Learn about Christmas all over Europe
Christmas in Europe - an overview

CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS IN EUROPE  

 

                       1.   AUSTRIA:              Yes                                                             

 

                       2.   BELGIUM:  

                                         * Flanders Yes

                                         * Wallonia Not yet available

 

                       3.   BULGARIA:            Yes      

 

4.      CZECH REPUBLIC:    Yes 

 

                       5.   CROATIA:                Yes                                               

 

                       6.   DENMARK:               Yes                                                 

 

                       7.   ESTONIA:                  Yes

 

                       8.   FINLAND:                  Yes     

 

                       9.   FRANCE:                    Yes 

 

                      10.  GERMANY:                  Yes ( in German ) 

11.    GREECE:                      Yes                                                

                      12.  HUNGARY:                   Yes

 

13.   IRELAND:                     Yes

                   

                      14.  ITALY:                         Yes                                                       

 

                      15.  LATVIA:                       Yes        

 

                      16.  LITHUANIA:                   Yes                                               

 

                      17.  LUXEMBOURG:               Yes                                                  

 

18.    MALTA:                         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     

 

27.    UNITED KINGDOM:   

 

·         England:                 Not yet available

·         Scotland:                 Yes

·         Wales:                     Yes

·         Northern Ireland:     Not yet available

 

 

28.    CROATIA:                       Yes

 

29.    MACEDONIA:                   Yes

 

30.    TURKEY:                         Not yet available

 

31.    NORWAY:                    Yes  ( in Norwegian ) 

 

32.    ARMENIA:                    Yes

 

33.    BELARUS:                     Yes

 

34.    GEORGIA:                      Not yet available

 

35.    ICELAND:                      Yes

 

36.    MOLDOVA:                    Not yet available

 

37.    MONTENEGRO:              Yes

 

38.    RUSSIA:                         Yes

 

39.    SERBIA:                         Yes

 

40.    UKRAINA:                       Yes

 

 

Niels Jørgen Thøgersen   e-mail: kimbrer@gmail.com   

Christmas traditions in ARMENIA

Armenia:

1)   Y our 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.

 

2)  your typical Christmas food ( and perhaps drinks ).  No recipees - just a short description.

 

3)    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   

 

 

Nelly Baghdasaryan

Christmas traditions in AUSTRIA

Austria:

  Almost 6 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.

 

During 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  has not changed.

Christmas traditions in BELARUS

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 delay.

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 of winter.

Kaliadavanne  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 a tailor.

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 likely pre-recorded.

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 faraway village.

The New Year has begun.

By Ales Kudrytski

Christmas traditions in BULGARIA

Bulgaria:  

Christmas 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.

 

The most 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.

Ritual breads are three types: true Christmas /kolak, bogovitsa/, industrial /cherkovnik/ and ‘koledarski’ bread.  

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.

 

 

Bulgaria's 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.

 

Christmas 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.

 

Only boys 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 especially beautiful.

 

Today, 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.

 

 

Vicky Melamed

Christmas traditions in CROATIA

                         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 Christmas traditions:

 

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 1991.  

 

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 coming year.

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.

 


Jasmina Kovacevic

Christmas traditions in the CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech Republic:

 

CHRISTMAS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC

 

General:

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 children.

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.

 

Specific habits

 

Christmas Day

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.

 

Christmas dinner 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 "Wiener Schnitzel" 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.

 

Traditional habits (their practice depends on people)

Mistletoe   – 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.

Scales :  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.

Golden pig :  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. 

Dana Kovarikova

Brussels

Christmas traditions in DENMARK

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 year.

 

Advent    is 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.

 

December 24  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!

 

Christmas dinner    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.

 

Niels Jørgen Thøgersen

Christmas traditions in ESTONIA

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.

Jõulud   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 popular drink. 

Villu Känd, Tallinn

Christmas traditions in FINLAND

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:

 

1.        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

2.        The pig has to be slaughtered very recently and the meat may never have been frozen

3.        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

4.        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

5.        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 below

6.        On Day 21 in the evening the ham is taken out of the brine and put into un-salted water – staying there overnight

7.        The next day the ham must be put into the oven on a rack with a meat thermometer (ready when 76 – 80 centigrade)

8.        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 salted ham.

 

Thomas Romantschuk

Helsinki

  


Christmas traditions in FLANDERS
 Flanders:

CHRISTMAS IN FLANDERS

 

No special traditions in Flanders, apart from the following.

The whole 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 cradle.

In old days, cakes or sugar waffles were baked and distributed to family and neighbours.

Of course, there were also presents for kids under the Christmas tree.

In the 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.

That's it. 

 

Myriam Eeckhout

Brussels


Christmas traditions in FRANCE

France:

Christmas in France

 

As 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.

 

Over 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.

 

The 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.

 

Having 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!

 

Dominique David  


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. Am ersten

"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 geputzt) vor

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 gebacken (falls

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

hergestellt).

 

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 morgens.

 

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

Kirche.

Inzwischen hat sich auch sehr die "Mitternachtsmesse " eingebürgert, d.h.

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

elektrische Kerzen.

 

Es wird die Weihnachtsgeschichte aus der Bibelvorgelesen, falls Kinder

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

gehört).

 

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 Erwachsenen wahrscheinlich

auch.)

 

In meiner Familie (meine Eltern stammen aus Schlesien) gab es IMMER:

Polnische Karpfensauce mit Schlesischer Weißwurst (hat absolut nichst mit

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, Gewürzkörner) und

ganz besonders wichtig, sonst geht es nicht: "Fischpfefferkuchen ", bekommt man

in Berlin in Fischhandlungen, ist wirklich eine Art Pfefferkuchen, nur nicht

ganz so süss. (Manche Leute garen in dieser Sauce auch einen Karpfen, aber

viele mögen keinen Karpfen, die nehmen dann diese Weißwurst).

 

Aber wie gesagt, das ist sicherlich regional unterschiedlich.

 

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 (Knödel).

 

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.

 

 

Gerda Fischer-Lahnstein

 

Königswinter

 

Christmas traditions in GREECE
 Greece:

 

CHRISTMAS IN GREECE

 

Christmas is considered to be the second most important religious event – after Easter.

 

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.

 

Two popular sweets around the Christmas period are "melomakarona" and "kourabiedhes". They are made of honey, flour, nuts, and cinnamon.

 

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.

 

The Greek 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.

 

On Christmas 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.

 

Nikos Ntoumanis


Christmas traditions in HUNGARY

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. 

Advent” 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.

 

The supper 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.  

On Christmas 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.

Livia Losonczi

Christmas traditions in ICELAND

Iceland:

 

Christmas 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 drinking feasts.

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.

Christmas Cards

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 celebrations.

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.

Christmas Presents 

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.

Christmas Cleaning

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 themselves!

Christmas Clothes

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.

In 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.

National Museum of Iceland

Christmas traditions in IRELAND

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 are
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.

 

TERRY STEWART

Dublin
Christmas traditions in ITALY

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 Champagne.

 

  • On the 25th  the traditional 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!

 

  • Presents  are opened either on the 24th evening or 25th morning.

       Sonia Carnelli

Christmas traditions in LATVIA

  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 colourful ways.
 
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.

Kristine Salme, Riga           

     

				
				
		
Christmas traditions in LITHUANIA

Lithuania :

 

Christmas Eve

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 national unity.

Christmas traditions in LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg:

CHRISTMAS IN LUXEMBOURG

 

 

During the month of December there are a lot of festivities in Luxembourg.

 

First, St. 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. 

 

During the 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.

 

Big municipalities  are illuminated 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 on.

 

Luxembourg being a catholic country, a lot of people go the midnight mass and meet with friends thereafter.

 

Christmas is the day devoted to family, parents inviting their children and grandchildren or vice versa and exchanging gifts.

 

Decades ago 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.

 

The festivities 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.

 

Fons Theis

Luxembourg 

Christmas traditions in MACEDONIA

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 including spinach 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).

 

Erwan Fouere

Christmas traditions in MALTA

Malta:

 

CHRISTMAS IN MALTA

By
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.

The 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.

Christmas 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.  

BOYS SERMON

The celebrant, 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 1883.

Before 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   zaqq (bagpipes), the mandolin, the guitar and tambourine.

Fr. 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.  

THE FIRST PROCESSION

Dun Gorgs 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.

Dun Gorg did not want a formal procession but a "manifestation" of faith and joy to involve people in the real spirit of Christmas.

The 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 occasion.

At 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   Viaticum , 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.  

MALTESE CAROLS

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   Adeste Fideles   (Come all Ye Faithful) and   Ninni la Tibkix Izjed   (Sleep Baby, dont cry), written by the Jesuit Fr. Andrew Schembri (1774-1862) from Luqa for Maltese migrants in Tunis.

The 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.

To 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.  

EARLY EXPERIENCES

Mr. Gerald 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.

They 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.

When 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.  

DECORATIONS

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   on it leading the procession.

In 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.

By 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   dorga   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.

After 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.

The 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   Il-Lejl tal-Milied (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.

As 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.


---------------------
Carmel Bonavia is a historian, journalist, philatelist, curator of Zabbar Parish Museum, a retired Headteacher and a senior member of M.U.S.E.U.M.  
----------------------  
(Source:   VOICE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, Vol.2 - Issue # 18; Dec. 1997. VOM: St. Francis Ravelin, Floriana, MALTA)

Christmas traditions in MONTENEGRO

Montenegro:

 

Christmas traditions in Montenegro

The 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.

On 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. 

In 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 public ceremonies.

On 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.

On 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 česnica, 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 coming year.

Vuk Vujnovic

Christmas traditions in THE NETHERLANDS

Netherlands:

Christmas in the Netherlands

Traditionally, 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.

My 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.

On the tree she hung lots of special Christmas candies and we loved them, of course.

I 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! 

Nora David-Hagemeijer 

Christmas traditions in NORWAY

Norway :    ( in Norwegian )

JUL I NORGE

 

Egentlig begynner jula  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 arbeidsplasser har.

 

Gløgg  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.

 

Lille julaften   .  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.

 

Julaften   .  Mange har 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.

 

Første juledag   De troende går i kirken . Man er sammen med familien. Få går i juleselskaper denne dagen.

 

Romjula   Juletrefester, selskaper og julebukk dvs at barna kler seg ut ,går rundt til folk og synger og får godterier.

 

Dette var vel noe vi gjør nå. Det er saktens en del mer fra gamle dager, men mye av dette er også tidløst.

 

Solveig Tønnesen

 

Oslo

Christmas traditions in POLAND
 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 participants.

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.

http://acweb.colum.edu/users/agunkel/homepage/polxmas.html

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 Mass.)

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.

A Wigilia 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 midnight.

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.

http://acweb.colum.edu/users/agunkel/homepage/polxmass.html


Beata Ofianewska  


Christmas traditions in PORTUGAL

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 nuts!  

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 served. 

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). 

Until 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

Russia:

 

Russian Christmas

Thirteen days 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.

 

 

The "Holy Supper"

Christmas Eve 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 honey harvest.

Traditionally, the "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
7) Nuts
8) Kidney beans (slow cooked all day) seasoned with shredded potatoes, lots of garlic, salt and pepper to taste
9) Peas
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 yolka

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.

However, this 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!

They re-invented 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.

Actually, Ded 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 Party.

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

Scotland:

 

CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR IN SCOTLAND

 

Christmas in Scotland - I hate to say - that not so much

goes 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

everybody

 

After the parcels are opened Christmas lunch is prepared and normally is

eaten after the Queen’s speech at 3pm.

 

New Year  is the big time here - mostly spent " before the bells " with the

Family.  Just before midnight a male member of the family is put outside the

door  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

preserve life and coal to keep the household warm.  Often just a box of

chocolates or shortbread is used

 

After wishing everyone a happy New Year the serious party begins and in

Scotland is 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

from your bottle and via versa   - hence the public holiday for 3 days!

 

Annie Vandebon

Glasgow / Brussels

Christmas traditions in SERBIA

Serbia:

 

As regards Serbian Christmas customs, the following Wikipedia article gives a very – very - comprehensive overview of the whole affair:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbian_Christmas_traditions

 

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 commercialism.

 

John White

Christmas traditions in SLOVAKIA

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.

Nicholas.

 

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 coal.

 

 

CHRISTMAS

 

"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 abundance. Hriatuowas never missing

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

and vinsovnici  ," (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 some

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.

 

 

 

Vladimir Grieger

Brussels

 


Christmas traditions in SLOVENIA

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 are  especially diverse, which is due to its position at the crossroads, connecting the Alpine, Mediterranean and Pannonian  worlds.

 

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.

 

The Christmas 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 wine.     

 

In the past   the Slovenes 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.

 

 

Matjaz Kek

 

Ljubljana

Christmas traditions in SPAIN

Spain :

 

CHRISTMAS IN SPAIN

                                                            

Important Date   :

 

24 DEC CHRISTMAS EVE                                                                               

                                                            

 (almost even 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 Mass)

                              

                                                              

- 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 traditional.

                              

- 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 chocolate. But the really traditional turrón is the hard one made of honey and almonds.

                              

                                                              

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, churches, etc. Especially in the South of Spain.

                              

                                                              

25 DEC - CHRISTMAS DAY

                              

- Celebrations mass for the catholic practitioners and their families. Lunch towards 14.30/15.00

                              

- Food: game is customary and also seafood, foie gras, etc.

                              

- 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 present's day)

                              

- Before Christmas Day most people buy lottery tickets and offer them also to

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

                              

- Huge Celebrations: often "Aperitivo" outdoors and afterwards Big Dinner, usually at home, but it can be extended with friends and also take place at a restaurant. Afterwards long night dancing party called "Cotillón" until very late hours (depending on the age, but older people also go to bed very late)

                              

                                                              

At midnight 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.

                              

                                                              

                              

1st JANUARY

                                                                                           

Although normally everybody is exhausted, traditionally there is a mass and an

important family lunch.

                              

- FOOD: same than before

                              

                                                              

6 JANUARY - Epiphany

                                                            

- 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.

                              

- Food: 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)

                              

                                                              

Marta Mugica

Christmas traditions in SWEDEN

Sweden:

Christmas 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.

During these 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.

Christmas Eve, 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.

These lunch 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.

In many 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.

Children at 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 presents.  

Swedes 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.

After Christmas 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.  

Jacob Schulze,Stockholm
Christmas traditions in UKRAINA

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  Ukrainian Christmas recipes at InfoUkes  or  at Ukrainian Language and Culture Home Page .

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 year.

St. Nicolas  (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 good health.

Some wonderful  sound samples of Koliadky  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

Wales:

Holly and 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.
 

Aneurin Hughes