Christmas started as a predominantly Christian festival and the traditions associated with it were pretty similar everywhere you went. However, through the centuries Christmas has morphed into a huge, multicultural event with Santa Claus, gifts and fairy lights now dominating the holiday season.
Christmas means something different to everyone. Here’s how some countries across Europe choose to celebrate.
Ireland has many Christmas traditions, most of them stemming from the islands’s Catholic and Gaelic heritage.
The ‘Candle in the Window’ is a tradition that was very popular in the 1970s. It’s a symbolic gesture which is intended to show welcome to Mary and Joseph as they sought a place to rest for the night.
Somewhat strangely the single candle in recent times has been replaced by electric candles in the shape of a Jewish Menorah.
Although Christmas traditionally celebrates the birth of Christ, Irish people generally consider Mary to be the most important person in the nativity story. Some traditions dictate that the candle in the window can only be lit and extinguished by a girl called Mary.
Christmas has long been associated with the giving of gifts, but in France these gifts aren’t necessarily given on Christmas Day, as they are elsewhere. In the north of France, some children receive their gifts on 6 December, the date of the feast of St Nicolas. Other families exchange gifts on Christmas Eve and some even wait until the Feast of the Kings on January 6.
The children of most countries who celebrate Christmas enjoy writing their letters to Santa. But did you know that France actually has a law stating that every letter written to Santa must be replied to?!
In what sounds like more of a Halloween tradition than a festive one, in Southern Bavaria they celebrate Krampus Night. A group of men wearing devil masks march to every house in the village. When invited in they scare the children into good behaviour ready for Christmas. Any child who refuses to repent is dragged outside and dunked in the snow.
After the child scaring the fearsome group then head of to the pub for the rest of the evening.
A more gentle tradition is of course the Christmas market and mulled wine. Fortunately it is this tradition that has spread worldwide, and not the former.
One of the things that confuses visitor’s the most when settling down to their Christmas dinner in the UK is the Christmas cracker. The hosts will be equally as confused as they won’t realise that this is something that other countries don’t have.
A cracker is basically a brightly coloured paper tube, when pulled by two people it emits a bang. Inside is usually a party hat, a present and a joke.
The mince pie is also a predominantly British phenomenon. Containing no meat it has been a staple of Christmas since the 13th century when returning knights would bring exciting new flavours such as nutmeg and cinnamon, and then add them to traditional fruit pies.