In France, children put their shoes in front of the fireplace so Pere Noel (Father Christmas) can fill them with gifts. Many families attend midnight Mass and then have a festive supper called Le reveillon. Large numbers of French families also decorate their homes with small Nativity scenes. In these scenes, clay figures called santons (little saints) portray the story of Jesus' birth. Some people put additional santons in their Nativity scenes every year. They buy these figures at special holiday fairs that are held before Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. In the morning they also find that sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys have been hung on the tree.
In cathedral squares, the story of Christ's birth is re-enacted by both players and puppets.
In Southern France, a log is burned in people's homes from Christmas Eve until New Years Day. A long time ago, part of the log was used to make the wedge for the plough as good luck for the coming harvest.
The traditional Christmas includes a chocolate log cake, or "bûche de Noël.
Christmas customs, originating in the Middle East, were introduced to France by the Romans. Reims was the site of the first French Christmas celebration when, in 496, Clovis and his 3,000 warriors were baptized. Bishop Rémi had purposely chosen the day of the Nativity for this ceremony. Other important events eventually took place on Christmas day in the following years.
Charlemagne received the crown from the hands of Pope Leo III on Christmas Day in 800. In 1100, Godefroy de Bouillon's successor, his brother Baudouin, was crowned in the basilica of Saint Mary of Bethlehem. Later, King Jean-le-Bon founded the Order of the Star in honor of the manger; it remained in existence until 1352. In 1389, French crowds shouted Noël! Noël! in welcoming Queen Isabeau of Bavaria to the capital.
Thus Christmas gradually became both a religious and secular celebration which, in fact, until the end of the Middle Ages, was confused with the celebration of the new year. Today, Christmas in France is a family holiday, a religious celebration and an occasion for merrymaking. It is a time welcomed by both adults and children.
The fir tree was first presented as the holy tree of Christmas in the French city of Strasbourg in 1605. It was decorated with artificial colored roses, apples, sugar and painted hosts, and symbolized the tree in the garden of Eden.
Shop windows of big department stores, principally in Paris, compete with one another in fabulous displays of animated figures; a day spent visiting and comparing the exhibits is practically a must for parents.
Family celebrations begin with the decoration of the Christmas tree a few days before Christmas; candles and lights, tinsel and many colored stars are attached to it. On Christmas Eve when the children are asleep, little toys, candies and fruits are hung on the branches of the tree as a supplement to the gifts Santa Claus has left in the shoes before the fireplace.
Another custom is that of the manger, "la crèche," which originated in 12th century France in the form of liturgical drama. At first the manger itself resembled an alter and was placed either inside the church or before the portal, as it was at the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire. Antique mangers can be seen in churches at Chartres, Chaource, Nogent-le-Rotrou, Sainte-Marie d'Oloron and in museums at Marseilles and Orleans.
The popular manger was introduced in Avignon by the family of Saint Francis of Assisi between 1316 and 1334, but it was not until the 16th century that the making of crèches or grebbes, as they were called in old French, became a widespread custom.
Today, the family arranges a manger on a small stage in a prominent part of the house. In Provence, the children bring rocks, branches and moss to make a setting for the manger. Little terra-cotta figures, known as "santons" or little saints are grouped around the manger to represent the Holy Family, the other characters of the story of the Nativity, and the people of the village: the mayor, the priest, the policeman, the butcher, the baker, the miller, the farmer. In the stable is a reproduction of the legendary manger of Bethlehem, with the ox and the donkey placed close to Jesus, and Mary and Joseph in the foreground welcoming the visitors.
Since 1803, a special fair for the sale of the santons has been held in Marseilles during the month of December, but the true capital of the world of santons is the little town of Aubagne.
Puppet shows are also given every year for Christmas, especially in Paris and in Lyon. One of the most famous Christmas puppet plays, written by de Marynbourg, is called "Bethlehem 1933" and is a masterpiece of popular art.
At midnight everyone attends the Christmas mass. Churches and cathedrals, large and small, are magnificently lit and echo the joyful melodies of carols, bells and carillons. Many churches have a crèche or manger. Formerly, in certain regions, a real infant was placed on the hay of the manger during the mass but this custom is no longer observed.
When the family returns home after midnight mass, there is a late supper known as "le réveillon." The meal varies according to the region of France. In Alsace, for example, the traditional goose is brought in on a platter and given the place of honor on the table. Bretons serve buckwheat cakes with sour cream. Turkey and chestnuts are served in Burgundy. The favorite dishes of Paris and the Ile-de-France region are oysters, foie gras, and the traditional cake in the form of a Yule log or "bûche de Noël" which used to burn on the hearth on Christmas Eve. The wines served are generally Muscadet, Anjou, Sauterne and Champagne.
Ordinarily, young children do not attend midnight mass with their parents, but go to bed early to dream of their Christmas gifts. Before going to bed, they put their shoes by the fireside for a gift from "le père de Noël" or "le petit Jésus." Formerly, peasants' wooden shoes, called sabots, were often used at Christmas time, but today shoes of any kind are set before the fireplace or around the tree. However, the sabots are not forgotten - chocolate wooden shoes are made by pastry shops and filled with candies.
Traditional legends and beliefs associated with Christmas are numerous in France. Alsace is a region where a lot of tradition exists such as marchés de Noel, Christmas markets. This region has possibly the greatest community spirit. In some towns, shepherds offer a lamb on Christmas Eve, while in others the réveillonis held in the snow mountains or a song festival precedes the midnight mass. In the small village of Solliesville, the whole population gathers bringing bread, meat and candies as a symbol of the apostles. Then a supper is offered to the important townspeople and their guests. During the mass, the characters of the manger are portrayed by people from the village.
During the Middle Ages, minstrels wandered through villages and towns, telling "Marveiles qui advinrent en la Sainte Nuit," the legend of the flight into Egypt, or the legend of the sower who, when asked which way the Holy Family had gone, deceived King Herod. Legends told around the fire on Christmas Eve are nearly all forgotten; but some of them have been transformed into fairy tales or fantasies. One story is that of the dancers condemned to dance incessantly for a year because their movements had turned the priest's thoughts during the midnight mass.
Another such tale is the charming story of the little homeless matchgirl who, sitting in the snow on the sidewalk, struck all her matches in order to imagine what Christmas would be like in a house; but Christmas is a time of miracles and at the striking of the last match the little girl was conveyed to Paradise by shining golden angels.
In Germany, Saint Nicholas visits children's homes on St. Nicholas Eve, December 5, and delivers candy and other sweets to be opened on December 6, St. Nicholas Day. According to one tradition, the Christkind (Christ child) sends the gifts on Christmas Eve. This tradition is most popular in the mainly Roman Catholic region of southern Germany. In the northern, mainly Protestant areas, parents usually say the Weihnachtsmann (Christmas Man) brings the gifts.
Most German families have a Christmas tree that they decorate with lights, tinsel, and ornaments. Spicy cakes called lebkuchen are made in various shapes and used as decorations.
A special community event is the Bescherung, a tree lighting ceremony.
Christmas preparations often begin on the eve of December 6th. People often set aside special evenings for baking spiced cakes and cookies, and making gifts and decorations. Little dolls of fruit are traditional Christmas toys.
Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle.
Germans make beautiful gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry, Christbaumgeback, is a white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations.
In parts of Germany, people believe that the Christ Child sends a messenger in Christmas Eve. He appears as an angel in a white robe and crown, bearing gifts. The angel is called Christkind There is also a Christmas Eve figure called Weihnachtsmann or Christmas Man He looks like Santa Claus and also brings gifts.
Some homes in Germany have several Christmas trees, and in all towns across Germany, they can be seen glittering and glowing.
In Germany they hang up advent wreaths of Holly with four red candles in the center. They light one candle each Sunday and last on Christmas Eve. Children count the days until Christmas using an Advent calendar. They open one window each day and find a Christmas picture inside.
The traditional visitor is the Christkindl who is the Christ Child's messenger. She is a beautiful fair-haired girl with a shining crown of candles who visits each house with a basket of presents.
In some homes a room is locked up before Christmas. On Christmas Eve the children go to bed but are woken up at midnight by their parents and taken down to the locked room. The door is opened and they see the tree all lit up, with piles of parcels on little tables.
Boys dress up as kings and carry a star round the village, singing carols.
According to legend, on Christmas Eve in Germany rivers turn to wine, animals speak to each other, tree blossoms bear fruit, mountains open up to reveal precious gems, and church bells can be heard ringing from the bottom of the sea. Of course, only the pure in heart can witness this Christmas magic. All others must content themselves with traditional German celebrating, of which there is plenty. As a matter of fact, there is so much celebrating that is has to begin on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day.
As in many other European countries, on the eve of Dec. 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 feast of St Nicholas marks the beginning of Christmas in Austria. The saint accompanied by the devil asks children for a list of their good and bad deeds. Good children are given sweets, toys and nuts. Gifts that are placed under the tree are opened after dinner on Christmas Eve.
Brass instruments play chorale music room church steeples, and carol singers, carrying blazing torches and a manger from house to house, gather on the church steps.
Silent Night was first sung in 1818, in the village church of Oberndorf. There is a story told of how Christmas was almost spoiled for the villagers that year.
On Christmas Eve, the priest went into the church and found that the organ was not working. The leather bellows that are used to pump the air through the pipes were full of holes. Christmas without music would not do so the priest showed the organist Franz Bauer a new Christmas hymn he had written. Franz quickly composed a tune for it that could be played on a guitar. So Oberndorf had music after all.
In Austria baked carp is served for the traditional Christmas dinner.
December 6 in Austria is when Heiliger Nikolaus or St. Nicholas, rewards good children with sweets, nuts and apples.
On December 24, the Christ Child brings presents and the Christmas tree for the children. The children wait until they hear a bell tinkling. Then they enter a special room where the Christmas tree is waiting all decorated with candles, ornaments and candies. The whole family sings Christmas carols and wishes each other:
- FROLICHE WEIHNACHTEN!
- FROHE WEIHNACHTEN!
A tinkling of a silver bell heralds the arrival of Christkindli - a white clad angel, with a face veil held in place by a jeweled crown. The tree candles are lit as she enters each house and hands out presents from the basket held by her child helpers.
The week before Christmas, children dress up and visit homes with small gifts. Bell ringing has become a tradition, and each village competes with the next when calling people to midnight mass. After the service, families gather to share huge homemade doughnuts called ringli and hot chocolate.
Christmas celebrations in Switzerland do not differ very much from those in other western European nations and the United States. However, the customs in Switzerland's four different linguistic regions (German, French, Italian and Romansh) tend to resemble those of their immediate neighbors, Germany and Austria for the German-speaking part, France for the French-speaking cantons (states) and Italy for the canton of Ticino and southern valleys of the Grisons.
There is an interesting difference in comparison with American customs: Santa Claus plays a much smaller part at Christmas. In the German and French-speaking parts of the country, his role is taken over by the "Christkind" or "Le petit Jésus," the Christ child, a beautiful, radiant, angel-like being with wings, dressed in white with a shining crown and a magic wand.
According to popular belief, it represents little Jesus. Though sometimes, it is connected with an angel bearing a light or star who heralded the birth of Christ at Bethlehem. The Christ child also has the attributes of a fairy (wand and wings). Little children are told that this person -and not Santa Claus- brings the tree and the gifts on Christmas Eve. That is why small children do not get to see the tree before the actual celebration. Bigger children, however, help the parents decorate the tree. At the foot of the decorated tree, a creche is often placed with wooden or ceramic figures representing the adoration of Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, with shepherds, angels, sheep, a cow and a donkey and the three Magi.
Usually parents decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. But more and more, especially young families are adopting the American way of having a decorated tree and electric lights all through December. (December is also "Advent" or "waiting" period: four candles on a green spruce wreath are the outward sign of this period, when a new candle is lit every Sunday until Christmas Eve. Advent is usually a hectic time with buying gifts, decorating tree and other ornaments, learning poems and songs, all contributing to the festivities of Christmas.
After an early dinner, the whole family, ideally several generations, gathers around the tree. Songs and sometimes hymns are sung. Some read the birth passage from the bible. Gifts are exchanged. Those who are not too tired go to midnight mass which is always particularly festive. The most popular song heard during that time is "Silent Night, Holy Night," written and composed in Austria. The tree is always there on Christmas Eve. But depending on the region, Christmas gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day, January 1 or January 6 (Epiphany, when the three Magi were said to have visited the Christ child).
The name Santa Claus comes from Sankt Nikolaus or Saint Nicolas (an early Christian bishop from Myra in present-day Turkey, the protector of children). This friendly figure does not play a role at Christmas, but appears on December 6, the Patron Saint's Day. In the Swiss German part, he is known as "Samichlaus" and he visits homes and schools, distributing sweets, fruits and nuts to well-behaved children and giving good advice to the less well-behaved. In Switzerland, he is not accompanied by a reindeer, but very often by a donkey and a dark-clad assistant. The children assume that they come from the snowy mountains.
In Italy, most homes and churches have a presepio (Nativity scene). On Christmas Eve, the family prays while the mother places a figure of the Bambino (Christ child) in the manger. Many Italians serve eels for dinner on Christmas Eve. They also bake a Christmas bread called panettone, which contains raisins and candied fruit.
Italian children receive gifts from La Befana, a kindly old witch, on the eve of Epiphany. According to legend, the Wise Men asked the kindly old witch to accompany them to see the infant Jesus. She refused, saying she was too busy and had to clean her house, and so she missed the wondrous sight. Each year, La Befana goes from house to house, leaving gifts and looking for the Christ child.
A strict feast is observed for 24 hours before Christmas Eve, and is followed by a celebration meal, in which a light Milanese cake called panettone features.
Presents and empty boxes, are drawn from the Urn of Fate - lucky dip, which always contains one gift per person. By twilight, candles are lighted around the family crib(Presipi), prayers are said, and children recite poems.
At noon on Christmas Day the pope gives his blessing to crowds gathered in the huge Vatican square.
In Italy the children wait until Epiphany, January 6, for their presents.
Christmas, as it is celebrated in Italy, has two origins: the familiar traditions of Christianity blended with the pagan traditions predating the Christmas era. The greatest feast of the ancient Roman Empire, "Saturnalia" (a winter solstice celebration), just happens to coincide with the Christmas celebrations of the Advent. Consequently, Christmas fairs, merry-making and torch processions, honor not only the birth of Christ, but also the birth of the "Unconquered Sun."
"Natale," the Italian word for Christmas, is literally the translation for "birthday."
A delightful, but rapidly disappearing tradition in Italy, is the ushering in of the coming festivities by the "Piferari" or fifers. They descend from the mountains of the Abruzzo and Latium playing inviting and characteristic tunes on their bagpipes, filling the air with anticipation for the joyous celebration to come.
Christmas Eve is a time for viewing Italy's artistic and elaborate manger scenes or Cribs. They consist of figurines, in clay or plaster, of the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph. An ox and ass are nearby because legend has it that they warmed the child with their breath. It is around this basic focal point that individual artisans create their own intricate landscapes. There may be grottoes, small trees, lakes, rivers, the lights of "Bethlehem" in the background, angels hung from wires, and occasionally, even local heroes. The most beautiful Cribs are set up in churches. There is often a contest between churches of the same town for the best Crib. People go from church to church to view and compare the Cribs and displays.
Another tradition is the burning of the Yule log, which must stay alight until New Year's Day. This, again, is an example of pagan and Christian blending. The pagan belief explains the purifying and revitalizing power of fire, and that with the burning log, the old year and its evils are destroyed. Christian legend tells how the Virgin Mary enters the homes of the humble at midnight while the people are away at Midnight Mass and warms her newborn child before the blazing log.
Amidst the general merrymaking and religious observance of Christmas Eve, Christmas tapers (long slender candles) are lighted and a Christmas banquet is spread. In some places, Christmas Eve dinner consists largely of fish. There may be as many as 10 to 20 fish dishes prepared. In Rome, the traditional dish of Christmas Eve is "Capitone," a big female eel, roasted, baked or fried. North of Rome a traditional dish may be pork, sausage packed in a pig's leg, smothered in lentils, or turkey stuffed with chestnuts.
Common throughout Italy are the Christmas sweets: "panettone" (cake filled with candied fruit), "torrone" (nougat) and "panforte" (gingerbread) made with hazelnuts, honey and almonds. All Christmas sweets, as a rule, contain nuts and almonds. Peasant folklore theorizes that to eat nuts favors the fertility of the earth and aids in the increase of flocks and family. In ancient Rome, honey was offered at this time of year so that the new year might be sweet.
La Befana, the kind witch, brings the presents to children on January 6. She was a woman who followed the wise men but got lost. She has been wandering ever since, giving presents to children at Christmas.
In Belgium there are two Santa Claus figures. There is St. Niklaas and Pere Noel.
Pere Noel visits those who speak the Walloon language, in fact he visits them twice. The first time is on the December 4th he does this so he can find out which children have been good and which children have been bad. If a child is good he returns on December 6th with the presents the good children deserve if they were bad they are left twigs. The good children usually received candy and toys. With the bad children he leaves the twigs inside their shoes or in small baskets that are left just inside the doorway.
Pere Noel visits those who speak French. He visits with his companion Pere Fouettard and asks about whether the children have been good or bad. If they have been good they receive chocolates and candies if they have been bad they are more likely to receive a handful of sticks.
Christmas for both gift-givers is on December 6th, the feast of St Nicholas, it is a religious occasion and is observed with services in churches and quiet family gatherings. Special cakes are baked and served during the holiday season and are a treat for children and adults.
The other part is called "Flemish" where they are Dutch speaking. They are visited by St Niklaas, they are in the North half of the country.
St-Nicholas doesn't have anything to do with Christmas. It's His Birthday on December 6th, and then he visits all children to bring them presents.
And then there is Christmas, December 25. The day Jesus Christ was born. The last years the American tradition around Christmas is coming over here. By movies and storybooks.
Now Children get gifts under the Christmas tree also. But this isn't the same everywhere. But it mostly depends on the parents. At some family, they buy gifts for each other and put them under the tree. There's no Santa to bring them. In others, mostly when there are still li'l children it's Santa who brings the gifts and puts them under the tree.
That can be on Christmas Eve, but sometimes in the weeks before Christmas. Gifts are opened on the evening before Christmas, after a Christmas dinner, or the midnight mass, or on Christmas morning.
Holland / Netherlands
St Nicholas arrives early in Holland with his gifts, in November. He is dressed in Bishop's robes and journeys in a boat with his helper who is called Black Peter and who wears Spanish clothes. It is said that the pair live most of the year preparing lists of presents and writing every child's behavior in a very large book. Many people go to Amsterdam docks to greet him. He mounts a snow horse and rides through the streets in a great parade, amid many festivities.
December 5th is Sinterklaas Eve or Sinterklass Eve, and presents are given and received.
Farmers in Holland blow long horns at sunset each evening during the Christmas period. The horns are blown over water wells which makes the sound extremely loud. This is done to announce the coming of Christmas.
All Dutch children know that Sinterklaas or Sinterklass lived in Spain, where he spends his time recording the behavior of all the children in his little red book, while Piet stocks up on the presents.
Christmas Day is a religious time, and the day is spent with visits to Church. In the afternoon, people sit around the tree, sing carols and tell stories.
In Spain it is a very festive time at Christmas. On Christmas Eve, as the stars come out, tiny oil lamps are lit in every house, and after Midnight Mass and Christmas Dinner, streets fill with dancers and onlookers. There is a special Christmas dance called the Jota and the words and music have been handed down for hundreds of years. They dance to the sound of guitars and castanets.
Children think of the Three Wise Man as the gift bearers. Tradition has it that they arrive on January 6th, the date the Wise Men gave gifts to Jesus.
Shoes are filled with straw or barley for the tired camels that must carry their riders through the busy night. By morning the camel food is gone and in place of the straw or barley are presents. Shoes also may be placed on balconies on the night of the 6th January in the hope that the Wise Men will fill them with gifts.
Most homes have a manger, like cathedrals and churches. These are complete with carved figures.
During the weeks before Christmas, families gather around their manger to sing, whilst children play tambourines and dance.
The Spanish especially honor the cow at Christmas because it is thought that when Mary gave birth to Jesus the cow in the stable breathed on the Baby Jesus to keep him warm.
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." Oddly, the elaborate ritual dance is now performed by not six but ten elaborately costumed boys. It is a series of precise movements and gestures and is said to be quite moving and beautiful.
Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena or "the Good Night." 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. A traditional Christmas treat is turron, a kind of almond candy.
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. Refusal to comply results in fines which are used to pay for the celebration.
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 or the horses of the Wise Men. Their favorite is Balthazar who rides a donkey and is the one believed to leave the gifts.
The Spanish Christmas is Navidad, people go to church, exchange presents, and many play on swing sets set up especially for the occasion. Swinging at solstice time evokes an ancient desire to encourage the sun, urging it to "swing" ever higher in the sky.
In Portugal the tradition of gift-giving was defined mostly by the strong Christian religious beliefs of the people. Children await the coming of the Three Wise Men during Christmas time. On the eve of January 5th children place their shoes along windowsills and doorways and fill them with carrots and straw. They do this hoping that this will lure the wise men's horses to their houses during the night and that they will find their shoes packed with gifts and treats in the morning. The treats left is more likely to be candied fruits and sweet breads.
They do not recognize the red suit of most traditions as the person who brings gifts, but, gifts are a big part of the many Christmas celebrations. The Christmas Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of the Holy Innocents both involve the sharing of gifts.
They have a feast known as the consoda which takes place on the morning of Christmas Day. They set extra places at the table for the souls of the dead. They give a gift of food to these souls and hope that by doing so the fortunes of the next year will be good.
The Portuguese "Christmas log," or cepo de Natal, is a piece of oak that burns on the hearth all through the day while people enjoy a lingering consoda.
Tradition Submitted by Alda Moreira who says traditions are incorrect.
The children receive the presents at midnight of 24/25 December or early in 25 th December morning, but never on 5th January. They put the shoes near the fireplace as a receptacle for the presents and not at the window.
We recognize the red suite; the children believe in Santa Claus (called "Pai Natal" - wich means: Father Christmas) and the parents tell them that is the baby Jesus who helps Santa with the presents, ( not the Three wise men...).
The most part of family set up a Nativity scene (called Presépio), with Mary, Joseph, the cow and the donkey, the three wise men, and lots of other figures The figure of the Christ Child is added to the scene after the family attends Midnight Mass or after midnight....But everybody have a Christmas tree too; the typical colours are the gold, red and green.
The Christmas Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of the Holy Innocents do not involve the sharing of gifts.
The consoada is the reunion of the family, until they wait for the coming of Father Christmas at midnight and takes place on the dinner of 24 th December/Christmas Eve, not in the morning of 25. There are families who reserve an empty place for the persons who died, but it doesn't happen very often. During the consoada we dinner (boiled codfish and Portuguese sprouts (in pure olive oil) normally) and then everybody puts lots of desserts in the table and typical plates (rice pudding with cinamon, "rabandas"-seems like french toast, "filhoses"-fried desserts, "broas de mel" (pastries made with honey) “Sonhos” -pumpkin fritters ) Another very traditional desert is the "Bolo Rei" (King's cake) "which is a wreath-like very rich fruit cake laced with crystallized fruits and pine nuts." There is a little present inside the cake and a broadbean-who find the broadbean in one slice, must pay the next “King Cake”.
At midnight, there are also families who attend to the church for a special Midnight Mass, called "Missa do galo"-"Rooster’s Mass", but it happens more in the interior, who are more religious.
During the Christmas day Portuguese people visit the friends and family and have a big lunch normally with roast chicken, lamb or turkey.
A Maltese Christmas traditionally is centered on the crib or presepju. The child's version of the church crib is called grolta. Everywhere had at least one crib, varying in size and detail. The crib figures are called pasturi and represent Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the shepherds, angels, villagers and animals such as cows, donkeys and sheep. The Cribs are surrounded by lights and plants.
Midnight mass on Christmas Eve is the climax of all religious activities. The whole family attends and everyone wears new clothes. The mass begins with choirs singing carols in Maltese. The highlight of the mass is the reading of a story of the nativity by a ten-year-old boy. After Mass it is customary to greet Il-Milied It-Taijeb which is Happy Christmas, to all who attend.
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. Greek ships never leave port without some sort of St. Nicholas icon on board.
On Christmas Eve small boys to the beating of drums and the tinkling of triangles usually sing carols. They go from house to house and are given dried figs, almonds, walnuts and lots of sweets or sometimes small gifts.
After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs are slaughtered and on almost every table are loaves of christopsomo or "Christ Bread". This bread is made in large sweet loaves of various shapes and the crusts are engraved and decorated in some way that reflects the family's profession.
Christmas trees are not commonly used in Greece. In almost every home the main symbol of the season is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Killantzaroi away from the house.
There is a tradition kallikantzeri, where the mischievous goblins appear from the earth during the 12 days of Christmas.
At Christmas very few presents are given to each other. Instead, small gifts are given to hospitals and orphanages.
Priests sometimes go from house to house sprinkling holy water around to get rid of the bad spirits who may be hiding in people's houses.
In most Greek homes an evergreen tree is decorated with tinsel and a star placed on top. Gifts are exchanged on January 1st, St Basil's Day.
On Christmas Eve, groups of people gather around the holiday table. Figs, dried on rooftops are served with the spicy golden Chrisopsomo bread.
As people are they greet one another by saying Hronia polla or many happy years. The table filled with food may include such dishes as kourambiethes, a Greek nut cookie.
Slovenia celebrates Christmas on December 25th. Be sure to visit the Ljubljana Christmas Market if you're in Slovenia during the month of December to experience Christmas the Slovenian way.
The creation of nativity scenes is a tradition in Slovenia that dates back several hundred years. Though the creation of nativity scenes to display in the home is common, live, publicly viewable nativity scenes have grown in popularity. The best-known live nativity scenes are those in Postojna Cave and at Ljubljana's Franciscan Church on Prešeren Square.
Slovenia's Santa Claus tradition pulls from many other European traditions. Children in Slovenia can receive gifts from St. Nicholas, Baby Jesus, Santa Claus, or Grandfather Frost. St. Nicholas visits on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. Santa Claus or Baby Jesus visits on Christmas, and Grandfather or Father Frost may appear at the New Year.
The Christmas holiday is also marked by the burning of incense, the preparation of special foods, like the Christmas loaf called potica, the sprinkling of holy water, and the telling of fortunes. Traditionally, a pig was slaughtered before Christmas, so pork may be prepared for the Christmas meal.
Serbia (soon to come)
In Croatia, Christmas is observed with much fervor. Since the ninth century, Christianity has been the dominant religion in the country. Like most Western nations, Christmas is celebrated here on 25th December but the preparations for the festival begin since the beginning of the Advent. Women of the house traditionally start baking cookies and cakes from this time.
But the festivities begin here in real earnestness on St. Lucy's Day (December 13) when a very popular Christmas tradition is observed in the country. The mother or female head of every individual family plants wheat seeds in a round dish or plate of shallow water on this day. Normally these germinate by Christmas Eve (December 24th) growing about 8 inches tall, and that is when these are tied together with "trobojnica" (ribbons) of red, blue and white colour, colours of the Croatian flag. These are spread around the floors and under the tablecloth for the Christmas dinner. Sometimes a candle is lit and placed within the wheat along with other symbolic items. It is said that the light that is seen through the wheat is a symbol of the soul within every person. According to popular custom, a prosperous new year is predicted if the wheat grows strong and green by Christmas Eve.
It is also on Christmas Eve that the Christmas tree is set up and decorations made in every home though many families begin the process days in advance.
25th December is mainly seen as a day of holy observances in Croatia and hence, though gift-giving exists during Christmas it is not a too popular tradition in the country. But there are no dearth of gifts for Croatian children, who recieve their presents around the time of Christmas even though the occassions and reasons happen to be different. In the northern and central regions of Croatia, it is St. Nicholas who fills the boots of young children with gifts on December 6th (St. Nicholas Day). In southern and north eastern Croatia, it is St. Lucy who is being seen as the traditional bringer of presents. On December 24th, the Christmas Eve, Santa Claus and the baby Jesus are believed to be the visitors to many homes, leaving gifts for good kids.
Feasts are an important and highly anticipated aspect of the Croatian Christmas celebrations. Stuffed cabbage, sarma, Dalmatian pot roast, pasticada, walnut roll, badnji kruh (fresh bread), purica, smlincima and suckling pig form some of the main items of the Christmas menu in many Croatian homes. Christmas Eve dishes generally comprise of cuisines like "Bianco and biudetto" (cod fish), smelts and salted sardines while the Christmas dinner consists of such delicacies as stuffed cabbage, turkey, zagorje noodles and fig cake.
On Christmas Day, Croats wish each other 'Sretan Bozic' which is the Croatian way of saying "Merry Christmas".
The Christmas celebrations officially come to a close here on January 6 (Epiphany), when local priests visit the homes of the parishioners to give them their blessings. Christmas trees and decorations are taken down on the same day in almost every home.
Bosnia (soon to come)
Macedonia (soon to come)
Kosovo (soon to come)
Albania (soon to come)
Carols form an important part of the Romanian folklore. Romanian carols are not simple songs (a sort of invocation in verse sung by children and lads, on the evening of Winters Holidays) with religions origin, but wide windows through which we are allowed once in a year to go by the immaculate snow-towards the evergreen Heaven and to eye-touch God at least for an instant , in order to give us the power to surpass the life's obstacles. Carols put people in the mood for a perfect communion with the simple and healing greatness of Jesus' Birth. The carol singers walk in the streets of the villages and towns holding in their hands a star made of board and paper with biblical scenes painted in water colors and they sing:
"Do you receive the pretty star,
Pretty and so very bright?
It Haseko we did in the sky
Just like God thought it would be right,
Stand it could be seen on high,
Just like we did in the sky"
On the first Christmas day, children walk in the streets of snow covered towns and villages, when holding in their hands a star made of board and paper with a biblical scenes painted in water colors or an icon showing Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, they sing somewhat of a question:
"Do you receive the pretty star,
Pretty and so bright?
It has appeared on the earth
Just like God through it would be right
And it could be seen on high,
Just like we did, in the sky.
Five days before Christmas with a very sharp knife the pig is cut.
This custom is called "Ignatius" from Saint Ignatius (celebrated on December the 20th). Straws are put in his snout and then it is covered with burning straws and then is it singed. The pig is nicely washed and covered with a piece of cloth for ten minutes. The housewife comes and incense the pig and then the husband comes and makes the sign of the cross on the pig's head saying to the family gathered around: "Let's eat the pig!" After the pig is cut there is a feast called the pig's funeral feast or alms. At the feast the whole family friends and neighbors take part. All eat the rid or the skin of the bacon and they also eat small pieces of fried pork they drink wine or plum brandy.
Christmas Eve is as important as Christmas day in Bulgaria. A special diner, consisting of at least twelve dishes is prepared. All of them are without meat and each of them represents a separate month of the year. The dishes consist of beans, different kinds of nuts, dried plums, cakes, and the traditional Banitza. On this day the whole family gathers, eat on straw and get off the table in the same time.
In the past Christmas was celebrated differently. There were boys and non-married young men who were visiting the houses, singing songs for wealth and health for the hosts. They were rewarded with money, food and so on. They were bringing long sticks to put kravai which are round breads with holes in them. They were called Rkoledaris. In the houses the families gathered sitting on the ground or on dry grass and eating meatless food. There were 7 or 12 meals: wine, Rakia , sarmy and so on. There always was a huge round bread where all the cattle, the house and things like that were carved.
Bulgarians make Christmas wishes around the fire and eat blood sausage.
In Hungary the main Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve. The evening is called Szent-este or Holy Evening. Before attending Midnight Mass, families gather around the Christmas tree to sing carols and open the presents left by Baby Jesus and the angels.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, on December 6th the children receive a visit from Mikulas or St Nicholas. He arrives wearing the robes of a bishop, with a red miter on his head, a staff in one hand and a sack full of small presents in the other. Accompanying him a "Devil" boy in a black costume, complete with horns and long tail. He holds a switch made of dry twigs, ready to smack any "naughty" children. Each child receives a small gift, usually a toy or sweets, from Mikulas.
The presenting of nativity plays is an important part of the Hungarian Christmas tradition. Performed by groups of children or adults, these plays are often combined with puppets and are accompanied by songs and musical instruments and sometimes even dancing.
Celebrations for Christmas begin with the visit of St. Nicholas on December 6th and end with the visit of the Three Kings.
In Czech Republic, St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is believed to climb to earth down from heaven on a golden rope along with his companions: an angel and a whip-carrying devil.
In Czech Republic, a girl can tell her future, it is said that according to tradition, by putting a cherry twig in water on December 4th. If the twig blossoms before Christmas Eve, the girl will marry sometime during the year.
The famous King Wenceslas of the Christmas Carol was a real King in this country. His goodness and his beliefs in Christianity infuriated his mother, and his brother murdered him on the Church steps. Before he died he asked for God's mercy for his brother's evil act. He became the patron saint of Czech Republic.
Christmas is a quiet and peaceful religious time here. They fast for one day, and have baked carp for Christmas dinner. St Nicholas visits, and brings good children gifts, and for those children who are bad, the devil is said to come with switches.
At midnight, most families go to Holy Mass or Pasterka as it is known. On Christmas Day, the churches are filled with evergreens and Christmas Trees. Celebrations go on for three days.
Czechs eat a soup made of cod roe and tempt each other with tales of a mythical golden pig.
Christmas trees in Slovakia go up on Christmas Eve.
They go to church on Christmas Eve and return to a traditional dinner. The dinner consists of two main dishes. These are sauerkraut soup, and fish and potatoes salad.
After the main meals people eat a dish called Lok'e which is food made from pieces of baked risen dough with raisins and poppy seeds. They then also eat fruit such as apples, oranges, pineapples, bananas, and nuts and cakes.
After dinner they go to the Christmas tree where they find Christmas presents.
Christmas Eve, Wagilia, is an important part of the Polish Christmas, in fact, the most important rituals are celebrated on this day.
Poland is a land of intriguing traditions traditions and legends. So important is the first star of the night that Christmas Eve has been given the affectionate name of "little star" or "Gwiazdka," in remembrance of the star of Bethlehem. On that night, all watch the sky anxiously, hoping to be the first to cry out, "The star!' The moment the star appears, everyone exchanges greetings and good wishes. Families unite for the most carefully planned meal of the year, "Wigilia," Christmas supper.
According to tradition, bits of hay have been spread beneath the table cloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. An even number of people must be seated around the table or tradition states someone might die in the coming year.
Although "Wigilia" is a family feast, it's considered back luck to entertain a guest on this sacred night. In some places an empty place setting is left at the table in case a stranger should happen arrive.
Traditionally, there is no meat served during "Wigilia." Still, the meal is plentiful and luxurious. It begins with the breaking of the "Oplatek," a semi-transparent wafer of unleavened dough, stamped with scenes of the nativity. Everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ. Custom prescribes that the number of dishes in the meal be odd, 9 or 11. An even number would eliminate any hope of an increase in wealth, children or anything desirable.
Though the dishes vary between regions, certain items are found almost everywhere. Poppy seed cake, beet soup, fish, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, prune dumplings and noodles with poppy seed are universally Polish.
After supper, family and guests stay at the table until, at a signal from the host, they all rise in unison and leave. This is the result of an old belief that the first to rise will die before the next Christmas Eve. In some villages the peasants save the crumbs from this festive meal so they can sow them in the Spring. They are said to give medicinal power to the grasses upon which they are sprinkled.
The remainder of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. It is decorated with nuts, apples and ornaments made from eggshells, colored paper, straw, and painted. Christmas gifts are tucked below the tree. In some places, children are taught that "The Little Star" brings the gifts. As presents are wrapped, a rollers may float from house to house, receiving treats from tree and table.
At midnight, the little ones are put to bed and the elders attend "Pasterka," or Shepherd's Mass.
Traditionally, Advent is an important season in the Polish year, with special church services, known as Rororaty, being held every morning at 6am. The four Sundays of Advent are said to represent the 4,000 years of waiting for Christ.
During Advent and, in some homes, on Christmas Eve, bees wax is poured on water, and fortunes are told from the shapes which emerge. Special tasks carried out during Advent are the baking of the Christmas piernik (honey cake) and the making of Christmas decorations. Pierniki are made in a great variety of shapes, including hearts, animals and St Nicholas figures. Traditional decorations include the pajaki (spiders), which are handmade mobiles, stars and decorated egg shells.
Beautifully lit Christmas trees are placed in all public arenas, outside churches and in homes. Traditionally the trees are decorated with shiny apples, gift walnuts, beautifully wrapped chocolate shapes and many homemade decorations and candles. On the top of the tree is a star or a glittering top piece. In many homes, sparklers are hung on the branches of the trees giving it a magical air. Sometimes the trees are left standing until February 2nd, the feast day of St Mary of the Candle of Lightning.
During Advent, the Gwiadorze (star carriers) used to begin wandering through the towns and villages and this would continue until Epiphany. Some of the Gwiadorze sang carols, others recited verses or put on Szopi (puppet show) or herody (nativity scenes). The last two customs are developments from traditional manger scenes or Jaselka (crib).