8 Christmas Traditions Across Europe
Here at Freightlink, we have customers from across Europe and beyond. We thought we would take a look at your Christmas traditions and find out how you celebrate the most wonderful time of year!
Families traditionally get together on Christmas Eve for a meal, known as Wigilia. The first star in the night sky will signal them to start eating and enjoy the feast, and what a feast it is! Usually consisting of 12 courses, it can go on for some time and heavily features carp and other fish. There is also the sharing of a bread wafer called Oplatek which symbolises forgiveness.
Presents are usually exchanged only between adults, as the children will have received their presents earlier on Sw Mikolaj day, on the 6th December.
The Christmas period and activities start earlier in the Netherlands. Sinterklaas (or St Nicholas) arrives by boat on the last Saturday in November. The unusual thing about Sinterklaas is that he is not from the North Pole like in other traditions, but instead from Spain. Children in the Netherlands are told that if they have been naughty, Sinterklaas will take them back to Spain on his boat.
Sinterklaas travels across the Netherlands on a white horse called Amerigo, dressed in red robes. It is traditional for children to leave a shoe out for him with a carrot for his horse.
Children will also receive their presents much earlier, usually the 5th December, known as Sinterklaas Eve.
Christmas Eve is traditionally a much bigger deal in Finland than Christmas Day, which is usually spent relaxing with family.
The city of Turku has a notable ceremony which is watched across the country. This ceremony announces the beginning of the Christmas peace period, lasting from midday on Christmas Eve for twenty days. They will eat rice porridge and drink plum fruit juice for breakfast on Christmas Eve. There is also a tradition to hide almonds in the porridge and whoever finds them receives good luck in the new year. Saunas (an important part of Finnish culture), also feature in the Christmas festivities. They are used to relax and keep warm during the day before the big celebrations in the evening.
In Finland, Father Christmas is called Joulupukki, which means Christmas Goat.
The 13th December is St Lucia Day, and is the time for celebration in Sweden. The story goes that St Lucia, a young Christian girl, was killed in the 4th Century for what she believed in. Lucia processions mark this day, led by a girl in a white dress and crown made out of candles.
Children usually open their presents on Christmas Eve and leave a bowl of porridge out for Tomten (Father Christmas), the night before so that he will leave presents for them. They also generally have their main meal on Christmas Eve. A large buffet called Julbord.
Norwegian traditions tend to centre around two creatures - a goat called Julebukk, and Jul Nisse who guards the farm animals and plays tricks on children if they don't leave porridge out for him. They also open their presents on Christmas Eve after a main meal.
Norway also gifts the UK a very large Christmas tree every year that is displayed in Trafalgar Square in London. This represents Norway's thanks for the UK's help during World War II.
Similar to other countries, celebrations in Germany start earlier in December on St Nicholas Day (6th December). Children are known to leave shoes outside of their front door which Nikolaus (Father Christmas) will leave presents in if they have been good. If they have been naughty, it is said that his servant Knecht Ruprecht will leave twigs in their shoes instead.
They have an unusual tradition of an entirely meat-free meal on Christmas Eve. Children will also open their presents after the meal has finished.
The most important celebrations in Italy happen in the New Year. More specifically on 6th January, called Epiphany. Children will receive stockings full of sweets if they have been good or coal if they have been bad. This is brought to them by a Christmas witch called La Befana. She is described as being old, ugly and wearing tattered old clothes as she is a symbol of the old year that has just ended. A glass of wine is often left for her.
Similarly to the UK, lunch on Christmas Day is the most important meal.
Presents are traditionally opened by children after the Christmas Eve meal has ended in Iceland. The main dish of this meal is called Hangkjot and is essentially a leg of roast lamb.
Iceland have 13 Father Christmases which they call Yule Lads. The Yule Lads are said to live in the mountains and visit the towns one by one in the 13 days leading up to Christmas. Children leave shoes out for the Yule Lads, who will leave presents in them if they have been good or rotten potatoes if they have been bad. There is a unique tradition that says everyone must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas.
However you celebrate this time of year, Freightlink wishes you all a very Merry Christmas!