Christmas is one of the most celebrated festivities in the world. Like every year, for centuries, December 25th is celebrated with a multitude of traditions. Each country has its own, but the spirit and atmosphere are similar all over the world.
Great Britain: Merry Christmas
Christmas in England wouldn’t be the same without the tradition of sending Christmas cards. In 1830, commissioned by an English inventor and entrepreneur, the painter and illustrator John Callcott Horsley created the first Christmas card. He painted nativity scenes on small cards, adding a sentence containing Christmas greetings. It was a great success.
France: Joyeux Noël
In France, the celebration of Christmas varies from region to region, but something remains the same all over the country: St. Nicholas (6th of December) and Père Noël (24th of December) bring presents to the children. With a difference: St. Nicholas brings presents only to the well behaved children, while his assistant, Père Fouettard, brings lumps of coal to the naughty ones.
Spain: Feliz Navidad
In Spain, the celebration of Christmas reaches its peak during the Nochebuena, literally good night in Spanish, the Christmas Eve. The family reunites for dinner at the grandparents’ house, the table is beautifully set and the traditional dishes and sweets are ready to be served. The day of the Epiphany, on January 6th, is celebrated with the roscón de reyes, a traditional sweet with a fava bean hidden inside. The lucky one, who finds it, will be the king of the night. Today, the fava bean has been replaced by a small toy.
Germany: Fröhliche Weihnachten
Decorating the Christmas tree is one of the greatest traditions in Germany, since 1750, when the first decorated trees grew popular in the country. Christmas trees became even more popular when Goethe visited Strasbourg (where the first one appeared in the early 17th century), and wrote about one in his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther.
Portugal: Feliz Natal
In such a Catholic country, Christmas is a very important celebration, especially Christmas Eve with the traditional dinner with cod, potatoes and vegetables. Once dinner is over, the leftovers remain on the table all night because the spirits of the dead will come to visit and enjoy the food.
Brazil: Feliz Natal
In Brazil, Christmas happens to be in summer. It goes without saying that Christmas dishes and traditions brought by the immigrants were adapted to the climate and local customs. But the Christmas tree never stopped to be a big deal. On December 8th, the Christmas tree is set up and on January 6th it is taken down. After New Year’s Eve, Brazilians start to get ready for the famous Carnival.
Poland: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia
In Poland, the celebration of Christmas begins with the appearance of the first star on Christmas Eve. The children stare at the sky and, as soon as the first twinkle appears, they all go to sit round the table. Before starting to eat, diners will enjoy, as the ancient tradition demands, the Oplatek: a very light wafer depicting images of the nativity. The Oplatek symbolizes family unity: relatives and friends take a piece of it as a symbol of love, friendship and forgiveness. And a piece is also served to the house pets.
Czech Republic: Veselé Vánoce
As in Poland, also in the Czech Republic, when the first star appears in the sky, all gather around the table which has been sumptuously set. Christmas is the celebration of abundance and, according to Czechs, the entire harvest of the year should be on the table. The traditional dish for Christmas is the carp, a fish that inhabits the lakes of South Bohemia, heavily breaded and fried, with potatoes as a side dish. It is must to keep a carp scale as a lucky charm for the oncoming year.
Romania: Craciun Fericit
In Romania Christmas wouldn’t be the same without listening to the colinde, the traditional Christmas carols. During the days preceding Christmas, colinde are taught to the children who will sing them on Christmas Eve, from house to house, in return they will receive fruits, nuts and a slice of colaci, typical Christmas sweet bread.
Slovakia: Veselé Vianoce
According to Slovakian, there are some dishes which bring good fortune when offered on Christmas Eve, such as waffles with honey, to preserve love and harmony in the family, or garlic for good health. As in the Czech Republic, the carp is the highlight of the dinner. In Slovakia, a longtime ago, they used to add a seat at the table just in case an unexpected guest would show up. Another tradition consisted in some money under the tablecloth as a wish for wealth and prosperity.
Ungary: Kellemes Karácsonyt
In Hungary, the tree must be decorated on Christmas Eve. In addition to the regular ornaments, it is a tradition to hang on the tree also small pieces of a traditional cake wrapped in shiny paper, looking as candies. The tree is decorated by the parents, while the children, in another room, will be called by a bell as soon as the Child Jesus has already left gifts for everyone.
Grecia: Kala Christouyenna
The main characteristic of Greek Christmas celebration is the presence kallikantzeri, hideous creatures that appear between Christmas Day and the day of Epiphany. These nasty monsters that live underground for the rest of the year, come alive during the Christmas season to tease and annoy everybody.
Sweden: God Jul
In Sweden, as in almost all of the Scandinavian countries, Christmas season starts with the celebration of Saint Lucia, on December 13, who brings presents to the children. On this day there is a great use of lights, since her name derives from the Latin lux, meaning light. According to the legend, Lucia lost his sight as she was being tortured to defend her faith. For this reason she is also the patron saint of the blind.
Finlandia: Hyvää Joulua
Many Finnish spend Christmas Eve in the sauna. It does not seem a bad idea considering that many others prefer to visit the cemetery to wish merry Christmas to their departed. At dinner time though, all gather around the table to celebrate Christmas and wait for Santa Claus, who lives nearby.