Christmas — festive traditions in Europe

The earliest mentions of Christmas date from 354. However, this does not mean that this festival looked the same as today — it was celebrated in January, April or even May. Finally, the date of Christmas was set as 25 December — the date of the Winter Solstice. We all know what Christmas traditions have developed ever since in Poland. But what does it look like in other European countries?

Gifts

This is what we like best – to obtain gifts and give them to others. Even in Poland there are different opinions about who really brings them. A little angel? Santa Claus? The Christmas Star? It seems that we will never know.  In contrast, we know that in Spain children do not obtain gifts until after the New Year – on Three Kings Days Feast. Moreover, in Catalonia no-one believes in Santa Claus and gifts are delivered by a Caga Tió, a small wooden figure, which — unfortunately — has to be beaten with wooden sticks until gifts drop out of it.

In Norway, gifts are brought by congenial gnomes and in Austria by Santa Clause or the Child Jesus. In this Alpine country, children should watch out, since misbehaving children are visited by Krampus — the frightening companion of Santa Claus whose task is to punish the most unruly children.

In Ukraine, just as in Russia, the Orthodox Christmas Festival is celebrated two weeks later and Grandfather Frost brings gifts to Ukrainian children on the New Year’s Eve.

Dishes

In Poland, we leave one empty plate for a lost wanderer, while the Portuguese put an additional plate on the table for the deceased. Moreover, they fill it with food so that those who died in the passing year would know that their close relatives remember them.

As regards the Christmas Eve and other festive dishes, it is interesting to know that the main dish in Germany and Denmark is roast duck, major dishes in Hungary include cold cherry soup and fish soup, while in French Bretagne these are buckwheat pancakes with sour cream.

Symbols and traditions

Visiting Ukraine we may be surprised to see a spider web on the Christmas tree. Does this mean that the place has not been carefully cleaned? Not at all! The tradition of decorating the Christmas tree with a web or (plastic spiders) originates from a legend about a poor widow and her children who could not afford decorations. She was helped out by a spider which embellished the Christmas tree with delicate threads which after some time turned into gold, thus saving the family from hunger.

In many countries, Christmas markets are very popular. The most beautiful ones can certainly be seen in Germany and Austria. In turn, in the Mediterranean countries it is a good idea to look for Christmas cribs. They are one of the most important festive symbols in Spain, Italy and France. Each family attributes enormous significance to their appearance – sometimes even greater than to the decorations on the Christmas tree.

The tradition of the Christmas Mass also exists in countries other than Poland. In Portugal, a mass is also held at midnight. It is called Misa do Galo, which literally means “Rooster’s Mass”. This name relates to the legend which tells of the only time when a rooster crowed in the middle of the night – it was on the day when Jesus was born.

And, at the very end of the story, a curiosity from England — it was from here that the first Christmas card was sent out. In 1846, Jon Horsley designed the Christmas card and sent it out with the greetings of “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”.
We also wish you all the best!

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