*** holiday attire: Christmas in Different Countries Europe

Christmas in Europe

English Christms card
Figure 1.--Christmas cards in the early 20th Century through the 1920s still commonly featured children, although they were less commonly in skeleton suits or Fauntleroy suits. This English boy in a card probably made in the 1910s wears a wide white collar and bow tie.

Celebrating Christ's birth for Christians presented a problem in that no one knows when Jesus was born. It almost certainly was not December. Christmas is celebrated on December 25 throughout Christendom, as the birth of Christ primarily because of the importance of Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival in honor of Saturn the god of Agriculture, in Roman culture. Besides adopting some of the feartures of Saturnalia, there are many non-religious customs and practices which have developed over the years. These customs are in many cases peculiar to different countries. Germany has played an especially important role, in part because of the Christams traditions Prince Albert brought from Germany when he married Queen Victoria, many of which have since been past on to America. Many modern Christmas traditions are based on these English Victorian traditions. Here are the many Christmas traditions we knpow of around the world. We hope that HBC readers will tell us something about Christmas traditions in their countries.


Christmas is undoubtedly the most important holiday in Austria. As in other European nations, December 6th is the day Saint Nicholas, the giver of gifts, makes his rounds. Arrayed in a glittering Bishops robe and accompanied by his devilish assistant, Knecht Rupnecht, he can occasionally be seen roaming the streets giving sweets and apples to good children while his companion playfully beckons "little sinners" to feel the string of his golden rod. In Austria, there is no Santa Claus. Children are taught that their presents have been brought by the "Kristkindl," a golden-haired baby with wings, who symbolizes the new born Christ. The story tells how the Christ child comes down from heaven on Christmas Eve and, with his band of angels, decorates and distributes trees. Christmas in Austria is a very musical time. Many of the world's greatest carols came from here. December 6 is the day when St. Nicholas and his grotesque assistant, Krampus, may pay a visit. But the gifts are brought on Christmas Eve by the Christkind. Sometimes the Christkind will even help decorate the Christmas tree before the big Christmas Eve supper, which will probably feature carp as a main course. Dinner on Christmas Day will be roast goose with all the trimmings. Children would put their shoes by the window Christmas Eve so St. Nicholas could put their gift inside. Most families would have a Christmas tree. A wonderful scene of a 19th century Christmas in Austria is "Christtagmorgen" (1849), a painting by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.


In Belgium, St. Nicholas pays two visits to each house. On December 4 he comes to check into the behavior of each child, to find out if they have been naughty or nice. Then on December 6 he returns with just rewards for all, either presents or switches, which he leaves in the shoes or small baskets that have been placed inside near the doorway, where he will easily find them. Just to get on his good side there are snacks of hay, water and carrots left for his horse or donkey. Christmas Day is reserved for religious celebrations and of course Nativity plays sponsored by the churches. They are often performed in 16th century costumes. In small villages, there are often three virtuous men chosen to portray the three Wise Men and go throughout the town, caroling at each doors and receiving small gifts of food.


Communist authorities after World War II tried to discourage Christmas celebrations, but with relatively little success. Both Christmas Eve and Christmas day are important in Bulgaria. Bulgarian families today commonly celebrate Christmas was a special large diner which is based on a long standing Christmas tradition where families gathered in their homes and ate a special Chritmas dinner on the ground sitting on straw. There would be a huge round bread where all the cattle, the house, and other important possessions were carved. Traditionally at least twelve dishes are prepared. Each of them are meatless recipies which are to remind the family of each month of the past year. These dishes are often based on cloesly guarded family resipies and are made of beans, nuts, dried plums, cakes, and Banitza--a special Belgarian food. There is also wine, Rakia, sarmy, and other drinks. The entire family gathers for this meal. There are many older Christmas traditions in Bulgaria. Boys and non-married young men would go caroling where they sang for wealth and health of the families they visited. They received gifts of money, food and other presents. They brought long sticks on which they put kravai (round breads with hole it).


Czech Republic

Good King Wenceslaus is an important figure in a Czech Christmas. The winter holidays in the Czech Republic begin with the season of Advent, which is essentially a period of preparation for the Christmas holidays. The climax is Christmas Eve. Advent comes from Latin meaning coming or arrival. Advent lasts for four Sundays, this represents the 4,000 years in which humanity awaited the arrival of Jesus the Redeemer. Thus for Christians, Advent is a time of pennance and religious reflection. Christians fast during Advent eating eggs, milk, cheese and fish rather tahn meat. The fasting and atonement is meant to preceed the abundance and joy of the Christmas celebrations. St. Lucille's Day is the last holiday of Advent and at this time the preparations for Christmas celebrations begin. Christmas in the Czech Republic is the most important holiday of the year. No food is more associated with Christmas than the carp. Black Jake is traditionally part of the Christmas Eve dinner in many Czech families. In folklore, it was believed to possess magic powers, especially as regards good crop in the following year. There are numerous variants, the most common being Mushroom Jake, commonly called Black Jake.


Danish children are familiar with a mischievous elf called Nisse who likes to have fun. He suposedly inhabits the lofts of old farmhouses and delights in playing practical jokes. He normally is attired in grey woolen clothes, a red bonnet, red stockings and white wooden clogs. Families normally leave a bowl of rice pudding or porridge out for him on Christmas Eve to apease him a bit so he does not play a really mean trick. Normally Nisse is a kind fellow, lending a hand on farms, and especially fond of children. Rice pudding seems especially popular in Denmark and many Danish families begin their Christmas Eve dinner with a bowl of rice pudding to which as magic almond has been added. Whoever finds the almond receives a special prize. A traditional Christmas eve dinner is goose, red cabbage and browned potatoes followed by delicious pastries and cakes. A treasured Danish tradition is the Christmas plate. This was a developed centuries ago when wealthy people would give plates full of biscuits and fruit to their faithful servants. The plates were of a fine quality and not used for everyday. This is the origin of the collectable plate, now so common around the world. Danes like to make home-made decorations with bright paper, bits of wood and straw. The Christams tree is an integral part of a Danish Christmas. Many partents decorate the family tree in great secrecy. The children are not allowed to see the tree until the festive Christmas Eve dinner. At this time the tree is lit up and the entire family gathers to sing carols and hymns. Danes celebrate Advent, by inviting guests to their home on Sunday. They help light candels on the Advent crown. The adults partake of an envigorating mixture of red wine, spices, and raisins. The children drink a sweeter fruit juice such as strawberry. Then delicious small cakes are served. They have been cooked over the fire in a special pan and dusted with sugar.


The custom of hanging stockings comes from England. Father Christmas once dropped some gold coins while coming down the chimney. The coins would have fallen through the ash grate and been lost if they hadn't landed in a stocking that had been hung out to dry. Since that time children have continued to hang out stockings in hopes of finding them filled with gifts. Children write letters to Father Christmas listing their requests, but instead of dropping them in the mailbox, the letters are tossed into the fireplace. The draught carries the letters up the chimney and Father Christmas reads the smoke. On Christmas Eve children leave out mince pies, brandy or some similar warming beverage for Father Christmas, and a carrot for the reindeer. Christmas crackers are a party favourite in England. Conceived in 1850 by a London confectioner called Tom Smith whilst sitting in front of his log fire. Today's crackers are short cardboard tubes wrapped in colourful paper and traditionally there will be one cracker next to each plate on the Christmas dinner table. When the crackers are pulled, out falls a colourful party hat, a toy or gift and a festive joke. The party hats look like crowns and we assume these symbolise the crowns worn by the three kings. Gifts are opened Christmas morning. day.


Christmas celebrations in Estonia begin December 2 and end about on January 7 after the Orthodox Christmas. Estonians during this period cut back on work and visit both friends and family. The President makes a declaration of Christmas peace. The Baltic people share many Christmas traditions. This is in part the case because of the continuation of some pagan traditions. Estonia continues to use the pagan word for the wintertime festivities on the winter soltice--joulud from the word jul (Yule). Estonia is smewhat different than Latvia and Lithuania because of religious differences. The Catholic Church is not very important in Estonia. There are two Christmas celebrations in Estonia. Thee are both Orthodox and Lutheran Christians in Estonia and they celebrate Christmas differently. Many Estonians without string religious commitments also celebrate Christmas, often following family cultural traditions. Lutherans celebrate Christmas on December 25. The Orthodox church celebrates Christmas on January 7. Many Christmas traditions are shared by Estonians of both faiths as well as many non-believers. Christmas trees are very popular for all Estonians. It is usually kept up until after the Orthox Christmas celebration. Fireworks are popular for Christmas. Estonians exchange presents and play games. Families have a huge Christmas Eve dinner a tradition poular with Lutheran families in Scandinavia and Germany. There is a throrough house cleaning and a bath, many Estonians go to the sauna or bath house. Many Estonians bring straw into the house as a symbol of the nativity and manger. Lutherans even put the straw n the dinner table. The traditional Christmas food in sumilar for both Lutheran and Orthodox families. The most popular dish is turkey. Trditional cookies are called called Pipparkogid (peppercorns with cocoa and cinnamon). The traditional Christmas beverage is beer. Mny familieves have Christmas trees a tradition inherited from the German community in the country.


Christmas Eve is the most important day in Finland. The excitement mounts as the family awaits a quite different aspect of Christmas: the arrival of Father Christmas. The Finnish Father Christmas is a more earthly equivalent of St. Nicholas. Finland differs from most other countries in that Father Christmas really does visit the home in person on Christmas Eve. Most often it is in fact father dressed up, but it may be a neighbour or relative. The children dress up as Father Christmas' little helpers: red tights, a long red cap, and a grey cotton suit also decorated with red. On his arrival, Father Christmas always asks the same question: "Are there any good children here?", and the answer is always an enthusiastic "Yes". The earliest reports of Christmas presents being given within families in Finland date from the early years of the 19th century. The presents were often made by donors themselves and included items such as clothes or something nice to eat. In the early decades of the 20th century manufactured presents became common and spread throughout the country.

French Christmas card 1908
Figure 2.--This French ChristmaS card was sent in 1908. The Christmas tree was more of a German tradition, but as unpopular as Germany was in France at the time, this did not prevent some French families from adopting the tradition.


Christmas of course is the most important holiday celebration for French children. The French Christmas celebration in the 21st century is an interesting mix of tradition and modern innovations. French children traditionally with great hope and anticipation put their shoes by the hearth. Nearly every French home at Christmastime displays a Nativity scene or crèche, which serves as the focus for the Christmas celebration. Although the use of the Yule log has faded, the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the buche de Noël, which means "Christmas Log." The cake, among other food in great abundance is served at the grand feast of the season, which is called le rveillon . French children traditionally received gifts from Père Noel who travels with his stern disciplinarian companion Père Fouettard, but today Père Fouettard has almost disappeared.


Germany has many Christmas traditions. Many if which have become part of the standard English and American Christmas celebration. Prince Albert, Queen's Victoria's German husband, played an important role in bringing German traditions to England. Millions of German immigrants helped bring German traditions to America. As in many other European countries, on the eve of December 6th children place a shoe or boot by the fireplace. During the night, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, hops from house to house carrying a book of sins in which all of the misdeeds of the children are written. If they have been good, he fills the shoe or boot with delicious holiday edibles. If they have not been good, their shoe is filled with twigs. December 21st, supposedly the shortest day (longest night) of the year, is dubbed St. Thomas Day. In parts of the Sauerland, whoever wakes up late or arrives late to work on that day is issued the title "Thomas Donkey." They are given a cardboard donkey and are the subject of numerous jokes throughout the day. But this gentle abuse ends deliciously with round, iced currant buns called "Thomasplitzchen." This is all preliminary to the excitement of Christmas Eve. Prior to the evening feast, is the presentation of the tree. The Christmas tree, as we know it, originated in Germany. It has a mysterious magic for the young because they are not allowed to see it until Christmas Eve. While the children are occupied with another room (usually by Father) Mother brings out the Christmas tree and decorates it with apples, candy, nuts, cookies, cars, trains, angels, tinsel, family treasures and candles or lights. The presents are placed under the tree. Somewhere, close to the bright display are laid brilliantly decorated plates for each family member, loaded with fruits, nuts, marzipan, chocolate and biscuits. When all is ready a bell is rung as a signal for the children to enter this Christmas fantasy room. Carols are sung, sometimes sparklers are lit, the Christmas story is read and gifts are opened. Dickbauch" means "fat stomach" and is a name given to the Christmas Eve because of the tradition that those who do not eat well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons during the night. So the opportunity is given to enjoy dishes such as suckling pig, "reisbrei" (a sweet cinnamon), white sausage, macaroni salad, and many regional dishes. Christmas Day brings with it a banquet of plump roast goose, "Christstollen" (long loaves of bread bursting with nuts, raisins, citron and dried fruit), "Lebkuchen" (spice bars), marzipan, and "Dresden Stollen" ( a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit). The custom of trimming and lighting a Christmas tree had its origin in pre-Christian Germany, the tree symbolizing the Garden of Eden.


St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea.


See "The Netherlands".


Christmas in Hungary begins with Advent. For many years after World war II Hungary's Communist government discouraged the celebration of Christmas, although never prohibited it. Since the fall of Communism (1989), Hungarian Christmas celebrations have returned to the pre-War traditions. Hungarians hang Advent wreaths in their homes as well as stores, schools, and even offices. Candles are an important Christmas decoration and are decked out with red ribbons trimmed with gold. The candles symbolize life and brightness. Many Hungarian Christmas traditions are similar in Hungary and Germany. This is because for centuries Hungary was ruled by the Austrian Hpsburgs. Children look forward to their Advent calendars, also a popular tradition in Austria and Germany. These calandars have tiny gifts and candies behind each date. Hungarians tend to decorate the interior of their houses, but outdoor lighting as in America is not common. Christmas trees are an important part of an Hungarian Christmas, but the trees are never decorated before Christmas. Only in shops does one see decorated trees before Christmas Day. Most Families, adults and children together, decorate their home trees on Christmas Eve. In the past parents put the children to bed Christmas even and then decorated the tree to surpise the Children Christmas Day. This is now not very common, but a few families continue the older tradition. The younger children are told that the teee was bought by angels. Children are allowed to see the tree only when tny bells on the tree are rung. Gifts are place around the tree. The family sings carols and open s their gifts. Christmas dinner is often a fish and or cabbage. A poppy-bread called "beigli" is a standard Christmas tradition.


To the Irish, Christmas is a time for religious celebration rather than revelry. The manger scene is in most houses and there are a few Christmas trees. The best-known Christmas custom is that of putting a candle in the window, often decorated with some greenery, on Christmas Eve. The idea is to help light the way of the Holy Family or any other poor traveller out on such a night. After the evening meal, the table is also set with bread and milk and the door left unlocked as a symbol of hospitality that the family is offering to Mary and Joseph and the little one to come. The only festive note that is struck is in the pudding that caps the meal. Three puddings are made early in December, one each for Christmas, New Year's, and Twelfth Night. The day after Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, witnesses the rowdy old custom of hunting the wren, when boys go from door to door with a wren on a stick (today the wren is not a real one), singing the traditional song and begging for treats.


The popularity of the Nativity scene, one of the most beloved and enduring symbols of the holiday season, originated in Italy. St. Francis of Assisi asked a man named Giovanni Vellita of the village of Greccio to create a manger scene. St. Francis performed mass in front of this early Nativity scene, which inspired awe and devotion in all who saw it. The creation of the figures or pastori became an entire genre of folk art. A Christmas tradition espexcially loved by children is the the "Befana". This is a character in Italian folklore, similar to Santa Claus. Her name derives from the festival of Epiphany, and she visits all the children of Italy on the night of 5 January / 6 January to fill their socks with candy if they are good or a lump of coal if they are bad. We do not yet have any detailed information on clothes worn by Italian boys for Christmas. We do note that many stores offer holiday outfits for children.


The Christmas season in Latvia begins with Advent. Many families put up Advent wreaths. Father Christmas is an important Christmas figure for Latvian children. He traditinally brings presents on each of the 12 days of Christmas, beginning on Christmas Eve. The presents are usually put under the family Christmas tree. The children thus get about 2 weeks of presents, but of course most are small treats. Latvians claims to have put up the first Christmas Tree. They insist thsat the first documented use of a evergreen tree at Christmas and New Year was at town square of Riga (1510). Little informatin is available on this first tree other than it was attended by men wearing black hats and that after an undescribed ceremony, it was burnt. At the time it was a German-dominated Hanseatic town. Latvians attend a church service on Christmas Eve. This is ore cmmon than on Christmas Day. The Christmas Day meal is another tradition. Popular foods include potatoes with sauerkraut and pork, brown peas/lentis with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage. Gingerbread is a major Chrstmas tradition. The major gifts are exchanged following the Christmas meal. The children are expected to recite a short poem while standing next to the Christmas tree! December 25 was chosen by the early Church because it was the Winter Solstice, a day already celebrated by pagan people. Perhaps because the Baltics were one of the last areas of Europe to be Christinized, pagan traditions continue to be important. One such tradition is a wooden block that is rolled around the house to drive away evil spirits. A tradition surviving in rural areaas is masquerading from one home to another. This tradition includes caroling and various games.


The Christmas tradition in Leichtenstein is for Saint Nicholas (usually a costmed family member or family friend) visits the household and identified the children who have been good and who has been bad. Then the children tell him what they want the Christmas Angel to bring them on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Tree is the center of the Christmas celebration in the home. It is usually brought home about 2 weeks before Christmas. The family decorates the tree on Christmas Eve. Then the children are put to bed and are all excited as to what the Christkindli will bring them. Some families open their presents on Christmas Eve, but most with children do it on Christmas Day. Christmas is also a time to visit relatives in other villages and to exchange greetings and presents wih them. A Christmas market is held in Vaduz. The traditional Christmas market is now held on the square in front of the town hall has become one of the largest of its kind in the region. People stroll through the picturesque old town and buy presents and Christmas decorations made by hand. There are also stands selling traditional snacks as well as warming mulled wine, mulled cider and tea. The children enjoy the Fairytale Train which provides a free tour of Vaduz.


There is a tradition of giving the home a good cleaning. This takes for the week leading up to Christmas Eve which is the high-point of the Christmas season. On Christmas Eve the bed linens are changed and family members bathe and put on their Christmas clothes for the evening dinner. There are extensive all-day preparatins for Christmas Eve, especilly the food. The food is prepared for the Christmas Eve dinner (Kūčios) and also for Christmas day. Although the food preparations are extensive, Lithuanians fast and abstain from meat. The e Christmas Eve dinner cannot include meat because it could not be called Kûèios and would just be an ordinary meal. There is a special manner of reparing the table. A handful of hay is spread on the dinner table. This symbolizes the birth of Jesus in a stable and his being laid in a manger. Next the table is then covered in a pristine white tablecloth and set with plates. The table is decorated with festive candles and evergreen boughs. The center of the table is a small plate with a Christmas wafer for each person. This tradition varies regionally. They are often called God's cakes (Dievo pyragai) because they were imprinted with Biblical scenes of the nativity. An even more common term is plotkelë which is what they are called in neighboring Poland. The Christmas Eve dinner is very important. It is the most important family evnt of the year. If a family member passes away or for some rason cannot attend, a place is set for him. Traditionally twelve dishes are served, one for each of Jesus' beloved apostles.


There is no Santa Claus in Luxembourg at Christmas time, however, "St.Nicolas Day" is celebrated on December 6th. On evenings - one week - before this date, children put their slippers in front of their bed-room doors expecting them to be filled with a small gift by St. Nicolas during the night. On the eve of December 6th, children place a plate on the kitchen or dining-room table which St.Nicolas fills with sweets and gifts overnight. St. Nicolas also pays visits to children in schools. St Nicholas is called de Kleeschen in Luxembourg. nd because of his connections with Luxembourg culture, The Germans banned him duringbtheir World war II occupation. They were intent on Germaizing the country. His first return was the American St Nick in Wiltz (December 5, 1944).

(The) Netherlands

America inherited one of its important Christmas traditions from Holland--Santa Claus. The Santa Clause or Sinterklaas is, however a bit different in the Netherlands and the children do not put out cookies. They put out hay and water. Also he has a black side kick, Black Peter, rather than elves to help him. Black Peter keeps tab on who has been naughty or nice. Also there are horses rather than reindeer. Black Peter was criticised by some as not racially senstive, but that ontroversy appears to be abating. While the Dutch exported Sinterklaas to America, America after World War II exported Santa Clause back to the Dutch. This has meant a real bonanza to Dutch children who now have both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus and they get presents from both.


At 4:00 p.m. all work comes to a halt on Christmas Eve in Norway. Everyone bathes and puts on new clothes to greet the season. The largest sheaf of grain is hung out for the birds to make their Christmas merry, too. Christmas dinner begins with rice pudding with a lucky almond hidden in it for someone, and a bowl is also set out for the barn elf so that he will continue to watch over the animals and not turn mischievous. A Christmas pig provides most of the meat dishes. Traditionally the Norwegians kept the season bright with a Yule log. It literally formed the center of the celebration since it was frequently an entire tree that could only partly fit into the fireplace and so extended well out into the middle of the living room. As it burned it would be pushed farther into the fire to provide continuous light and warmth through the whole Christmas season. The Christmas tree is taking the place of the Yule log today.The popularity of Santa Claus has resurrected an ancient Norse figure called Julesvenn. In ancient times he would come during the feast of Jul to hide lucky barley stalks around the house. Now he comes on Christmas Eve to bring gifts to good children. After Christmas Day is past, children indulge in a custom much like trick or treat. It is called Julebukk and children wear costumes and go door to door asking for goodies.


For Poles, Christmas Eve is a time of family gathering and reconciliation. It's also a night of magic: Animals are said to talk in a human voice and people have the power to tell the future. The belief was born with Polish ancestors who claimed that Dec. 24 was a day to mark the beginning of a new era. It was bolstered by sayings such as, "As goes Christmas Eve, goes the year."


Christmas is celebrated in much the same way in Portugal as it is in Spain. The Portugese enjoy an additional feast--consoada. They eat in the early morning hours of Christmas Day. They set extra places at the table for the souls of the dead--alminhas a penar. The tradition is to give a gift of food to the family members that have passed away hope that this will ensure good fortunes in the New Year. In some areas crumbs are left on the hearth for these souls, a custom that dreives from the ancient practice of entrusting the seeds to the dead in hopes that they will provide a bountiful harvest. They place a Christmas log on the hearth--or cepo de Natal. Traditionally it is an oak log which burns through the day as the family enjoys a leasurly consoda. Portuguese children look forward to the Three Wise Men to being their Christmas gifts. The children put the shoes near the fireplace rather like American children hang their stockings. The children receive their presents Christmas morning. Some children open their presents at midnight on Christmas morning.


The tradition in Romania is for children to travel from house to house singing carols and reciting poetry and legends throughout the Christmas season. The leader carries a large wooden star called a steaua, which is covered with shiny paper and decorated with bells and colored ribbon. A picture of the Holy Family is pasted in the star's center, and the entire creation is attached to a broomstick or stout pole.


The Soviets of course discouraged the celebration of Christmas. Even without Christmas, Russian children had Father Frost. I'm not sure how Christmas traditions are faring in post-Soviet Russia. St. Nicholas is popular in Russia. The legend is that the 11th-century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then many Eastern Orthodox Churches have been named for the saint, and to this day, Nicholas is one of the most common names for Russian boys. The feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) was observed for many centuries, but after the communist revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed. During the communist years St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost. Other religious traditions were suppressed during the communist era. Before the revolution, a figure called Babouschka would bring gifts for the children. Like Italy's La Befana, the story is that Babouschka failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men during their journey to visit the Christ Child. According to tradition, she still roams the countryside searching for the Christ Child and visiting the homes of children during the Christmas season. Babouschka never completely disappeared, and now in the post-communist era, has returned openly. Christmas trees were also banned by the Communist regime, but people continued to trim their "New Year's" trees. Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. 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. A priest visits the home accompanied by boys carrying vessels of holy water, and a little water is sprinkled in each room. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.


The Scotts traditionally celebrate Christmas more sombrely than in many other countries. The Scotts reserve their merriment for New Year's Eve which is called Hogmanay. This word is derived from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. Also in Scotland, the first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as "first footing". In England it is said that a stranger coming through the door carrying a lump of coal will bring good luck.



Ancient Slovak people like other pre-Christian peoples ascribed magic powers to winter solstice. This was primarily why the early Church decided on December 25 to celebrate the birt of Jesus. Europeands believed that religious rites would serve to protect the crops and livestock from harmful demons. People offered devotions to ensure their harvest and to guarantee happiness in the year to come. The rise of Christianity in Europe subordinated this feast to the church calendar. Many other important Christmas season traditions evolved from pre-Christian celebrations. Most Slovaks are either Catholic or Lutheran. Thus there are some differences in Slovak Christmas celebrations.St.Martin's day (November 11) was set on the beginning of the winter solstice. St. Katherine’s day, (November 25) celebrated the wnd of a period of quiet and fasting. It was a time that spells and magic were popular. St. Andrew's day (November 30) was often celebrated with "halushky" (a Slovak pasta dish). Unmarried girls traditionally added papers with the names of the young they admired. St. Nicholas day (December 6) is the traditional day for gift giving. St. Lucia's (December 13) is an important part of the Slovak Christmas. The tradition was that this was the day in which people were especially suseptable to the powers of darkness. Women and girls thus dressed up in their best dresses and ritually drove the evil spirits out of their homes. Slovaks ate a special bountiful meal on Christmas Eve (December 24). The Slovak term for Christmas Eve is actually "bountiful eve". Slovaks dinner tables would be piled with a wide range of special treats. The tradition was to have twelve different foods. The items commonly included cooked peas or French beans, dried fruit, garlic (especially effective in driving demons away), honey, nuts, and wafers. The main dish was traditionally cabbage soup with mushrooms and "opekance" - small pieces of dough - with poppy seed and honey. Although it was not originally the case, around the turn of the 20th century, fish became the traditional meat served for the Christmas Eve feast--especially with Catholic Slovaks. Fish scales were believed to bring wealth. Lutherans were moke likely to serve smoked meats and sausage with their cabbage soup. Slovak mothers also bake many pastries and other baked goods throughout the Christmas season.


Christmas is Slovenia's most popular family holiday. As in te rest of Europe, Christmas in Slovenia evolved from pagan traditions and celebrations which with the coming of Christianity were incorportate into a Christian festival. Christmas in Slovene means "little god". In pagan times it was a holiday to honor the Sun god and his son and thus easily transformed into a celebration honoring Jesus. It was celebrated at the winter solstice, when the old sun was seen to sybolically die and then re-born. Slovenia has since the Christian era added a wealth of customs, beliefs, superstitions, traditions and magical events to the original pagan celebration. Many are specifically Slovene, but rather shared with both Roman and German/Slavic traditions. Slovenia as a small province in larger empires has absorbed mant traditins from foreign countries. These include the cult of greenery, fire and water and fortune telling and charming, giving presents, carol singing, Christmas baking, and many others. Slovenes adopted the Christmas tree from Germany relatively recently. The Jesuits brought the tradition of creches (Nativity scenes) in the mid-17th century. Slovenia today has Christmas cards (first appearing in the 1920s), Christmas carols (including some Slovene carols), and Christmas and New Year Fairs. St Nicholas is important in Slovenia and is known as Miklavž. Baked goods are an important part of the Slovene Christmas. Many mothers bake a Christmas loaf. The actual loaf differs regionally, but is normally either wheat, rye and buckwheat. Slovenes have three primary Christmas celebrations. There is the real Christmas as well as two little Christmases (on New Year's Day and the Three Kings). The are all important family celebrations. Families burn incense and the smoke was believed to bring magic power and drive out demons.


Christmas is a deeply religious holiday in Spain. The country's patron saint is the Virgin Mary and the Christmas season officially begins December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is celebrated each year in front of the great Gothic cathedral in Seville with a ceremony called los Seises or the "dance of six." Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena or "the Good Night." There is singing and dancing in the streets to the sounds of guitars and castanets. At midnight everyone attends the Misa del Gallo, the Mass of the Rooster, so named because of the legend that the only time the rooster has crowed at midnight was the night when Jesus was born. After mass the dinner, or cena, is served, usually featuring turkey and the Christmas favorite turron, a candy loaf of roasted almonds in caramel sauce. It is a time for family members to gather together to rejoice and feast around the Nativity scenes that are present in nearly every home. December 28 is the feast of the Holy Innocents. Young boys of a town or village light bonfires and one of them acts as the mayor who orders townspeople to perform civic chores such as sweeping the streets. As in many European countries, the children of Spain receive gifts on the feast of the Epiphany. The Magi are particularly revered in Spain. It is believed that they travel through the countryside reenacting their journey to Bethlehem every year at this time. Children leave their shoes on the windowsills and fill them with straw, carrots, and barley for the horses of the Wise Men. Their favorite is Balthazar who rides a donkey and is the one believed to leave the gifts. Nativity scenes are very important in Spanish Christmases. Many families have nativity scenes at home and there are also many public displays. Javea is one of many Spanish towns with large public nativity scenes. Often there are also other Biblical scenes.


A thousand years ago in Sweden, King Canute declared that Christmas would last a month, from December 13, the feast of St. Lucia until January 13, or Tjugondag Knut (St. Canute's Day). Some say she once visited the country, and others believe missionaries brought stories of her life which entranced the Swedish people. Her story is that in the days of early Christian persecution, Lucia carried food to Christians hiding in dark underground tunnels. To light the way she wore a wreath of candles on her head. Eventually Lucia was arrested and martyred. On her feast day the eldest daughter in each family dresses in a white dress with a red sash, and wears an evergreen wreath with seven lighted candles on her head. She (very carefully) carries coffee and buns to each family member in his or her room and the younger children often wear a conelike hat with a star on top and accompany her. Many schools, offices, and communities sponsor Lucia processions in which carol are sung and everyone thanks the Queen of Light for bringing hope during the darkest time of the year. Before the midday meal on Christmas Eve, the family gathers in the kitchen for a custom called doppa I grytan, "dipping in the kettle." All gather round a pot filled drippings of pork, sausage and corned beef and dip dark bread into it, which they eat when it is completely soaked with the drippings. The traditional Christmas Eve dinner would start off with a smorgasbord with a sip of akvavit; then lutfisk, a sun-dried cod served in cream sauce, and ham; finally rice pudding with an almond in it. After dinner all gather around the Christmas tree to open the presents. These gifts were brought by the Jultomen, a gnome who lives in the barn, if there is one. He has to have his portion of rice pudding if he is to behave in the coming year. On Christmas Day there is a service a 5:00 a.m. After that the day is devoted to rest and to religious observance.


In terms of its traditions, Switzerland is basically four different countries. There are German, French and Italian areas. Gifts may be given either on Christmas Eve or New Year's Day, and they are brought by the Christkindli or St. Nicholas or even Father Christmas with his wife Lucy. Both the manger and the Christmas tree hold sway. Carols drift on the air in four languages. Switzerland has maintained its careful neutrality by absorbing the best of all nations. As in Germany, the Christmas tree is an important part of Christmas celebrations, especially in the German speaking catons.


Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar as in most of other Orthodox Christian countries. For the Ukrainian people Christmas is one the most important family holidays of the whole year. It is celebrated solemnly, as well as merrily, according to ancient customs that have come down through the ages and are still observed today. 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. Children this evening come around their neighbors with torches and sparclers (called 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. Church services start before midnight on Christmas Eve and continue until Christmas mornings. And in the morning after the church services people return home to have the rich holiday breakfast and to exchange Christmas gifts, which are the integral part of Christmas celebration.


Caroling is particularly popular in Wales where it is called eisteddfodde and is often accompanied by a harp. In some rural areas a villager is chosen to be the Mari llwyd. This person travels around the town draped in white and carrying a horse's skull on a long pole. Anyone given the "bite" by the horse's jaws must pay a fine. We note a charming description of Chrismass in the Welsh village of Mumbles during the 1930s.


Yugoslavia was created around Serbia and other former provinces that were newly created or part of Austro-Hungary. Today these various components are independent, but it is not possible to tell where in Yugoslavia many available photographs were taken, so we have created a Yugoslav page even though the country imploded (early-1990s). There were three periods. Royal Yugoslavia (1923-41, German/Italian Workld War II occupation (1941-45) and Communist Yugoslavia (1945-91). This all effected the celebration of Christmas. Christmas was notable in Yugoslavia for its diversity, any different denominations with the Orthodox and catholic churches being the most important. (And the two denominations were divided into different factions. In addition there was a substantial Muslim population, especially in Bosnia and areas of southern Serbia near Albania. As a result, there were many different Christmas traditions, some religious, but many secular. Actually Christmas began with Mother's Day. The second Sunday before Christmas was Mother's Day. A popular tradition was for the children to sneak in and playfully tie her feet to a chair and then shout, 'Mother's Day, Mother's Day, what will you pay to get away?' She then gives them small presents. The same happens to father the following week. Santa Clause was a big part of Christmas. And in Yugoslavia this often meant grandfather dressing up, not just department store Santas. Some children were a little scared, depending on how grandfather acted the part. There was a common superstition that bad luck will come if their Yule log burns out. That some one has to to keep the fire going all night. Mothers prepare the chestnitsa, a Christmas cake with a small gold or silver coin hidden inside. Whoever gets the slice of cake with the coon is guaranteed good luck for the coming year. The favorite Christmas dinner is a roast sucking pig,. Carving is based on long standing family traditiins. Families create Christmas cribs. Families with the children in tow go into the forests to gather moss and other greenery. The moss is used to line the crib. Before the invention of the phonograph and radio, many families had cherished music box that played Christmas music. By the time Yugoslavia created, they were seen as family treasures. The Communists Partisans under Tito seized control of Yugoslavia at the end of World War II (1945). The Communists as in the Soviet Union launched an atheist campaign with some intensity, but without the extraordinary brutality of the Soviet campaign. Father Frost replaced Santa fora time, but many of the country's secular transitions were retained. Yugoslavia was a Communist country, but after the break with Stalin (1948) was much more open and less totalitarian than other communist countries and a degree of religious freedom. Many families were able to continue celebrating Christmas. With the break up of Yugoslavia, the new independent countries are more homogenous in terms of religion, such as the Orthodox church in Serbia and the Catholic church in Croatia.

Unknown Countries

Of course, Christms as a Chritian event is a largely Western holiday, esecially celebrted throughout Europe. Almost all Chritian traditions, except for the lrely secular American traditions, are largely European traditions which hs spread to the Americs and other regions. We have found Christmas images from a few obviously European countries, but are unable to identify the specific country. Hopefully ourWuropean readers will help us figur out justwaht couny is involed/ Oftnwe can figureout th Larger countries, but the smaller counries are much more difficult unless there is text somewhere in the backgrons. Thanks to our substantial European readership, we are hopeful of eventually identifying many of these images.


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Created: December 27, 1998
Last updated: 7:29 PM 5/29/2022