13 ways to shake things up this Christmas

Have you ever wondered what it is like to celebrate Christmas in another country? Although European Christmas traditions have been somewhat harmonised and unified, in some Member States, traditions and old beliefs are tenacious. Here is a list of thirteen of the most colourful ways to celebrate it. Be inspired, for it is time to shake things up!

  •  When it comes to decorating the house and putting up the Christmas tree, Austrian children are “forbidden” to give their parents a hand. Indeed, it is customary to let adults, and adults only, take care of everything.
  • Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands not only celebrate Christmas, but little Belgians, Germans and Dutch children get twice as much presents thanks to Saint Nicolas or Sinterklaas. He is the patron of school kids and if they have been good as gold throughout the year, they get presents on the 6th of December.
  • In the Czech Republic, the Christmas tree is never put up before the 24th of December. After the Christmas dinner, Czechs give and receive presents and are very fond of fortune-telling. So, if after slicing an apple in two, you can see a star, you will be protected from evil spirits for the forthcoming year. Just like you will be healthy if you manage to open four not-so-rotten walnuts in a row.
  • Scandinavians are known for celebrating St. Lucy’s Day. On the night of the 12th of December, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in a procession as carols are sung. Boys take part in the procession as well, playing different roles associated with Christmas. It is said that vividly celebrating St. Lucy’s Day will help one live through the long winter days with enough light.
  • Estonians usually go to the sauna before heading to the Christmas Office. And, in times of yore, landsmen used to scrutinise starry night skies to predict the future. They believed that on Christmas Eve, good and bad spirits wandered about Estonia, therefore food was left on tables and fires poked in hearths for the spirits.
  • In Finland, the day before Christmas is dedicated to visiting their lost relatives. Ceremonies usually start at 6pm when Finns drop off a candle on their tombs. It is also a tribute paid to Finnish soldiers who have fallen during the Winter War. On Christmas day, Finns enjoy a good sauna session before a nice and tasty meal shared with their loved ones.
  • For Greeks, Christmas presents are not given in December, but rather on the 1st of January during St. Basil’s Day. St. Basil was a poor and humble man who used to sing on the streets begging for money. Legend has it that one day, as he was being made fun of, the wooden stick he used to help him walk miraculously bloomed.
  • On the 24th of December, Hungarian families gather to put up the tree and decorate it with food. It is common belief to first hang fruits (apples and walnuts) and then honey biscuits for a substantial harvest. After a familial meal, having sung Christmas carols and lit up candles, they exchange presents.
  • Italian Christmas traditions differ from region to region. In the North, Babbo Natale or Gésu Bambino bring the presents on the 25th of December. Elsewhere, it is St. Lucy on the 13th, as a celebration of the legend that she brought food to her Christian friends hidden in the catacombs. Romans and Southern Italians have to wait until the 19th of January, a sacred date when the old white-haired witch, Befana, will come to treat good kids with candies and give bad ones coal.
  • Just like Czechs, Lithuanians are very keen on fortune-telling. One colourful belief is that young girls are to draw straws during Christmas Eve. The girl who drew the shortest will be the first one to get married, and the one who drew the thickest will live a happy and prosperous life.
  • Four weeks before Christmas, the Maltese plant millet seeds that are to be left out to grow in pitch dark. Lacking chlorophyll, shoots will be white, just like Father Christmas’s beard.
  • An orange is given to every guest in Portugal. The orange used to be valuable products and became the symbol of a Portuguese-style Christmas. They also celebrate Missa do Galo, which is the Portuguese counterpart of Midnight Mass, commemorating the old belief that a rooster crowed on the morning of the 25th of December, celebrating, in its way, the birth of Jesus.
  • Before exchanging presents with a friend or a relative, Swedes recite a few stanzas. This is a very long-dating tradition maintained in the Swedish culture.

So, this year, what kind of Christmas tradition are you going to adopt? Is your Christmas going to be more European than ever? Finally, as the song goes, I bid you adieu: “I’m offering this simple phrase, to kids from one to ninety-two, although it’s been said many times, many ways, a very Merry Christmas to you”.


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