiday have been beer or mead, but today also mulled wine has become a
Villu Känd, Tallinn
Christmas traditions in FINLAND
CHRISTMAS IN FINLAND
Christmas in Finland today is normally nothing special. But before it was
different. The biggest difference – especially in comparison with Sweden – is
that we Finns roast the ham. We don’t boil it.
I do it in the following way myself:
I order a ham of a pig, which has only been
eating grain. I order it for delivery 3 weeks and 2 days before Christmas Eve
The pig has to be slaughtered very recently
and the meat may never have been frozen
I cook a brine of pure sea salt – no iodine
or other chemicals - ca. 3 kg, natrium- or monosodium glutamate the Chinese
call it me yen and Indonesians Vsi Zin) and about ½ dl sugar
How to measure the strength ? You take a
non-peeled potato, which has been very carefully cleaned. When it is floating
in such a way that it touches the surface and still is covered by the liquid
(which has to be cold), then the brine is perfect
The ham is then put into the mixture for 21
days. The pot with the ham has to put on the balcony, in the garage
or in another place, where the temperature is always 0 degrees or
On Day 21 in the evening the ham is taken out
of the brine and put into un-salted water – staying there overnight
The next day the ham must be put into the
oven on a rack with a meat thermometer (ready when 76 – 80 centigrade)
The oven is put on to 95 – 110 degrees. The
cooking this way can take up to 12 hours….
Another Finnish dish for Christmas is “laatikko” (means “box”, but when
we are on the culinary side: “au gratin” – a sort of pudding.) Ingredient can
vary: Carrot, potato or above all Swedish turnip (rutabaga Am eng.)!! Another
must is roe: Burbot, vendance or whitefish mixed with onion and smetana
(Russian crème fraiche) as a starter. Herring is also at the table, but mixed
in to a beetroot salad, whith the Italian name “Rossolli”. In some families
salty cucumbers (Russian) are served with smetana and fluid honey. Wonderful.
In addition to that Finnish Christmas is like in all Nordic countries:
with Father Christmas, the fir tree, presents, etc. People still go to church
in the afternoon on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day at 6 o’clock in the
morning. In the countryside you still sometime see people go with
horses and a sledge – or with a reindeer in the north. But it is rarely seen
nowadays. But it is often offered to tourists. Lots of tourists are
visiting the North of Finland before and during the Christmas period.
Perhaps there is one more tradition, which is special for Finland. Almost
everybody will on December 24 in the afternoon put candles on the graves in the
cemeteries. It is done to ion remembrance of the dead, but
especially to honour those who felt for the country in the wars with the Soviet
Union in 1939-45.
The most important moment in Christmas in Finland in December 24 in the
evening – Christmas Eve. Not December 25.
In today’s Finland, especially in the business world, lots of Christmas
lunches take place. The last two weeks before Christmas Eve all restaurants “go
full speed”. These events can be quite wet! You start with Glögg at noon and
finish with cognac and cigars perhaps 3-4 hours later….
Glögg parties also exist, but they are today more
civilised. In the 1960ies and 1970ies you could have a free
permanent “good time” by visiting all the glögg parties you were invited to.
Personally I still prepare my own glögg. It takes about as long as the
Christmas traditions in FLANDERS
CHRISTMAS IN FLANDERS
traditions in Flanders, apart from the following.
family gathers for a family-dinner (not
necessarily turkey on the menu). Afterwards they all go to the midnight mass together. When
this is over, everybody is invited forglühwein around an open fire near the church.
We, of course,
have the Christmas tree with
the nativity, where the Jesus Christ is missing until 24/12
mid-night. Then the youngest child of the family can put it in the
In old days,
cakes or sugar waffles were baked and distributed to family and neighbours.
there were also presents for kids under the Christmas tree.
afternoon of the 24th, children go from door to door and sing Christmas songs to collect
money for charity (in the old days - now it's mainly for their own profits).
In nearly all
churches, there are Christmas
concerts by the local choirs.
Christmas traditions in FRANCE
of Catholic origin, Christmas for me in France took place in my childhood very
traditional split between midnight Mass, the feast and gifts to discover the 25
in the morning.
the years, the midnight mass is an exercise less practiced, despite the efforts
of the church to make it to 17 hours, 20 hours or even 25 to 10 hours. This
thus leaves more room for devoted consumers.
traditional meal often consisted of seafood, salmon, turkey with chestnuts,
cheese, cake. More recently Turkey seems
to give way to capon. Another notable development: more and more people
celebrate Christmas without knowing what a party it is.
lived in Africa for decades, I have seen that Christmas is universalized and
many African Muslim friends celebrate Christmas with pleasure without having
the slightest idea of
the religious reference
attached to it.
This allowed us to return to celebrate Ramadan with them. According to
tradition, after dinner, the parents under the close supervision of children
who were spying, were hiding presents
in the fireplace or at the foot of the Christmas
tree. In the morning, when the children woke up, even the unbelievers were
giggling: thank you, Father Christmas!
Christmas traditions in GERNANY
Germany: ( in German )
WEIHNACHTEN IN DEUTSCHLAND
Die Vorbereitung auf Weihnachten beginnt schon mit
der " Adventszeit" - vier
Wochen vor Weihnachten beginnt diese Zeit. Viele Familien haben dann einen
Adventskranz (Kranz aus Tanne) mit 4 Kerzen darauf.
"Adventssonntag" wird die erste Kerze
angezündet und dann jeden Sonntag eine weitere - bis alle 4 Kerzen brennen,
dann "steht das Christkind" kurz vor der Tuer.
Dazwischen, am 6. Dezember , kommt
der "Nikolaus " mit seinem Knecht
Ruprecht. Je nach dem: Man stellt am 5. Dezember abends seine Schuhe (gut
die Tür. Falls man nett und brav war, bekommt man
schöne Dinge vom Nikolaus
hineingesteckt, normalerweise Suessigkeiten, ganz
kleine Geschenke. Wenn man
nicht brav war: eine Rute, früher auch schon mal
ein Brikett (Kohle).
Und am 6. abends kommt der
Nikolaus persönlich (natürlich von den Eltern
bestellt), fragt Gedichte ab, ob alle brav waren
(weiss natürlich von den
Eltern die "kleinen Verfehlungen"), bestraft ein bisschen,
gibt dann auch
Geschenke. Früher waren es definitiv nur kleinere
Dinge, heute teilweise schon
fast Weihnachtsgeschenke. Das funktioniert
natürlich nur so lange, wie die Kinder "an den
Weihnachtsmann" glauben, danach ist es dann ja nicht mehr so nett.
In diesem Jahr ist Heilig Abend ein
Sonntag und der vierte Adventssontag ist
gleichzeitig Heilig Abend.
In dieser Zeit werden dann auch dieWeihnachtsplätzchen
man sie nicht, wie ich, kauft!), der berühmte
Christstollen (am meisten bekannt
als " Dresdner Christstollen ",
weil von dort, Dresden, angeblich die besten
herkommen (ich bin nicht sicher, aber ich glaube,
dort wurde er auch zuerst
Nun zu Weihnachten selbst :
Der Heilig Abend (24. Dezember )
abend ist inzwischen der Abend, an dem die
Kinder (und auch die Erwachsenen) Geschenkebekommen. Früher war es einmal
der 25. Dezember
Zu den Gepflogenheiten :
Es gehoert natürlich ein Weihnachtsbaum dazu,
der - falls möglich -
geschmückt wird (Lichter, Kugeln, Sterne etc.etc.),
ohne dass die Kinder
den Baum vor dem Abend sehen.
Je nach Familie geht man nachmittags in eine "Christmette ",
also in die
Inzwischen hat sich auch sehr die "Mitternachtsmesse "
man geht nachts um 11 oder 12 Uhr in die Kirche (in
diesem Fall allerdings: bei
den Katholiken war es schon "immer" so).
Nach der Christmette, wenn es anfängt, dunkel zu
werden, dürfen dann alle
in das Zimmer mit dem Weihnachtsbaum (dazu läuten
die Eltern mit einem
Glöckchen), der dann natürlich
"angezündet" ist. - Heute überwiegend
Es wird die Weihnachtsgeschichte aus der Bibelvorgelesen,
vorhanden, müssen die Gedichte aufsagen,Weihnachtslieder
singen , falls
sie Instrumente spielen können auch irgendetwasvortragen ,
was sie natürlich
"zähneknirschend" vorher geübt haben. Und
dann gibt es die Geschenke
(natürlich mit grosser Ungeduld erwartet). Diese
liegen schön verpackt
unter dem Weihnachtsbaum (falls genug Platz).
Bis hierher ist es wohl mehr oder weniger bei allen
Familien so üblich (bis auf
den Kirchgang, der inzwischen nicht mehr so
unbedingt zum Programm
Habe neulich mal irgendwo gelesen,
dass 10 % der Leute gar nicht mehr wissen , warum
Weihnachten überhaupt gefeiert wird. Kann auch etwas weniger
sein, aber es war eine erstaunlich hohe
Prozentzahl.Aber das ist mit
Ostern und Pfingsten ebenso.
Essen und Getränke :
Soweit ich weiß, gibt es Heilig Abend bei vielen
Familien etwas, das sehr
schnell geht: z.B. Kartoffelsalat mit
Würstchen .(Die Kinder wollen ja
möglichst schnell zu ihren Geschenken und die
In meiner Familie (meine Eltern stammen aus Schlesien) gab es IMMER:
Polnische Karpfensauce mit Schlesischer
Weißwurst (hat absolut
der Bayerischen Weißwurst zun tun), dazu Sauerkraut
und Kartoffeln. - Zu diesem
Gericht passt eigentlich nur Bier, Weißwein geht
aber auch. Der "Clou"
daran ist diese Sauce, sehr würzig, Grundzutaten:
Malzbier, Wurzelgemüse: Karotten,
Petersilienwurzel, Sellerie, Pasternaken, Zwiebeln,
ganz besonders wichtig, sonst geht es nicht: "Fischpfefferkuchen ",
in Berlin in Fischhandlungen, ist wirklich eine Art Pfefferkuchen, nur
ganz so süss. (Manche Leute garen in dieser Sauce
auch einen Karpfen, aber
viele mögen keinen Karpfen, die nehmen dann diese
Aber wie gesagt, das ist sicherlich regional
Für den 25. und 26. Dezember ist
es da schon etwas einfacher:
Am 1. Weinachtsfeiertag , also 25.
Dezember, gibt es eigentlich Gänsebraten
mit Rotkohl, evtl. auch Grünkohl, und Klößen
Am zweiten Feiertag (26.12.)
besuchen sich die Familien/Freunde gegenseitig.
Inzwischen gibt es auch Putenbraten
oder Ente . Aber eigentlich war es die Gans. Diese Essen gab es
früher auch IMMER mittags.
Ich weiss übrigens z.B. aus Kroatien (hier speziell
Dalmatien), dass es am
Heilig Abend immer " Bakalar "
gibt. Ein Gericht aus Stockfisch, Knoblauch,
Kartoffeln und Öl (ich finde es lecker).
Und am 1. Feiertag, also 25.12 .:
"Pura s Mlincima", d.h. Pute mit "Mlinci",
Das ist eine besondere Art von Nudeln: vorher aus
Mehl, Ei und Wasser
Hergestellter Teig, der dünn ausgerollt im Ofen
mehr getrocknet als gebacken wird, kalt und hart werden lassen, und
dann in kochendem Wasser klein gebrochen kochen.
Christmas traditions in GREECE
CHRISTMAS IN GREECE
considered to be the second most important religious event –
Many kids will
go around to the houses singing Christmascarols (called "kallanda")
and getting paid a little bit of money and sweets. I used to do it a lot with my
brother, when I was little.
sweets around the Christmas period are "melomakarona"
and "kourabiedhes". They are made of honey, flour, nuts, and
In the old days
people used to decorate a wooden ship, instead of a Christmas tree.
Nowadays, due to Western influence, we usually decorate a Christmas tree.
Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve with the breaking of
the "Christopsomo". This is a loaf of bread. Each person in
the family gets a slice, drizzled with honey.
Day we usually have stuffed turkey with various vegetables.
In terms of
drinks, there are no special drinks for Christmas. People
drink whatever they drink the rest of the year.
Christmas traditions in HUNGARY
The list of the Hungarian folk activities
starts with the so-called „ Luca - day ”. As of common belief, on the 13th of December St. Luca transforms into a witch.
In order to keep the vile witches at bay, people put garlic into their keyholes
and they also put a knife into the doorframe. Sometimes people painted a cross
on their door using garlic. People weren’t allowed to borrow things from each
other because the borrowed things could turn into the property of the witches.
On Luca’s day young girls were told who their husband will be. Young boys went
around the village to visit other houses; they wished good luck to other people
and they got presents and gifts in return. If they received nothing, they put a
curse on the house.
starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas: each Sunday a candle is burnt on
the girdle of Advent. Advent lasts until the 24th of December.
on Christmas Eve always
includes fish and a Hungarian speciality called „beigli” which is a kind of a
cake filled with nuts or poppy seeds. There is always an apple which symbolizes
the integrity of the family.
Day people go out for the
so-called „betleheming ”
activity. This game was originally played in churches, but lately children
perform it at private houses. The actors – pastors, angels, Maria, Joseph –
still play the story of the birth of Christ according to the Bible; after they
give their presents and good wishes to the people of the house. After that, the
people of the house present a feast for the guests’ honour.
Christmas traditions in ICELAND
In Iceland Christmas starts at 6 pm on Christmas Eve, December 24th, and
the festivities last until the Thirteenth Day (Twelfth Night), which falls on
January the 6th. In the high north, Christmas is linked to ancient traditions
related to the winter solstice. It is not known with any certainty when
“Christmas”, or Yule, was celebrated in heathendom, but it is thought likely
that the celebration took place on a full moon during the time of year when the
day is shortest. Not much is known either about how the feast was celebrated at
that time, except that Yule was “drunk” with feasts of food and ale, and that
Icelandic Chieftains were in the habit of inviting scores of people to Yule
Later, Nordic Yule was superseded by the celebration of the birth of
Christ. This was due to the fact that by the time Christianity was introduced
in Iceland, the celebration of Christmas had long ago become ingrained in Roman
doctrine. It is worth mentioning that in the Mediterranean the same thing had
happened a little earlier – that is, heathen celebrations being replaced by
Christian ones. In this way, centuries old mid-winter celebrations were turned
into celebrations of the Redeemer, where either his birth or baptism was the
cause for celebration. In the 4th and 5th Centuries it had become customary in
most of the Christian world to commemorate the birth of Christ on December
25th, and the baptism and the adoration of the Wise Men on January 6th, thus
the idea of the thirteen days of Christmas.
Even though Christmas itself only lasts for thirteen days and starts at
6 pm sharp on Christmas Eve, it may be said that to many people the
preparations for Christmas are as important as the festivities themselves. This
is the way it has been for centuries, and the weeks before Christmas have
traditionally been taken over by Christmas preparations. In Iceland the weeks
leading up to Christmas have been called either Christmas Fast or Advent.
Christmas Fast was used because in Catholicism people fasted in the weeks
leading up to Christmas, and were therefore not supposed to eat any meat. The
term Advent, however, comes straight from Latin where the word adventus means
to arrive, but Advent is thought of as a time for both spiritual and worldly
preparations for the arrival of Christmas. Advent, which starts on the fourth
Sunday before Christmas, is therefore a time used to get preparations for
Christmas done. As a matter of fact, people nowadays often start their
Christmas preparations long before Advent arrives, but Advent is always the
time when preparations are at their peak – and get finished!
In the Icelandic rural society of old much emphasis was placed on
finishing the tasks that needed to be done around the home before Christmas, and
the most important task was the preparation and knitting of woollen garments.
Knitted items were taken to the shopkeeper in exchange for store merchandise,
and if the merchandise was to be enjoyed at Christmas the woollens obviously
had to be ready in time. It was considered of high importance that every member
of the household be properly dressed at Christmas, and no one should be
“devoured” by the Yule Cat. Those who worked hard were given a new garment by
their employers and therefore it was important to keep at the knitting.
Today, Icelandic Christmas preparations are quite different from how
they used to be, but one thing is certain: people are definitely not doing any
less than they used to! Nowadays there are numerous things that need to be
accomplished before the Church bells ring Christmas in. Christmas Cards must be
written, Christmas presents have to be bought, the house has to be given a
thorough Christmas cleaning, new Christmas clothes must be bought for every
member of the family, and thirteen days before Christmas children put their
shoe in the window in the hope of the Yule lads (the Icelandic version of
Father Christmas/Santa Claus) leaving them a little something. Then the
Christmas food has to be thought of, as well as the Christmas baking and the
Christmas decorations. When the Festivities finally arrive and the preparations
are finished, wonderful days full of Christmas parties and Christmas
entertainment take over.
Nowadays many people consider sending Christmas greetings to friends and
family near and far as an essential part of the Christmas preparations.
Christmas Cards are the most common form of Christmas greetings, but with
increased use of technology it is becoming more and more common for people to
send electronic greetings, e-mails and text messages at Christmas. Since the
year 1932, the Icelandic State Broadcasting Service (RÚV) has broadcast
Christmas and New-Year's greetings, which were originally intended mainly for
those who for some reason had to be away from home, be they sailors at sea, or
people who for one reason or another were unable to be with their families at
Christmas. As the years went by, the Christmas greetings broadcast by RÚV
continued to increase, and this trend shows no sign of changing in our day –
indeed, on St Thorlákur´s Day (December 23rd) RÚV Radio 1 broadcasts nothing
but Christmas greetings and News. As such, it can be concluded that Christmas
Greetings are, for a great many people, an essential part of the Christmas
Despite a huge increase in Christmas greetings sent by modern
technology, traditional Christmas Cards are as popular as ever. Each December
the post offices overflow with Christmas Cards, and the numbers are so great
that people are urged to send their cards early to be sure that they will be
delivered in time. The oldest known Christmas greeting in Iceland is to be
found in a letter dated 1667, written by the bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson, where
he says: “With a wish for a merry Christmas and a prosperous new year, and
every hour full of good prospects, in the name of our Lord, Amen.” It was,
however, not until quite a bit later that Christmas Cards as we know them today
came along. The world's first known Christmas card was published in England in
the year 1843, three years after the invention of the postal stamp. It was not
until around 1890 that the first Christmas Cards were marketed in Iceland, and
their origins were mostly Danish or German – at that time Christmas cards had
become increasingly popular both in Europe and North America. Around the turn
of the 19th Century, Icelandic Christmas cards started appearing and the
tradition of sending Christmas cards soon caught on in Iceland – a tradition
which has grown steadily since and has long ago established itself as an
unmissable part of the preparations for Christmas.
Today, Christmas and Christmas presents are inextricably linked, and in
the minds of many people the presents are one of the most important features of
the celebrations. In the month of December shops and shopping centres are
filled with people buying one present after another, and the media is full of
advertisements for the perfect Christmas gifts. The flood of Christmas presents
seems to get larger and larger each year, and shop owners certainly don't have
anything to complain about at this time of year. Given the importance of
Christmas presents for today's celebrations, it is a bit strange to realise
that the custom of giving Christmas presents is actually not very old in
Iceland. It was not until the mid-19th Century that the general public started
giving Christmas presents as we know them today. In this context it is
interesting to note that the custom of giving summer presents is much older in
Iceland, and references from the 16th Century record this tradition.
It should, however, be noted that even though ordinary people were not
in the habit of giving Christmas presents until the 19th Century, it is known
that Royalty and Chieftains of old, both in this country and abroad, exchanged
gifts at Christmas. It was also common, from ancient times onwards, to present
the poor with gifts of food around Christmas, and this is still done both here
and abroad. It should also be pointed out that in the rural society of old most
members of a household received a new garment and new sheepskin shoes from
their employers at Christmas. These gifts were, however, not considered actual
Christmas presents, but rather as a type of reward for a job well done, as the
time leading up to Christmas was characterised by a great deal of hard work, as
lots of work had to be finished before the Church bells rang Christmas in.
It may perhaps be said that the first indication of Christmas gifts in
Iceland dates back to the early 19th Century tradition of giving children, and
sometimes everyone in the home, a candle for Christmas. One of the tasks that
had to be accomplished before Christmas was the moulding of candles from sheep
drippings. These candles were rather expensive and it was a very festive moment
when the children were given their own candle. The light of the candle was also
much brighter than that from the fish-oil lamps that were used every day, and
thus it is easy to imagine the festive atmosphere in the communal
living/sleeping room (baðstofa) of the farmhouses at Christmas when everyone
lit their candles. As the 19th Century progressed, Christmas presents became
more and more common. Around that time specific advertisements started
appearing in newspapers, but the oldest one on record is from the paper
Þjóðólfur in the year 1866, where the New Testament is advertised as an
opportune Christmas gift for children and young people. As the importation of
all types of merchandise increased, Christmas presents became more and more
common, and it may be said that the ball that started rolling in the latter
part of the 19th Century is still going full force, as there seems to be no
stopping the ever increasing Christmas present shopping.
Today, most people clean their house thoroughly before Christmas,
although it depends on how thorough a clean people feel is necessary! Some
people clean every cupboard in the house, dust and wash their furniture, and
wash curtains and table cloths, while for others changing the bedding and
washing the floors is enough. Whatever level of cleaning they prefer, most
people want their homes to be nice and clean at Christmas. When the home
has been cleaned from top to bottom, the Christmas bath is a necessity so that
you too are clean and proper before putting on the brand new Christmas clothes.
The Christmas cleaning is not a new custom in this country, and in the olden
days it was considered equally important to clean the house, clothing and the
body – just as today. It should be borne in mind that in those days people did
not have access to all the cleaning materials and running water that we have
now, and the cleaning was therefore quite different from what we do today. All
clothing and bedding had to be hand-washed, and the custom was to do this a few
days before Christmas. This posed certain problems, as many people did not own
a change of bedding or clothing, and therefore had to wait in bed while the
clothes and bedding were washed and dried. People waited and hoped for a good
“dry” – a so-called “poor man's dry” – so that the clothes would be dry enough
to wear again soon. After that the houses and furniture had to be cleaned. Then
the farm floors were washed, as well as all the woodwork. The wooden floors
were usually cleaned with sand, and the earthen floors swept. Finally, all food
containers had to be washed, and the cutlery and other metal objects in the
home were polished with ash. When this was all done it was time to clean the
inhabitants themselves, and for that purpose water was heated on the fire,
poured into a tub, and people either bathed in the tub or washed from head to
toe with a washcloth. As far as this is concerned, it should be remembered that
then, as now, it varied how thoroughly people cleaned their houses – and
As is mentioned in the sections on the Yule Cat and Christmas Presents,
it was customary in traditional rural society that employers gave the employees
in their home a new garment and sheepskin shoes for Christmas. This was done to
reward the people for good work, as the tasks that had to be accomplished
before Christmas were numerous, and therefore the weeks leading up to Christmas
were characterized by a rigorous workload. The saying went that those who did
not receive a new garment for Christmas would be “devoured by the Yule Cat”
which was a fate to be avoided at all costs – although whether this meant that
the Yule Cat would eat them or eat their food wasn't always clear. Thus
everyone worked zealously at finishing all the woolwork and knitting of
garments for the members of the household before the arrival of Christmas.
Today the saying “to be devoured by the Yule cat” is still used for those who
do not get a new garment for Christmas, and for many people it is important to
wear only new clothes – and preferably to have a new haircut – on Christmas
Eve. What has changed, of course, is that people no longer make all their
clothes at home, and most people now head for the nearest fashion store to buy
the new Christmas clothes and Christmas shoes.
Shoe in the Window
On the night before December 12th it is customary for Icelandic children
to put one of their shoes in the window, as that night the first Yule Lad
“Stekkjarstaur” – or Sheep-Cote Clod – comes to town. The shoe stays on the
window sill until Christmas, and the children hope that the Yule Lads, who come
into town from the mountains one by one on the nights leading up to Christmas,
will leave a little something for them in the shoe. The children must earn
these small gifts by being well behaved, or else they run the risk of finding a
potato in their shoe. Even though this custom is well entrenched now, this has
not always been the case, and in its early days there was some confusion as to
how many nights before Christmas the shoe should be in the window, as well as
about how large or small the gifts should be.
The reason for this confusion was that when this custom was first brought to
Iceland, it was only common within small groups of people and, did not spread
much outside of those groups. Those who first got to know this custom were
Icelandic seamen who sailed in the North Sea, but in Holland and other regions
by the North Sea it was customary for children to put their shoe in the window
on the eve of December 6th, which is the day of the Mass of St. Nicholas, the
protector of Children and Seafarers in Catholicism. The children hoped St.
Nicholas would leave them a little gift in their shoe. The Icelandic sailors
learnt about this custom, and brought it home with them and introduced it to
their own children. The first known instances of Icelandic children putting
their shoe in the window date back to the 1930s. However, as the custom spread
slowly in the beginning it wasn't until around the middle of the Century that
it became common for all Icelandic children to put their shoe in the window.
Here in Iceland it was not St Nicholas who put gifts in the shoe, but
rather the Yule Lads. For quite a while it differed between homes when the
children started putting their shoe in the window, and in some houses children
would do this as early as December 1st. It also differed from home to home how
large the gifts were, and children from richer families got larger presents
each time, and sometimes the Yule Lads seemed to play favourites to an unacceptable
degree. At the end of the seventies, the situation had gotten so out of hand
that assistance was sought from the Folk Custom Division of the National Museum
on how to handle these discrepancies and extravagances. The remedy was a
campaign of awareness raising, conducted through the media and in
kindergartens, where parents were requested not to be so extravagant in this
respect, as well as reminding them that as there are only thirteen Yule Lads,
no shoes should be put in windows until thirteen days before Christmas,
beginning on the night before the 12th of December.
Christmas Parties and Christmas Entertainment
In Iceland Christmas starts at 6 pm on Christmas Eve, and at that time
all preparations must be finished. Many people start the festivities by
attending Mass, but others make do with starting their Christmas dinner when
the Church bells have rung Christmas in. It is customary for Icelandic families
to spend the Night of Christmas Eve together, eat a delicious dinner and open
presents. The Christmas Festivities are, in the minds of many people, a family
celebration, and have always been thought of as a respite from the hustle and
bustle of everyday work. Christmas provides an excellent opportunity to host
parties where families and friends come together to eat good food and spend
time together. At Christmas parties people often play cards or games, and it
has long been one of the characteristics of Christmas that children and their
needs are focused on, and that adults take time to play with them. There are
sources which record games being played at Christmas in the 16th Century, and
it may be inferred that Christmas was the time when people were most likely to
indulge in play and games. In this context we mean both card- and board-games,
which still are immensely popular among all age groups around Christmas. There
are also sources which suggest games such as hide and seek, blind man's bluff,
and others in that vein were played in Iceland at Christmas. It does, however,
differ from family to family whether games are played at Christmas parties, and
how many Christmas parties people attend. Some people prefer to spend Christmas
in peace and quiet, with a book in their hands or watching a good film on
television, using the Christmas vacation to charge their batteries and relax
before the New Year, and with it the toil of everyday life, arrives.
addition to all the family Christmas parties a great number of organized
entertainment also takes place at Christmas time – particularly in the days
leading up to Christmas, and again during the days between Christmas and the
New Year. Christmas entertainment is organized in schools and kindergartens, in
workplaces, at social organisations, and so on. These events are great for
those who have not had their fill of fun at home. It has become a tradition in
most primary schools to celebrate “Little Christmas” in the last week of school
before the vacation. In preparation the children make ornaments, decorate their
schoolroom, and are allowed to bring a candle and some sweets to school. In the
wake of this the schools usually have a Christmas dance where the children
dance around the Christmas tree. Austurbæjarskóli is considered to have
pioneered these dances, and the first winter the school was open – in the year
1930 – a Christmas dance like this was held. Slowly but surely other schools
followed suit, and this custom is now common around the country. It is however,
not only schools and kindergartens that hold Christmas dances such as these:
they are also commonly held at workplaces, organisations and others places. The
first Christmas dance to be held in Iceland took place on December 28th 1876,
and was organised by the Thorvaldsen Society. This lead to various shops and
organisations also offering Christmas dances in the days between Christmas and
the New Year, and there have been more and more on offer as the years have gone
by. Nowadays, most children attend several Christmas dances during the
holidays, and many have to pick and choose those they want (and are able) to
attend out of the great number on offer to them.
Museum of Iceland
Christmas traditions in IRELAND
In Ireland today, Christmas is a time for families coming together and
with the recently acquired wealth, this coming together is a great
excuse for a boom in buying (expensive) consumer goods especially for
children who normally are at the centre of most of the festivities. We
very much in the mainstream of Western European customs, taking the
Christmas Tree from Germany, the turkey and plum pudding from
England - although there was a tradition, especially in rural areas, to
have a goose, rather than a turkey.
For the main
meal on Christmas Day.
Ireland is very much a religious country and even with growing
secularism, Christmas is very much a religious festival, with carol
singing, live cribs, and decorated windows in the main stores. This also
brings out little quirks in our attitude towards religious feast days.
In Britain, the day after Christmas, is known as 'boxing day' a name I
always have some confusion with. Many Irish people also use the term
'boxing day', but over recent it is usual to refer to this day as St
Stephen's Day, which is the proper name listed in the Church Calendar.
Going back to pagan times there is an old tradition, particularly in the
Dingle Peninsula, of hunting the 'wren', whereby a group, mostly young
men, dress up as wren boys in rather garish costumes, featuring straw as
a large element of the dress, gathering on St. Stephen's Day and move
around the community receiving sustenance from the neighbours, which may
be the whole point of the exercise. The tradition has remained in
Dingle for many decades but within the last 20 years it has spread to
Dublin, to Sandymount, near Donnybrook and Dublin Bay and a large number
of people, young and old, male and female, famous and not so famous,
gather to follow in the hunt for the wren.
Christmas traditions in ITALY
CHRISTMAS IN ITALY
Have a Christmas tree (usually
plenty of tacky colourful lights and Santas and angels …not as simple and
nice as the Christmas tree of Denmark!)
Set up the nativity - usually under
the tree - where baby Jesus will be added only on the night of the 24th
after attending Mass !
This is, of course, for the true believers….
Go to Mass
on the 24th evening
(hoping there will be a coir singing in tune!)
Usually we do not eat that much on Christmas Eve(strangely
enough..) but we will definitively have some panettone (typical Italian
tall cake/brioche full of pieces of dried fruit) with some Prosecco / Italian
On the 25th
starting course in Lombardia (region where I come from) is to have
" cappelletti in
brodo "(small filled tortellini , usually hand made
if you have still a grandma that can cook, served in chicken stock).
And then, of course, plenty
more courses will follow!
are opened either on
the 24th evening or 25th morning.
Christmas traditions in LATVIA
Christmas is an important family celebration for Latvians. Many
Latvians attend church services, decorate Christmas trees and exchange gifts on
Christmas Eve - December 24. Christmas Eve is the most important
moment! Celebrations continue on Christmas Day and the day after. For many
Latvians this time of the year is also associated with pre-Christian traditions
and rituals reflected in ancient folk songs and observed in a variety of
The winter solstice (December 22) was celebrated when the night was
longest and the day shortest, when the intensity of field work was lowest, but
people gathered for evening bees to do textile and other handiwork, to spin
fairytales and other stories, to guess riddles, sing, and dance. In the
Christian tradition Christmas is the birth of God's son, but in traditional
Latvian culture it is the rebirth of the Sun maiden.
During Christmas rooms are decorated with three-dimensional straw or
reed ornaments that are vernacularly known as lukturi, puzuri, krigi, putni,
and so on. Evergreen branches, junipers, colored rags, wood shavings and other
natural materials are also used in the decorations.
The best known Christmas tradition is mumming. In some regions these
kekatas are called budeli, kujenieki, preili, kurciemi, cigani, or kaladnieki.
The mumming period for Latvians is from Martinmas to Shrovetide, but the most intensive
mumming activities occur around Christmas.
The mummers are costumed and in different masks. The most common
traditional masks are bears, horses, cranes, wolfs, goats, haystacks, tall
women, small men, death, fortune-tellers, and living corpses. Led by a
"father", the mummers travel from homestead to homestead or from
village to village. The mummers bring a home blessing, encourage fertility, and
frighten away any evil spirits.
Another characteristic Christmas tradition is dragging the Yule log.
This is explained as the symbolic collecting and burning of last year's
problems and misfortunes. The Yule log was either dragged by the people of one
farmstead or several neighbors together. This was accompanied by songs, singing
games, and various sounding instruments. If people from different farmsteads
came together, then it was burned in the last farmstead.
An integral part of Christmas was a generous banquet, whose most
characteristic food included a pig's head, which was boiled together with
barley mashed with a pestle. This food was called kukis, koca, or kikas.
Christmas Eve was sometimes called Kuki evening. Other traditional foods were
peas, beans and barley sausage, which because of their round, curved appearance
were seen as symbols of the sun or the year.
In our time Latvians bake gingerbread cookies and decorate a firtree
with lighted candles. The decoration of the Christmas tree is a tradition that
was borrowed from Baltic manor lords several hundred years ago.
Christmas traditions in LITHUANIA
There are not very many nations in the
world that celebrate Christmas Eve so devotedly as the Lithuanians. The
celebration of Christmas Eve is part of the late autumn and winter holiday
cycle which includes the commemoration of the dead and the celebration of the
winter soltice and the New Year. Christmas Eve customs center round the
celebration of the birth of Infant Jesus, and intertwine with the symbolism of
Last Supper, the clan- destine social meals of the primitive Christians, agapae,
Adam and Eve (December 24 is the name day of Adam and Eve).
Christmas Eve is the day for family
reunions, both their living and dead members.
Everyone observes the unwritten law:
Christmas Eve determines what kind of year it is going to be. It is a day of
thorough cleaning, both inside and outside the house. People try to be nice to
each other, pay all their debts and have confessions with the priest. On this
day neighbours do not visit each other without a good reason. It the Christmas
Eve table is poor, the whole year will be poor.
After the day's chores and a good bath the
master of the house or the grandfather brings in an armful of hay to be spread
under a new white tablecloth. To make it more aromatic "so it could entice
more good spirits", the hay is sometimes mixed with mint. A basket with
hay is also placed under the table "for the Infant or the Lamb to lie
on". In some localities a little hay is spread in or under the plate with
Christmas Eve wafer which is placed together with bread and sometimes a little
cross in the center of the table.
Lithuanians know more than one hundred
recipes of Christmas Eve dishes. Some are popular all over Lithuania such as
for example preskuciai or slizikai (1 or 1,5 square centimeter biscuits with
poppies) served with poppy seed milk, also herring, fish and mushroom dishes,
oatmeal or cranberry puddings. Others are popular only in some regions. For
example Zemaitians are fond of hemp seed dishes, soups and herring, Dzukians
prefer mushroom soups and buckwheat dishes, Suvalkians are fond of peas,
apples, Aukstaitians of wheat dishes.
Late in the evening, with the appearance
of the Evening Star in the sky, which showed the way to the shepherds to
Bethlehem, families sit down to supper. There are usually seats reserved for
the absent members of the family. The seats are marked with a fir twig or a
myrtle. The family members who have died that year are treated as being simply
absent, except that the seats reserved for them are marked with a fir twig and
a burning candle.
The master of the house makes a sign of
cross over the table and says a grace to thank God for the food and the harvest
of the year and asks Him to bless the house for the coming year. The supper
-starts with the thin Christmas Eve wafers, hallowed in church. The wafers are
handed out by the father or the oldest member of the family. On accepting the
wafer the members of the family exchange their best wishes for the season.
There are usually 12 dishes on the table, one dish for every month of the year
so that the family should have enough food all the year round.
At the Christmas Eve table people behave
gracefully and respectfully. Grandparents and parents are the first to speak.
They remember the dead and absent members who cannot take part at the supper. The
conversation centers round the birth of Infant Jesus, the coming holidays, the
most important events of the past year and the harvest. People look hopefully
to the future and their visit to church on Christmas day. Beekeepers discuss
the industry of bees.
After supper and a grace of thanks for the
food, both the grown-ups and the children enjoy telling fortunes by drawing out
stalks of hay from under the tablecloth. The grown-ups are interested to know
what the harvest is going to be like the next year, the younger people mostly
want to find out their prospects for marriage. In many districts of Lithuania
the Christmas Eve table is not cleared for the night, for people believe that
the souls of their ancestors and other dead members of their family come home
for supper on this night.
Not a single living being, thing or spot
inside or outside the house is neglected that day. Apple tree trunks are tied
with the straw which has been used to strain the boiled peas for the supper to
protect them against the sharp teeth of hares and to increase the harvest of
apples for the next summer. Beekeepers go to listen to their bees, treat them
to bits of food from the Christmas Eve table, the farm animals get the hay from
the table and the fowl the yummy bits and leftovers. People discuss various
unheard-of things - water that has turned sweet all of a sudden or has turned
into wine, animals speaking a human language and other curiosities.
After leaving the table young people enjoy
fortune telling by trying to embrace an even number of fence palings, to fetch
an armful of an even number of fire wood blocks, by burning bits of paper, by
throwing wooden cogs, melting wax and lead. All this is done mostly to find out
one's prospects for marriage the next year.
The Christmas tree is the greatest joy for
children. The tradition of deco- rating a Christmas tree came to Lithuania at
the turn of the 20th century Christmas tree decorations used to be made of
pieces of straw strung together on a thread into intricate geometrical figures,
coloured egg shells and pastry were used to make birds, horses, squirrels,
lambs, moons, suns, stars, flowers and other figurines. Christmas trees were
also decorated with apples, fir or pine cones, nuts and paper cuttings. The
Christmas tree has always been the place where family members leave presents
for each other.
Christmas Eve customs reflect the best
moral traditions of the Lithuanian nation. It is a day of thanksgiving and
Christmas traditions in LUXEMBOURG
CHRISTMAS IN LUXEMBOURG
During the month
of December there are a lot of festivities in Luxembourg.
Nicolas Day (6 December), a traditional day when children receive
their gifts (rather than Christmas). Even one or two weeks before especially
the little ones put their shoes near the door and in the morning, when waking
up, they find sweets, candies, chocolate or fruits in their shoes.
month before St. Nicolas Day bakers sell sweet cakes that take the form of
man, called 'Kuchemännchen' in Luxembourgish, very much appreciated by
children and adults. The Sunday before, local associations organize
festivities; a man dressed like a bishop distributes sweets and chocolate to
'nice' children; 'bad' guys receive a birch from his bogeyman.
during the month of December, some organize Christmas markets. Many families
buy a wreath with four candles, each representing one of the four Sundays
before Christmas. The first week they light one, the second one two and so
being a catholic country, a lot of people go the midnight
mass and meet with friends thereafter.
the day devoted to family, parents inviting their children and grandchildren or
vice versa and exchanging gifts.
farmers slaughtered their pigs in December and prepared i.e. blood sausage ('Träipen' in
Luxembourgish), still appreciated during the cold winter months. Christmas
dinner is now more elaborated, has become more international, with three or
four menus, varieties of fish, especially trout and salmon, knuckle of ham,
roast beef enveloped with pastry, nowadays also turkey, a series of deserts,
chocolate mousse or cake, yule log (bûche de Noel) with special decoration, ice
cream. All accompanied with fresh Luxembourg champagne and white wine (Riesling,
Pinot blanc, Pinot gris) or red wine, especially from France or Italy.
end with Epiphany. Families buy a special cake that
contains one bean. The one who gets it is crowned as king in remembrance
of the Magi.
Christmas traditions in MACEDONIA
Christmas is celebrated for the Orthodox Community on 7th January, with
the traditional and very beautiful Orthodox liturgy in churches
all over the country.
It is followed by the traditional meal of lamb
with all sorts of vegetables, washed down with copious glasses of the
very strong Rakija, and Macedonian wine.There
are also other dishes
pies, sarma ( meat or vegetables rolled in cabbage
leaves ). But all the meal is centered around lamb.
The celebrations continue over the Epiphany
which takes place ten days
later, and is
celebrated by throwing the holy cross in rivers or lakes
for people to catch.The person who catches it goes
around the town
collecting offerings for
the church (or for himself).
Christmas traditions in MALTA
CHRISTMAS IN MALTA
Carmel G. Bonavia
Christmas, a time
for joy and happiness, is marked by various traditions, folklore and customs
which are well rooted in local religious beliefs.
traditional young boys sermon on Christmas eve is over a century old, with the
earliest documented ones taking place at Luqa and Floriana. The crib has a
longer history. The Franciscans Conventual already had one at their church in
Rabat in 1617. The Christmas Eve procession with the statue of Baby Jesus was
organised for the first time in 1921.
around 77 years ago was confined to church functions in which the whole town or
village took part. A short procession took place within the church or around
the church parvis. Most churches were still lit by thousands of candles. Only a
few had gaslight and electricity was limited to the capital.
before the solemn midnight Mass, carried the statue of Baby Jesus from the side
altar where it would have been exposed for the previous nine days, to the high
altar. It was this High Mass that the young boy, dressed as an acolyte (altar
boy) delivered the sermon from the pulpit. The first known Christmas Eve sermon
by an altar boy was delivered by George Sapiano in the parish church of Luqa in
this function, the town or village was quiet, as on other nights. Street
lighting was very poor. Total darkness was only broken by some oil lamps.
Christmas food, such as honey-rings (qaghaq tal-ghasel) and boiled dried
chestnut soup (imbuljuta), were sold. The wine shops were crowded with
men drinking red wine. They used to join their friends later, playing the
(bagpipes), the mandolin, the guitar and
George Preca, who in 1907 founded the Society of Christian Doctrine, known as
M.U.S.E.U.M. (Magizter Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus: Oh
Lord may the whole world follow your gospel), had a special devotion to
Christmas. He even celebrated his first soilemn Mass on Christmas Day 1906 at
Ft. Gajetans church in Hamrun.
devotions and activities found public expression on Christmas Eve of 1921. At
one of his meetings early in December with the societys members in Hamrun,
where he had opened the first centre, he expressed his strong wish that on
Christmas Eve members would organise a "manifestation" with Baby
Jesus in all towns and villages.
Gorg did not want a formal procession but a "manifestation" of faith
and joy to involve people in the real spirit of Christmas.
M.U.S.E.U.M. members did their best to organise the event, but their greatest
problem was to get hold of a life-size statue of Baby Jesus for the
demonstration. Seventy-four years ago such statues were only available in
churches and religious communities for midnight Masses. The members of Fr.
Precs society tried all possible sources, to no avail, but Fr. Francis Micallef
of the Franciscans Conventual in Valletta finally lent them one for the
sunset on Christmas Eve, 1921, Fra Diegu Street, Hamrun, was crowded with
children and adults ready to take part in this first procession. Many provided
themselves with lanterns of various kinds - some used in the
, others borrowed bicycle headlamps lit by
acetylene gas, oil lamps used on farmers carts or hurricane lamps. Others,
mostly youths, improvised lanterns hewn out of small pumpkins or vegetable
marrows with candles inside. Others brought coloured paper lanterns, Venetian
lights, palm fronds and olive branches. From the beginning it was evident that
the idea had caught the imagination of many and it was going to be a success.
The Hamrun members
and boys were joined by others from nearby centres in Marsa and Blata l-Bajda.
The procession went along the main Hamrun streets with the participants singing
traditional carols, like
all Ye Faithful) and
Ninni la Tibkix Izjed
Baby, dont cry), written by the Jesuit Fr. Andrew Schembri (1774-1862) from
Luqa for Maltese migrants in Tunis.
entire population of Hamrun went to watch the procession and a truly Christian
enthusiasm was created in preparation for the midnight Mass. Similar
"manifestations" were held in a few other localities in Malta.
Elderly members of MUSEUM relate interesting experiences of the first
processions held in 1921 and 1922.
meet the demand for more large figures of Baby Jesus, half a dozen were
imported from Lecce, Italy, by a Valletta agent. These were soon bought by the
larger centres of the 18 which MUSEUM had opened in Malta. They cost about 2 M
liras each, which was quite high, considering that the average daily wage was
1s 8d (8 cents). Fr. Francis Micallef is believed to have supplied Qormi and a
couple other centres with statuettes he himself had made or imported.
Schembri of Zabbar, then aged nine, recalls that in the first procession held
there he had carried Baby Jesus in his arms. Gerald was dressed as an altar
boy. The village streets were almost in total darkness, not yet surfaced, muddy
and wioth many pot-holes. Boys brought all sorts of lanterns, including those
used by farmers and fishermen on their crafts. A bicycle lamp, lit by acetylene
gas, was held by Josehp Chetcuti to keep Baby Jesus in the spotlight.
carried coloured paper lanterns, lit with candles, which easily caught fire or
were frequently blown out. All along the route, people placed their oil lamps
behind windows to break the darkness.
the procession reached Bajjada Street, it encountered a group of drunken men.
The superior, Joseph Lanzon used to relate that the children were scared at
first but as the drunks walked aside, the cortege proceeded without incident.
Each member did
his best to contribute towards a better presentation of this now very popular
event. Members who were good carpenters produced beautiful yet simple mangers.
They made plywood banners inscribed with biblical quotations. Letters were
perforated through the plywood, and covered with coloured tissue paper so that
these banners could be lit with candles and the words raed out. Each centre had
a bigger banner with the words
Verbum Dei Caro Factum est
it leading the procession.
Qormi, Antonio Cassar, a tinsmith who belonged to MUSEUM, hammered out a
beautiful halo, two flower bases complete with flowers and leaves to be mounted
on the portable platform. Emanuel Borg painted two pictorial backgrounds in a
stained glass style with aback-light.
the mid-1930s mantel lamps replace acetylene tanks. Children were to sing
carols in Maltese and Latin. Other members played instruments to accompany
choirs. Portable organs and piano accordions were among the more popular. In
some villages traditional
was also played. This was an earthenware
pot, like a pitcher, having a spout with a slot, similar to a whistle. When
filled with water and blown into, it produced a warbling note.
the war, portable lighting appliances came into use, using batteries, and
public address sytems were mounted all along the route. Illuminated banners
with biblical quotations in Maltese replaced the older ones. Bottled gas lamps
substituted oil lamps. In some villages a band made up of volunteer musicians
joined the members of the MUSEUM in the procession. The female section of the
society provided children representing biblical characters.
procession used to stop in the village square, where children recited duets and
poems with a Christmas theme. The very first duet was the popular one
Alpinu u Battillu
. The Biblical scholar Mgr Saydon provided
the Zurrieq centre witha specially written duet called
(Christmas Night), while other poets wrote
sonnets and poems for the occasion. Poems by Dun Karm, Prof. A. Cuschieri and
Fr. Frans Camilleri still form part of the programme as does the young boys
sermon. Today girls also present a Christmas feature at such stops.
the Christmas Eve procession became more popular, families started decorating
pottery statuettes of Baby Jesus in balconies and windows. Large and small
crib-makers opened their creations to public viewing.
is a historian, journalist, philatelist, curator of Zabbar Parish Museum, a
retired Headteacher and a senior member of M.U.S.E.U.M.
VOICE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, Vol.2 - Issue # 18;
Dec. 1997. VOM: St. Francis Ravelin, Floriana, MALTA)
Christmas traditions in MONTENEGRO
Christmas traditions in Montenegro
majority of Montenegro’s population are Orthodox Christians, who celebrate
Christmas on 7 January, as the Orthodox community in Montenegro still observes
the old Julian calendar.
Christmas Eve, in the countryside, the head of household goes into the woods at
dawn, ceremonially cuts down a Yule log (badnjak), preferably a straight young
oak, and brings it back home. Later in the evening, straw is laid inside the
house symbolizing the manger where Jesus Christ was born and the badnjak log is
chopped and burnt in the fireplace or wood burning stove.
cities, people buy oak branches at local green markets and use them to decorate
their homes. Badnjak logs are burnt outside local churches in widely attended
Christmas Eve, the last day of the Nativity Fast, people normally eat cooked
beans, priganice (kind of fritters) with honey, roast fish, dried fruits and
nuts, while drinking grape brandy or wine.
Christmas Day, people stay at home and spend the day with their families. The
fast is over and the table is filled with a variety of meat dishes, sausages,
cheese, cream. The central part of the Christmas ceremony is the breaking of
a round loaf of bread, with a coin hidden inside. At the beginning of the
Christmas dinner, the bread is broken among the family members, and the one who
finds the coin is believed to be blessed with happiness and good fortune in the
Christmas traditions in THE NETHERLANDS
in the Netherlands
Christmas is celebrated on 25 December in the Netherlands. That is probably one
of the reasons why in my country 26 December is an official holiday. I am from
a catholic background, so we used to go to church at midnight for a special
Christmas mass. On the morning of 25 December we had Christmas breakfast. The
table was nicely dressed with all kinds of Christmas decoration and at that
occasion special food was served: sausage bread, weihnachtstoll, tangerines. I
remember my father always put a little envelope with some money under our
plates, and although this was always the case, every Christmas we acted as if
we were surprised to find this money. Apart from that we got no presents at
Christmas. In my country people exchange gifts on 6 December at the occasion of
Saint Nicolas. In the evening we used to have a big dinner with nice food and,
of course, turkey meat.
mother used to dress a Christmas tree and underneath was the cradle with the
little Jesus surrounded by his parents, the donkey, shepherds, lots of sheep,
and, as from 6 January, the three wise men.
the tree she hung lots of special Christmas candies and we loved them, of
remember however that Christmas day always seemed very long to me. I was told
this was an occasion to be with your family, so we could not go and play with
friends. So my father took all society games out of the cupboard and we all
played and often got into a row because someone was cheating. I must admit that
this was not one of my favourite occasions, because in fact I felt trapped at
home. Nowadays I celebrate Christmas on 24 December here in Brussels, and, as
you will have understood, I still have the possibility to celebrate Christmas
with my family in the Netherlands….
On 25 December!
Christmas traditions in NORWAY
( in Norwegian )
JUL I NORGE
1. s i advent
Huset er pyntet i
lilla, og vi har adventsstake med fire lys. Det er bevisst at vi tenner et nytt
lys for hver av de fire søndagene.Det blir lysere og lysere jo nærmere jul vi
kommer.Nå er de syvarmede
lysestakene (jødenes minorah)på plass i vinduene -og
adventstjernene. Advent, som betyr
"komme", er lilla som er botens farge i kirken. I gammel
tid var dette en fastetid. I dag er det en sammenhengende fest i motsetning til
da vi var små, og jula begynte julaften.
Folk pynter balkonger og trær i hagen
med lys, og i Oslo har Frelsesarmeen et vanvittig høyt juletre på
Universitetsplassen.Dit valfarter skoleklasser og barnehager og legger pakker
til trengende under treet.Det er masser av førjulskonserter.Dette er også tiden
for lutefisk som brukes på adskillige "julebord" dvs fester som mange
drikkes det mye av - og det spises pepperkaker.
Alle foreninger har kosestunder nå. Det øves på sanger, og mange baker
fremdeles syv kakeslag .
Hos meg er det
kransekake, fattigmann, smulteringer, rosettbakkels,krumkaker, sandkaker og
pepperkaker. Da barna var små, måtte det være pepperkakehus. En gang laget vi
en hel bondegård. Så lages det godterier :marsipan (hvis vi ikke kjøper Odense
- marsipan), brente mandler,peppermyntekonfekt,karameller, kokoskuler osv
osv.Det er juleverksteder over alt. Aldri er vel hobbyiveren større.
13. desember er
det Lucia - feiring ,
en trad. av nyere dato som vi har fått fra Sverige. Alle skoler har det. Hos
oss lager skolekjøkkenet lussekatter som de deler ut i klassene.
Opp til vår tid
har det vært en selvfølge at skolene er i kirken . De fleste skoler ønsker
dette fremdeles, og det er alternative samlinger på skolen.
Nå pynter de
fleste juletreet, som oftest er gran. Noen bruker furu. Det drysser ikke så mye
som gran, men nå får jo vi edelgran fra Danmark.......
Vi har risengrynsgrøt med mandel etter
at treet er pyntet. Den som får mandelen, får en marsipangris i
premie. Restene blir riskrem senere i julen.
Nå setter vi opp
julenek til fuglene.
riskgrøt på formiddagen. Vi tar hull på julepålegget(trad. fra vårt
barndomshjem) og drikker kakao med krem. En kjempestor del av befolkningen går
i kirken julaften om de aldri går ellers. Det er lange køer utenfor .(Hos oss
er det fire gudstjenester, og enda kommer ikke alle inn).
Så er det julemiddag . De fleste spiser
svineribbe, noen pinnekjøtt(røkt saueribbe) og 1 % spiser torsk.Til svineribba
er det surkål, kokte poteter medisterkaker og medisterpølser og
tyttebærsyltetøy Til pinnekjøtt er det kålrotstappe. Vi MÅ ha multekrem. Veldig
mange har det .En del spiser riskrem.
Så er det gaver
,kaffe, godter og kaker.
De troende går i kirken . Man er sammen med
familien. Få går i juleselskaper denne dagen.
selskaper og julebukk dvs at barna kler seg ut ,går rundt til folk og synger og
Dette var vel noe
vi gjør nå. Det er saktens en del mer fra gamle dager, men mye av dette er også
Christmas traditions in POLAND
CHRISTMAS IN POLAND
Christmas in Poland is known by the name Gwiazdka or little star. Consequently, starlets predominate over all other
decorations used during the season. In the oldest tradition the stars were made
of straw or goose feather glued together with candle wax.
The Christmas tree choinka , usually a
spruce, is seldom decorated before Christmas Eve, which is the biggest event of
Christmas activities. The tree is decorated with: stars, painted egg shells,
nuts, candies, and painted cookies. The egg symbolized the miracle of birth,
star is a symbol of light.
The most solemn moments of Polish Christmas season comes during the
celebration of the Wigilia (the family
oriented Christmas Eve with the traditional supper). When the first star
appears at the sky, the whole family gets together. First the head of the house
takes the holy bread or oplatek , pronounces
the words of love and sharing, and then breaks and distributes the wafer to all
People in Poland are famous for their warm-hearted hospitality. A good
example of their hospitality could be having an extra set of plates and
silverware for a stranger. If that person is alone, she/he will be warmly
welcome to have a supper with a Polish family.
The table is covered with a beautifully embroidered, white table-cloth.
Under the table-cloth, there is a bunch of hay as a symbol of Christ's manger.
Usually, there are 12 dishes with accordance of number of Christ's disciples.
The dishes are meatless. The typical Christmas Eve supper include: any kind of
cooked or fried fish (mostly carp), marinated herring, barszcz -- soup wild mushroom, sauerkraut, noodles, and lots of pierogi -- dumplings that are stuffed with mushrooms, cabbage or some fruits.
For desert: kutia -- macaroni
baked with poppy seeds, makowiec -- baked poppy seed role, and cooked dry fruits.
Crèche szopka scenes and
nativity plays, part of Roman Catholic tradition, are the integral part of
Christmas activities. The most elaborate and most highly developed crèche are
in the ethnic museum in Krakow.
1) Polish Christmas Foods
& the Wigilia Meal
The Wigilia table is set with a white tablecloth under which is placed
hay (polskie Sianko). The hay and cloth represent the manger and the veil of
Mary which would swaddle the infant Jesus.
In the center of the table is placed the Oplatek or wafer, often in a bed
of hay, sometimes also with a representation of the Baby Jesus. The candles are
lit after the youngest child has spotted the first evening star.
Tradition also dictates that an empty place be set for an unexpected
guest; in memory of ancestors (for their spirit to occupy). This is in keeping
with the core Polish adage, "Gosc w dom, Bóg w dom." ["Guest in
the home is God in the home."]
The Wigilia Meal is traditionally a meatless meal as it completes the
fast which awaits the birth of God. The waiting or vigil (Wigilia) culminates
in the sharing of the Oplatek and the Wigilia Meal. It requires special
traditional table setting and a festive menu of traditional dishes. The dinner
is generally followed by singing of Polish
Koledy (Carols) and culminates
in the Eucharistic Meal at the Pasterka (Midnight or Shepherd's
The meal consists of a wide variety of special holiday dishes, all
meatless. Customs vary throughout Poland; some families present twelve dishes
for the twelve Apostles. Most serve an odd number of courses: 7, 9, or 11. The
Wigilia dishes are prepared according to beloved family recipes. The foods are
to represent the four corners of the earth: the mushrooms from the forest,
grain from the fields, fruit from the orchards, fish from the lakes & sea.
The meal always begins with a special soup, such as a Barszcz
wigilijny z uszkami (Christmas Borscht with mushroom uszka dumplings),
followed by many elegant fish preparations, vegetables, and the beloved Polish
pierogi. Typical dishes include carp in aspic, herring (Sledze), breaded
whitefish, meatless cabbage rolls (Golabki), noodles with poppy seed, kluski noodles with
cabbage and Polish mushrooms.
A list of tempting special desserts is also required, the favorites being
nuts & fruits, Kompot (fruit compote), Makowiec (poppy
seed roll), pierniki (honey spice cakes), and Mazurka.
Dessert including nuts, chocolates, tangerines, pierniki, torte, Makowiec,
cordials & cognac, and coffee.
See also: http://www.polstore.com/html/christmasrecipes.html
2) Christmas Wafer
The Polish family breaks the Oplatek (Wafer) (Oh-pwah-tek) on Christmas
Eve (Wigilia) as their ancestors before them have done.
The sacred white wafers, much like those used for Holy Communion, are
shared with each person present. During the exchange, good wishes are
expressed. This is the most emotional time of the holiday for the Polish
family. Those who are no longer alive are particularly remembered at this
moment. The pink wafer is shared with the animals who, according to
Polish tradition, because they were first to greet the Baby Jesus speak at
3) Polish Carols
Poland boasts a long and exquisite tradition of carols and pastorals
(Koledy i Pastoralki) which are the heart of Polish Christmas. These ancient
and most beautiful songs are sung in families and in church throughout the
holiday season. Wonderful recordings are available--give them a listen and find
the spiritual wealth of Polish Christmas.
4) Pasterka * The Midnight Mass
Poles call the Midnight Mass the Shepherd's Mass or Pasterka.
Traditionally, the family's Wigilia celebration culminates when all go together
to Mass. The Midnight Mass is usually preceded by communal singing of the
beloved Polish Koledy. The Mass itself is a joyous and majestic liturgical
event, because Bog Sie Rodzi--God is Born, as the great Polish Carol says. It
is also traditional for families to visit the Crèche to pray together to the
Infant Jesus. This is particularly emphasized in families with young children. Following
Mass, many families return home for a snack and more celebration.
5) Krakowian Creches
The SZOPKA (shop-kah) is the Krakowian Creche. These
elaborate creations of tin paper are entered into competition each year on the
square of Mariacki (St. Mary's Cathedral) in Krakow. The largest
collection of past exhibits can be found in the Ethnographic Museum of Krakow
in the Kazimierz district.
Christmas traditions in PORTUGAL
"Natal em Portugal" -
Christmas in Portugal
Christmas (Natal) is a very important period
of the year in Portugal: in the past for the strong religious symbol it
represented and nowadays for the deeply rooted traditions and shared values of
Family, Friendship, Peace and Charity.
Christmas Eve (24) and Christmas Day (25)
are celebrated with lots of Joy and enthusiasm bringing Families and people
together to share gifts and gastronomic delights.
In the beginning of December children
start writing letters to "Pai Natal" (Santa Claus) asking him to
bring gifts and sweets to be put in their shoes near the Christmas tree (or the
chimney) during the night of 24th December.
Decoration of the Christmas tree and preparation of the "Presépio"
(Nativity) is a magic moment for children (and parents alike).
In the kitchen the activity goes crescendo
from mid-December on to prepare all the traditional dishes and desserts until
the 23rd when the "Bacalhau"
(codfish) is put into large basins of water to lose its salt, the turkey is
stuffed and the last desserts are prepared such as "Rabanadas" (fried slices of bread
rolled in sugar and cinnamon); "Toucinho
do céu" (a delicious and rich cream prepared with egg yolks, almond
powder, sugar and walnuts); "Sonhos"
(a kind of pumpkin doughnuts served with a light sugar syrup)…
On December 24 the whole Family and close
friends gather in the evening to celebrate "Natal".The table is
covered with the most beautifully embroidered linen white table-cloth. In the
most traditional families diner is served quite early in order to allow the
group to go to Church to celebrate the "Missa do galo" (midnight mass) and "Nascimento do Menino
Jesus" (birth of Little Jesus).
The most traditional dish one can find on
all tables, poor or rich, is the "Bacalhau
cozido" (boiled codfish) served with boiled potatoes, eggs,
vegetables and seasoned with olive oil, vinegar and raw garlic. In the Northern
Oporto regions it is also very common to eat octopus.
As a second service, a variety of meat
roasts is brought to the table: turkey, lamb or "leitão assado"
(suckling piglet) all served with puffed potatoes or rice.
Then comes the most incredible variety of
desserts which recipes differ slightly from region to region but have one thing
in common: they are prepared with lots of eggs, sugar, almonds and all sorts of
The "Ceia" (Supper) is in the
programme for those coming back from the "Midnight mass": a hot
"Canja" (chicken or
turkey soup) or in the Northern regions "Caldo Verde" (a soup prepared with green cabbage) is
Then the most magic moment - specially for
the Children – arrives: the opening of the gifts by order of age: the younger
first !In some families, probably the most disciplined, kids go to bed
and only open their gifts the next morning meaning that in some places anxiety
is at it's maximum until very early on 25 December.
That day is usually passed with siblings
or with other people who could not be present during the Christmas Eve. The
atmosphere is in general warm and relaxed: some delicious special
preparations are made with the left overs: just to mention "Roupa velha" (kind of stew
prepared with onions and garlic fried in olive oil, mixed with the rest of cod
fish, octopus, potatoes, vegetables, olives, hard boiled eggs and fresh herbs
such as coriander and parsley).
the dawn …
The New Year's Eve is also a moment of
celebration and partying: the most courageous run the "São
Silvestre's" night race or plunge into the sea (average: 15 ° C) on the
first day of the New Year. The rest - to which I belong - dance, drink and eat
all night long … until Sunrise.
The Season's Celebrations come to an end
on "Dia dos Reis": on
6th January where a
special cake is prepared with dried and crystallised fruit. A "fava"
(kidney bean) is hidden in the middle of the pastry and the one who gets it in
his or her slice wins the King or the Queen's crown! The Year may begin
under the best auspices.
Ana Paula Figueiredo-Laissy
Christmas traditions in RUSSIA
after Western Christmas, on January 7th, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates
its Christmas, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. It's a day of both
solemn ritual and joyous celebration
After the 1917
Revolution, Christmas was banned throughout Russia, along with other religious
celebrations. It wasn't until 75 years later, in 1992, that the holiday was
openly observed. Today, it's once again celebrated in grand fashion, with the
faithful participating in an all-night Mass in incense-filled Cathedrals amidst
the company of the painted icons of Saints.
Christmas is one
of the most joyous traditions for the celebration of Eve comes from the Russian
tradition. On the Eve of Christmas, it is traditional for all family members to gather to share a
special meal. The various foods and customs surrounding this meal differed in
Holy Russia from village to village and from family to family, but certain
aspects remained the same.
An old Russian
tradition, whose roots are in the Orthodox faith, is the Christmas Eve fast and
meal. The fast, typically, lasts until after the evening worship service or
until the first star appears. The dinner that follows is very much a
celebration, although, meat is not permitted. Kutya (kutia), a type of
porridge, is the primary dish. It is very symbolic with its ingredients being
various grains for hope and honey and poppy seed for happiness and peace.
Once the first
star has appeared in the sky, the festivities begin. Although all of the food
served is strictly Lenten, it is served in an unusually festive and
anticipatory manner and style. The Russians call this meal: "The Holy
Supper." The family gathers around the table to honor the coming Christ
Child. A white table-cloth, symbolic of Christ's swaddling clothes, covers the
Table. Hay is brought forth as a reminder of the poverty of the Cave where
Jesus was born. A tall white candle is place in the center of the Table,
symbolic of Christ "the Light of the World." A large round loaf of
Lenten bread, "pagach," symbolic of Christ the Bread of Life, is
placed next to the Candle.
The meal begins
with the Lord's Prayer, led by the father of the family. A prayer of
thanksgiving for all the blessings of the past year is said and then prayers
for the good things in the coming year are offered. The head of the family
greets those present with the traditional Christmas greeting: "Christ is
Born!" The family members respond: "Glorify Him!" The Mother of
the family blesses each person present with honey in the form of a cross on
each forehead, saying: "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit, may you have sweetness and many good things in life and in the
new year." Following this, everyone partakes of the bread, dipping it
first in honey and then in chopped garlic. Honey is symbolic of the sweetness
of life, and garlic of the bitterness. The "Holy Supper" is then eaten
(see below for details). After dinner, no dishes are washed and the Christmas
presents are opened. Then the family goes to Church, coming home between 2 and
3 am. On the Feast of the Nativity, neighbors and family members visit each
other, going from house to house , eating, drinking and singing Christmas
Carols all the day long.
dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special
porridge called kutya. It is made of wheatberries or other grains which
symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure
happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of
the home is frequently observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to
symbolize unity. Some families used to throw a spoonful of kutya up to the
ceiling. According to tradition, if the kutya stuck, there would be a plentiful
"Holy Supper" consists of 12 different foods, symbolic of the 12
Apostles. Although there was also some variation in the foods from place to
place and village to village, the following is a good summary of what was
typically served.The twelve foods are:
1) Mushroom soup
with zapravka; this is often replaced with Sauerkraut soup
2) Lenten bread ("pagach")
3) Grated garlic
4) Bowl of honey
5) Baked cod
6) Fresh Apricots, Oranges, Figs and Dates
8) Kidney beans (slow cooked all day) seasoned with shredded potatoes, lots of
garlic, salt and pepper to taste
10) Parsley Potatoes (boiled new potatoes with chopped parsley and margarine)
11) Bobal'ki (small biscuits combined with sauerkraut or poppy seed with honey)
12) Red Wine
It was once common
practice, on Christmas Eve, for groups of people masquerading as manger animals
to travel from house to house, having themselves a rousing good time, and
singing songs known as kolyadki . Some kolyadki were pastoral carols to
the baby Jesus, while others were homages to the ancient solar goddess Kolyada,
who brings the lengthening days of sunlight through the winter. In return for
their songs, the singers were offered food and coins, which they gladly
accepted, moving on to the next home.
Ded Moroz and
The origin of
Santa Claus is in St. Nicholas. He was born in Asia Minor at the Greco-Roman
city of Myra in the province of Lycia, at a time when the region was entirely
Greek in origin. Due to the suppression of religion during the Soviet regime,
St. Nicholas was replaced by Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost, the Russian Spirit
of Winter who brought gifts on New Year's. He is accompanied by Snegurochka,
the Snowmaiden, who helps distribute the gifts.
The Christmas tree
(Yolka) is yet another tradition banned during the Soviet era.To keep the
custom alive, people decorated New Year's trees, instead. Since ornaments were
either very costly or unavailable, family trees were trimmed with homemade
decorations and fruit. Yolka comes from the word which refers to a fir tree.
The custom of decorating Christmas trees was introduced to Russia by Peter the
Great, after he visited Europe during the 1700's.
Why January 7?
In ancient times,
many, mostly unreliable methods had been used to calculate the dates according
to either the lunar or solar cycles. By Roman times, the calendar had become
three months out with the seasons, so in 46 BC, Julius Caesar commissioned the
astronomer, Sosigenes to devise a more reliable method. This, we know as the Julian
Calendar and was used widely for 1500 years. The month of his birth, Caesar
had named Quintilis, but the Roman Senate later re-named it Julius (July) in
his honour. In those days, February had 30 days every 4 years.
calendar was still 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the solar year, so
that by the year 1580, the calendar had accumulated 10 days off again. In 1582,
therefore, Pope Gregory XIII corrected the difference between the sun and
calendar by ordering 10 days dropped from October, the month with the least
Roman Catholic Feast days. His calendar, we know as the Gregorian Calendar,
which is used in almost all of the world today. Pope Gregory made further
changes to keep the calendar in line, which on average is only 26.3 seconds
longer than the solar year. The Gregorian Calendar is so accurate that it will
take until the year 4316 to gain a whole day on the sun.
That year, 1582,
October 5th became October 15th and was immediately adopted in most Roman
Catholic nations of Europe. Various German states kept the Julian Calendar
until 1700. Britain and the American Colonies didn't change until 1752, but Russia
and Turkey did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until the early 1900's.
So, January 7th by
the Georgian Calendar would have been December 25th by the old Julian Calendar
and is therefore why it is still Christmas Day for the Russian Orthodox Church.
Many Russians will have celebrated along with the rest of us and will then
celebrate again on the Orthodox date.
New Year Eve
instead of Christmas
Few people in
Russia remember, but when the communists took power in 1917 they banned the
open expression of religion. While it was easy to pray at home, the Russian
people were concerned about giving up their traditional Christmas celebration.
But where there is
a will, there is a way!
the New Year's holiday tradition to include a decorated tree, and introduced a
character called "Grandfather Frost." Known as "Ded Moroz,"
Grandfather Frost looked very much like the western "Santa Claus" or
"Pere Noel" - except he wore a blue suit.
Moroz was a character that existed in the pagan culture, centuries earlier. For
a time, Christmas was all but forgotten. In fact, it was generally celebrated
only in small villages, where the citizenry was far from the prying eyes of the
Today, Christmas is celebrated again, on January 7 with lots of champagne,
Russian salads and probably a goose or a duck.
Elena Z. Andersen
Christmas traditions in SCOTLAND
CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR IN SCOTLAND
Scotland - I hate to say - that not so much
on. It’s a frenzy of shopping followed
by queues to take things back
to shops on the
26th of December. The only tradition here perhaps is the
fact that Santa comes in the night and
leaves presents under the tree for
parcels are opened Christmas
lunch is prepared and normally is
eaten after the
Queen’s speech at 3pm.
is the big time
here - mostly spent " before
the bells " with the
before midnight a male member
of the family is put outside the
until the New
Year bells ring. Then they ring on the doorbell and "bring
in the new
year". This involves whisky as the water of life; salt to
and coal to keep the household warm. Often just a box of
shortbread is used
everyone a happy New Year the
serious party begins and in
required that the holiday continues until the 3rd of January.
It’s the only
time you take your own bottle out with you - you offer a drink
bottle and via versa - hence the public holiday for 3 days!
Glasgow / Brussels
Christmas traditions in SERBIA
As regards Serbian Christmas customs, the following Wikipedia
article gives a very – very - comprehensive overview of the whole affair:
However, us “ordinary” expatriates and our Serbian relatives living
in Belgrade have necessarily adopted a “slimmed-down” version of
the traditions elaborated in this article. We mostly live in
apartments so don’t have fire-places, hearths or yards or gardens where we can
burn oak branches and suchlike. We may well buy a small branch of oak,
more of a sprig really, which we will place under the dining room table
on Christmas Eve (6th January). We will buy a
small quantity of maize, which we will throw over the hapless person chosen to
do the “first-footing” on that day. We will throw a walnut into each
corner – N-S-E-W – of the living room. We will bake a special
loaf.. Standing round in a group, we will each together grasp the loaf
and turn it around three times before each breaking off a piece – the one, we
hope, with the lucky ducat baked inside. The lucky winner gets to make a
wish and stick the doughy ducat onto the wall. At our Christmas Eve
supper, we will eat fasting food – fish and vegetables. The religious
amongst may go offer to attend the watch-night service at the local Orthodox
chburch, or one of Belgrade’s huge cathedrals.
The rest of us go home to bed.
As Christmas Day (7th January) is the official
end of the six-week pre-Christmas fast (which not all of us will, however,
have observed … ), our Christmas lunch menu will be meat and
vegetables and other suitably rich food. The religious amongst us will
have attended the morning Liturgy at a local church or cathedral. The
atheist, agnostics and pagans amongst us will have had a long “lie-in”.
Santa Claus will not have visited, and presents will not be exchanged.
This rather unjolly view only applies, however, to families without
children. For those with kids – the usual paraphernalia of present-buying
applies, though with nowhere near the all-dominant commercialistic approach of
a Western Christmas. Indeed, the attraction of the Serbian
Orthodox Christmas to us expats is precisely the emphasis on
quasi-religious ritual and family togetherness and the lack of obtrusive
Christmas traditions in SLOVAKIA
ST NICHOLAS (6/12)
When I was a little boy in my home town Bratislava,
I can remember the beginning
of the Christmas season by the appearance of fruits that we
haven't seen for
most of the year in the produce stores. There were
bananas, mandarin oranges,
peanuts and sometimes even coconuts. We all knew
that even in the poorest
families, some of the fruits and nuts would appear
as the gift from St.
St. Nicholas ( Mikulas ) is still celebrated on December 6. Sometimes
you would get a visit by St. Nicholas, Devil and an
Angel. You had to promise
that you will be good for the whole year and the
reward was candies,
chocolates, nuts and fruits - a real treat for all.
Sometimes you were asked to
put your shoes and boots on the window still before
you went to bed and if you
were good, you would find the gifts from St.
Nicholas in the morning and if you
were bad, your shoes or boots were filled with real
"Good evening, I wish happiness and peace to this
house. To you, your wife, your
children and the whole family." This was the
wish that would open the doors of
the homes since ancient times, days before
Christmas. Strict tradition of
reconciliation was preserved with the arrival of
Christmas season. They would
return all borrowed items, they would make up for
past differences, between the
neighbours and family. "Forgive me Godfather,
forgive me neighbour, because
Christmas is coming."
Only then the man and his family could sit at the
Christmas Eve table. Only then
the floor under the table could be painted with
clean white limestone. The legs
of the table were tied by iron chain as a symbol of
family ties and
togetherness. The Christmas dinner started with the
appearance of the first
star. On the table they would put a bread and all
the gifts that they prepared
throughout the year. Every product grown at the
farm was represented at the
Christmas Eve dinner.
The mother would light up the candles and with soft
and clean voice, clean as
the white table cloth on the Christmas table, would
start singing the first
Christmas carol. The rest of the family would join
her in singing. "Now we can
eat," the father would say, "because soon
the carollers and well wishers will
arrive. "Then they would say a prayer. Mother
would make a cross with honey on
the forehead of each member of the family as a
protection against evil. All of
them would dip a special Christmas Eve waffle in
honey and eat it together with
garlic. Honey, to be good and healthy as the bees
are, and the garlic to scare
the bad evils of sickness.
The father would slice an apple according to the
number of people at the table. The person whose
seed was cut was to die in the
year. Next were " bobalky ," and I don't
know the English word for it. They were
made from bread dough baked in oven in small
pieces, cut up from dough roll.
Before serving a mixture of hot water with sugar
and ground poppy seeds was
poured over and then served. This was followed by
the Christmas sauerkraut soup
and breaded fish with potato salad of just
potatoes. The fish symbolized the
last supper. At the same time fish scales, put
under each plate for the
Christmas Eve dinner symbolized wealth and
at the table together with some good home brewed
plum brandy-slivovica .
After dinner close relatives and neighbours used to
call on each other and " kolednici
," (carollers and well wishers) would start to
arrive. All the
carollers and well-wishers were always rewarded by
pastries, food, bacon or some
drink to keep them warm.
Later they all went to Midnight Mass , preceded by
most beautiful Christmas carols. There are many
Christmas carols that are
specifically of Slovak origin and they are very
colourful. They were sung in the
church, the family circle or in different
processions below windows, at the time
of Nativity plays, processions with the cradle, the
snake, and the star, the
Three Wise Kings, procession from house to house,
and so on.
Christmas traditions in SLOVENIA
CHRISTMAS IN SLOVENIA – ONCES AND TODAY
Christmas holiday is accompanied by many beautiful
things at home and in churches, all of which, each in their special way,
announce the one important message. Slovenes perceive Christmas in a very
gentle way, which is felt in the ancient Slovenian Christmas carol There Is a Stable ("Tam
stoji pa hlevcek"), which has the following words: "Lets quietly join
and cordially honour our dear Saviour." The roots of the Slovenian
word božic for
Christmas stem from the pre-Christian era, when the word signified "a
small god" called Svarog,
who was believed to bring a new year every year in winter time, and whose name
means bright and clear.
There are many customs, traditions, events and superstitions connected
with christmas in Slovenia, which are still maintained to this day and
diverse, which is due to its position at the crossroads, connecting the Alpine,
Mediterranean and Pannonian
Many customs connected to Christmas are part of the
common European cultural heritage. But despite the sometimes heavy burden of
history, the ancient pagan
heritage has remained a presence in Slovenia. The Advent period
is also associated with the placing of creches around houses, churches and
sometimes even in public places. The first documented creche in Slovenia was
created by the Jesuits in Ljubljana in 1644, although it was not preserved to
this day. The creche was traditionally placed in the nicest or best-lit space,
regarded as the Lord's corner. In the ensuing periods, the creche was also
popular on the chest of drawers in place of the statue of the Virgin Mary. The
most common was the paper creche, bought or homemade, placed on a napkin.
customs in Slovenia h
ave been the subject of ethnological research by
Slovenian ethnologists for many decades. Research tells us that some of the
Christmas customs originate from ancient customs performed at the winter
solstice. One of these, which is only rarely followed now, is called the "Christmas hive". Slovenian
farmers believed that their homes were going to be blessed with happiness all
year round, if there was a large wooden stump burning in the centre of the
fireplace on Christmas Eve. The other important Christmas symbol is the Christmas tree which first
appeared among the Slovenian bourgeoisie after the year 1900.
One custom that used to be very popular in the
run-up to Christmas, but is almost forgotten today, is Koledovanje. The Koledniki used to
be groups of men, going from household to household, singing carols to
families, wishing luck and happy holidays, for which they were presented gifts.
Legend has it that the Koledniki brought joy and a good harvest into the
households visited. Historical records of the start of this custom are traced
as early as the 13th century and are still common today.
There is another custom traditional for Christmas Eve - predicting
the future, from the shape of the burning flame, to the shapes formed by the
melted wax in cold water. The fathers used to ask what the harvest would be
like the following year, and whether the livestock would remain healthy. The
young, unmarried girls were interested mainly in whether they would become
brides or not.
The time around Christmas is a time for
the festive menu which also today
includes the most typical dishes from pork, sausages and other national
specialities, with the exclusively Slovenianpotica,
a traditional Slovenian holiday cake made of thin
layers of dough with
ritual fruit breads
, nut and cinnamon croissants and pear cooked in
practiced an incredibly wide variety of customs, beliefs and superstitions,
today, Christmas time is meant, above all, for giving gifts, and it has become
quite a commercial holiday in this country too.
Christmas traditions in SPAIN
CHRISTMAS IN SPAIN
24 DEC CHRISTMAS EVE
more important than Christmas Day):
- Celebrations: big family dinner at home and (in
the past) midnight mass at the
church - called "Misa de Gallo" (Cock's
- Also before dinner, it is customary, especially
for the young, to meet friends
and members of
the family for an "aperitivo" (cava, white wine, perhaps some tapas
or oysters, etc.) in the local bars or restaurants.
- Food: for dinner: flexible pattern. The rule is
good food: turkey is possible, but also game, seafood and in the old days
"besugo" (sea bream) was traditional. In the Basque country seafood
(lobster, oysters) and especially "angulas": baby eels are
- For dessert all over the Christmas period
"turrón" and "peladillas": sweets
(probably from Moroccan/Mediterranean origin) based
on almond, honey, sugar,
nuts, etc. The centre for turrón making is in
Xixona, in the Alicante province.
There are several varieties, hard, soft, with egg
yalk and sugar, with
the really traditional turrón is the hard one made of honey and
During all Christmas period homes are decorated
both with Christmas trees and a "Nacimiento" - "Crèche de Noël”
- and the Nacimientos some time reach very artistic standards, with very pretty
figures made out of terracota.
There is also a sort of Nacimientos competition in
the public buildings,
Especially in the South of Spain.
25 DEC - CHRISTMAS DAY
- Celebrations mass for the catholic practitioners
and their families. Lunch towards
- Food: game is customary and also seafood, foie
- Presents for and from all members of the family
(this is increasingly being
done, but quite
recently, since in the old days the 6 of January was the
- Before Christmas Day most people buy lottery tickets and offer them
friends, colleagues, etc. and there is a big
"Rifa" on the 22nd December:
"Lotería de Navidad" (Christmas Lottery).
The same is done afterwards for the 2nd of January: "Lotería del
niño" (Child's lottery): because of the date of birth of Jesus)
31 DEC - New Years Eve
"Nochevieja" (Old Night) - the last
night of the year
Celebrations: often "Aperitivo" outdoors and afterwards
usually at home, but it can be extended with
friends and also take place at a
Afterwards long night dancing party called "Cotillón" until very
late hours (depending on the age, but older people
also go to bed very
every body raise their glass and eats very quickly
12 grapes at the
same speed than the 12 gongs of the clock. The
central meeting point is the
Clock at the Plaza del Sol in Madrid, and this is
broadcast by TV, so people
can follow the twelve "gongs" live while
eating their grapes at home or at a
restaurant. It is also customary to have paper bags
with hats, fun glasses and
noses, serpentines, confettis, etc, that everybody
throws at each other as a
sign of the beginning of the party! After the
grapes everybody will kiss everybody
and wish them a very happy New Year.
Although normally everybody is exhausted,
traditionally there is a mass and an
important family lunch.
- FOOD: same than before
6 JANUARY -
- Very important day for kids. They have presents
brought by the Maggi Kings:
Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar, emulating the
presents brought to child Jesus.
They also leave near the "Nacimiento"
sweet coal from "Orient" and something to
eat for the camels.
at breakfast time, the moment of opening the presents, and also for
dessert, it is customary to eat a kind of big
round dough flavoured with
"azahar" (orange flower) called
"Roscón de Reyes" (Kings Ring). It contains
hidden inside a broad bean or a little toy and the
one who finds it in its
portion is the lucky one, but also has to buy the
Roscón next time!
SPORTS AND TRAVEL
As everywhere else in Europe, a lot of people
tend to go skiing, especially
during New Years Eve period, or to a warm place for
a holiday. In this case the
New Year’s celebrations are still kept as much as
possible (we always make
sure we eat the
12 grapes, for instance)
Christmas traditions in SWEDEN
traditions in Sweden
In Sweden you
get a foretaste of the Christmas holidays December 13 with Lucia Day, A
Lucia (Queen of Light or St. Lucia) is chosen in schools, cities and
associations to celebrate the light bringer. Early in the morning at
worksplaces or in schools St Lucia comes dressed in a white gown with a crown
of candles in her hair. She is followed by boys “stjärngossar” wearing paper
cone hats and sticks with a star on top. They bring buns with saffron and
ginger bread. Bot foremost they sing a set of christmas carols.
period, in December Swedes tend to go visiting each other om a special sort of
coctail parties where you serve a mulled sweet red wine and ginger bread along
with a variety of sweets.
One or two days
before Christmas most families bring in the Christmas tree.
It is decorated
with glass bulbs, figures like angels or animals made of straw and of course
candels, nowadays mostly electric.
December 24, is the most important day. Usually people have a Chsristmas lunch
– a buffet, smorgasboard with a lot of sausages and salami. But most important;
ham and a very typical dish "lutfisk", dried fish foaked in lye to
make it soft and edible. A variety of marinated herring is a must – all
digested with a schnaps. In recent years people try to mix the traditional
dishes with more sallads and vegetables.
sessions tend to go on for many hours. But the many families with children
watches the yearly Walt Disney Christmas show on Swedish Television. Even if
this broadcast has been less important wit the arrival of many competing TV
channels. There are still a million audience wathing Donald Duck & company
on Christmas Eve.
Given the lack
of light this year, midday now has turned into evening.
families you just have a light meal in the evening topped with a heavy dessert;
Christmas rice porridge made with lots of sugar and cinnamon. The lucky person
who finds a whole almond in their porridge is granted a sepcial attention,
sometimes he or she will have to make a performace of some sort, for example
making a simple poem.
this stage are getting restless and wait for Santa, the "Tomte".
Simultaneously the father or someone else in the party has to “go and buy a
newspaper” or rest the dog. Then the "Tomte" comes with a sack of
traditionaly go to church very early in the morning of Christmas Day.
In some parts
they still celebrate tradition with a trek to church horse-drawn sleighs. But
in recent years global warming doesn’t permit this, but for the northern parts
of the country.
and New Years Eve there is one more evnt, the “Theirteenth Night, which is also
a national holiday. Often you meet friens and family on the eve for a dinner
with fish or shellfish, something lighter than the ordinary christmas food.
Christmas traditions in UKRAINA
Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated January 7 according to the
Gregorian calendar as in most of other Orthodox Christian countries.
During the Soviet time it was not officially
celebrated in Ukraine. Instead communist government tried to substitute
Christmas with the holiday of New Year. But people did not forget their
traditions. After gaining it’s independence in 1991 Ukraine started to
celebrate Christmas officially as well.
There are numerous Christmas traditions here.
They vary significantly at the different parts of Ukraine.
In most parts of Ukraine on the Christmas Eve
people create so-called ‘Vertep’ (means
cave in ancient Greek). These are scenes from Bible of Jesus birth. They show
little Jesus in manger, Mary, strangers offering their gifts and Bethlehem
star in the sky. Those verteps are exhibited at public places, usually near
or inside churches. At night candles are installed inside verteps for people
who come to church for the night service can observe them.
The Christmas Eve is called in Ukraine ‘Sviaty Vechir’ (Holy Evening)
sometimes also called‘Sviata
Vecheria’ (Holy Supper). People usually cook some tasty foods for
this evening. There should be at least 12 different foods on the table. Those
should mandatory include ‘Kutia’ --
the ritual food which is prepared from cooked wheat and special syrup
containing diluted honey, grated poppy seeds, raisins and sometimes walnuts.
Read more about
recipes at InfoUkes
at Ukrainian Language and Culture
For this evening people install and decorate
Christmas trees in their houses. (Sometimes they are called also ‘Novorichna Jalynka’ --
New-Year’s firtree here). Another tradition exists in some regions of Western
Ukraine to decorate the table with ‘Didukh’ -- a sheaf of oats or wheat of special shape: with
four legs and numerous little bundles. It symbolizes prosperity for the next
(Santa Claus) also called here ‘Did Moroz’ is an ubiquitous
Christmas character and is supposed to bring some gifts under the Christmas
tree this night.
Also in some regions people make decorated Christmas
eggs very similar to Easter eggs -- ‘Pysanky’.
Halloween is not celebrated in Ukraine but some
similar traditions are performed here for Christmas. Children this evening
come around their neighbors with torches and sparclers (called here Bengal
lights) spreading grains and colored seeds. They wish people good health and
abundant harvest for the next year and ask for some donations. Also they
perform some Christmas songs called in different parts of Ukraine ‘Koliadky’ or ‘Shchedrivky’ like these:
"Radujsia zemle, radujsia. Syn Bozhyj
narodyvsia." -- Joy, Earth, Joy. The Son of God was born.
"Dobryj vechir, Sviaty vechir. Dobrym
liudiam na zdorovja." -- Good evening, Holy evening. To good people for
sound samples of
are available here.
Next day in some villages in Western Ukraine
people organize some folk performances which obviously were inspired by
ancient pagan habits. They dress up themselves as monsters with pelts and
horns and run through the village trying to scare people. After that they run
to the special place on the outskirts of the village and there happens the
main act: they fight with all people of the village and finally are defeated.
The scarecrows are burned in the big fire. And all people are dancing around
this fire. This symbolizes the fight of Good and Evil and that Good defeated
Evil for the whole next year.
Christmas traditions in WALES
mistletoe were the decorations at this time of year and thought to have magical
properties.The Druidic ceremonies invariably involved mistletoe and was noted
by Roman writers.
On Christmas morning a special service was held in Churches as early as 3.a.m
called the Plygain when particular carols would be sung in three or four part
harmony - a custom which is still practised in some areas.
New Year's day.
In the morning children would go round and sing songs in return for a few
coins. I did this every year between about 7 and 12 and the big prize was
twelve new pennies form a Mr Adams.
An old custom still practised in some places was called the Mari Llwyd. The
Mari Lwyd was a mare's skull with false nose and ears and taken round on a pole
by a group of poets who would knock on the doors and then compete with
those inside in strict metre poetic verse.