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48 weird European Christmas traditions

Tió de Nadal - a Catalan Christmas tradition (Ajuntament Barcelona/ Flickr) - Credit: Archant

If you don’t find sweets in your slipper or a festive log that poops presents, then is it really Christmas?

1) Austria

Many towns put up a second tree, smaller than the one in the main square, and decorate it with treats for the birds to eat.

2) Bosnia and Herzegovina

Naughty children in Bosnia and Herzegovina get more than just a lump of coal on Christmas morning – they might also receive a visit from Krampus the cloven-hoofed monster who steals bad children’s presents.

3) Germany

As in many European regions, Germans exchange gifts on Christmas Eve which is a tradition dating back to Reformer Martin Luther who believed Christmas Day itself should be solely about Christ’s birth.

4) Poland

A traditional Christmas meal – the Wigilia – is enjoyed on December 24 after a day of fasting. Carp is the favourite main dish of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland.

5) Russia

Forget Father Christmas in Russia and the Eastern Slavic countries, Ded Moroz has the gig of dishing out gifts in December. He has dumped the reindeer for three dashing white horses though – and he has a glamorous blonde assistant Snegurochka along for the ride as well.

6) Czech Republic

One cheerful game popular around Christmas dinner tables in Czech Republic is predicting what the new year might bring. One method is to cut an apple crossways – if a star appears in the core your year will be successful but a cross means death, which must put quite a dampener on the party.

7) Slovakia

If the excitement of the festive period is not already enough in Slovakia young women lob shoes over their shoulders in a bid to predict if they will be married in the new year. If the toe points to the door wedding bells will follow sleigh bells.

8) Hungary

It seems Christmas starts earlier every year but in Hungary the party season has always been a marathon. Their version of Father Christmas – Mikulás – delivers presents on the eve of the Feast of St Nicholas – December 5.

9) Denmark

After their Christmas Eve meal is complete Danish families gather around the tree and sing festive songs and hymns while holding hands and dancing in circles. If the evening is going particularly well they may even tour the house – still holding hands and singing.

10) Germany

In some regions of Germany – notably Mecklenburg and Pomerania – nothing says Christmas like the festive dish of kale with boiled potatoes and sausage.

11) Poland

On Christmas Eve children across the world gaze up to the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of Father Christmas – but in Poland they are looking for the first star because their day of fasting cannot be broke until it appears. Cloud cover does not help hungry tummies.

12) Romania

Carol singing can be a chore – especially in the cold. The Romanians have a solution however, the job of singing door-to-door falls on the shoulders of the smallest child.

13) Czech Republic

The Baby Jesus delivers the gifts to the children – and informs them when he has placed the final one by ringing a bell.

14) Armenia

Patience is a virtue – just ask the Armenians. When the 4th century Roman Catholic Church agreed on December 25th as Christ’s birthday it seems the message did not make Yerevan. To this day they wait until January 6 as do some other Eastern Orthodox countries including Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

15) Georgia

The Chichilaki – a variant of the Christmas tree – is displayed in homes and towns. It is made of a soft wood with curled branches and is decorated with sweets and fruits.

16) Russia

During the atheist Soviet era Christmas was discouraged until in 1935 it was incorporated into the secular New Year events. It is apparently from this point that the gift-giving Father Christmas-like Ded Moroz grew in popularity.

17) Hungary

Children in Hungary get a good deal at Christmas. They get gifts from Mikulás on December 5 and Baby Jesus brings more on Christmas Eve – double bubble.

18) Iceland

Rice porridge is popular as an early lunch or snack on Christmas Eve. An almond is hidden in the porridge and the person who finds it wins a gift.

19) Sweden

As if the presents were not enough many Swedes jot a humorous ditty or poem with a hint to what is inside on the wrapping paper.

20) Estonia

The traditional Christmas Day argument of who is washing and who is drying is postponed in Estonia where the leftover food remains on the table overnight in the hope that the spirits of loved ones will visit and also have something to eat.

21) Finland

The Declaration of Christmas Peace has been a tradition in Finland since the Middle Ages. Many towns and cities hold a declaration but the most famous one in Turku is broadcast nationally on the radio. In recent years this been widened to include forest animals which means hunting is banned during the festive period.

23) Ireland

Christmas in Ireland is – perhaps not surprisingly – mostly about the craic. One relatively recent tradition is the ’12 pubs of Christmas’ which involves a pub crawl and plenty of frankly dangerous drinking games.

24) Iceland

The Yule Lads – a gang of Father Christmases – visit each night in the fortnight prior to December 25. They leave either gifts or rotting potatoes in children’s shoes depending on behaviour.

25) Denmark

A recent but now very popular Christmas tradition in Denmark is the television advent calendar. The idea is that a
new episode of a show is aired each
day climaxing on Christmas Eve.

26) Germany

Germans – this is also true in Norway and many other European countries – love the British, 60s comedy sketch Dinner for One which is shown on television every year during the festive period. It’s popularity is an oddity as no-one in Britain has ever heard of it and it is not about Christmas or New Year,

27) Norway

The Norwegians have a name for the limbo week between Christmas and New Year – romjul. But instead of lazing around the youngsters use it as an opportunity for more treats by dressing up and singing door-to-door.

28) Sweden

The Swedish version of father Christmas – known as Tomten – does not go to the hassle of clambering down chimney pots. he simply knocks on the door and asks: ‘Are there any nice children here?’

29) Estonia

While British children scoff chocolates from advent calendars, Estonian youngsters leave a slipper by the window for elves to stuff with sweets each night in the run up to December 25

30) The Netherlands

Zwarte Piet arrives via a boat from Madrid with Sinterklass on December 5 to distribute sweets and gifts among the children who come to greet the pair. But poor old Piet has become a controversial figure in recent times – people often black up their faces to depict him – due to claims that he represents a colonial hangover.

31) Croatia

On St Lucy’s Day (December 14) wheat seeds are planted. By Christmas the seeds have grown and are then tied together with a red, blue and white ribbon and placed on display with a candle.

32) Bulgaria

Forget any plans for an early night in Bulgaria on Christmas Eve – koleduvane involves young men banging on the doors of neighbouring houses and wishing all inside health, wealth and happiness. Tradition states this must happen after midnight.

33) Greece

Although December 24 and 25 are holidays in Greece the real action is saved for January 1 – St Basil’s Day. Now seen as a Father Christmas-like figure, St Basil brings gifts to children and New Year’s carols are sung.

34) Italy

Christmas kicks off in Italy with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. Decorations and the tree are usually put up on this day and in recent years it has also become popular to hang vultures as a sign of cleansing the spirit.

35) Portugal

In most of Portugal the favourite Christmas Eve supper is dried codfish boiled with vegetables but in some northern regions the fish is replaced with octopus.

36) Serbia

On Christmas Eve an oak tree is chopped down by the head of the house. A log – the badnjak – from that tree is burnt that evening on the domestic fire while prayers are said asking for the year ahead to be happy and healthy.

37) France
The French don’t hang their stockings above the fireplace for Père Noël to put presents in, instead leaving their shoes out to be filled.

38) Norway

Each year since the late 1940s Norway has gifted Britain a giant Christmas Tree to display in Trafalgar Square in recognition for the country’s sacrifice during the Second World War.

39) Austria

Children write their letters not to Father Christmas but to the Christ Child – and it is he who delivers the gifts.

40) Poland

The Christmas Eve meal in Poland includes money under the tablecloth for each guest – said to bring prosperity – and hay under the table to signify the manger where Christ was born.

41) Spain

Perhaps Europe’s oddest tradition is Tió de Nadal – the pooing Catalan log. On Christmas Day he is lifted into the fireplace and beaten with a stick until he defecates gifts. Delightful. He apparently urinates wine as well.

42) Romania

Many traditional Christmas gatherings in Romania include a person dressed as a goat, or ‘capra’, who is tasked with dancing and getting up to general mischief.

43) Germany

This take on the secret santa routine much-loved in offices world-wide requires the gifts to be lobbed through a small opening in the door to protect the giver’s identity. Avoid fragile gifts.

44) Finland

The last thing the Finnish do before settling into the Christmas spirit on December 24 is have a sauna. Known as the Christmas sauna it is taken earlier than normal because it is though the spirits of the dead return after dark on Christmas Eve for their turn.

45) Belgium

In the Wolloon district Christmas breakfast includes a specially baked sweet bread made in the shape of Baby Jesus.

46) Austria

Farmers in Austria chalk the initials of the Three Wise Men on the stable door (C for Caspar, M for Melchoir and B for Balthazar) to protect the heard from illness in the coming year.

47) Italy

Zampognari – or bagpipers – are common in the Abruzzi region of Italy where they help people celebrate Christmas by playing for people in town squares. They symbolise the shepherds who came in search of Baby Jesus.

48) Great Britain

Almost every British family exchanges gifts on the morning of December 25 but the country’s most famous one does not. The Royals, observing German tradition, open theirs on Christmas Eve.

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