Christmas In Europe
Many Christmas traditions in Europe have very deep roots. They can be established from pagan practices and even mythology. These traditional celebrations can be quite different from modern American ones. St. Nicholas Feast Day is practiced in a lot of Eastern European countries. There are 12 dishes in a Christmas Eve dinner and carolers dot the streets. Children follow the life of St. Nicholas and try and emulate what he would do. The evening of December 5th has kids wearing both devil and angel costumes (some of each), and caroling from door to door, where they may receive presents.
Santa may visit some children on the morning of December sixth. Tannenbaun is the German name for Christmas tree and there’s a Christmas song called Oh Tannenbaum. In English it’s known as Oh, Christmas Tree. The advent wreath is another European tradition and it has four candles which are lit on each Sunday in December. Advent calendars are made from paper and a child can open one door each day of December and see a little scene revealed.
St. Andrew’s Day occurs on the last day of November and it’s the first of two prophesizing days. The second is St. Barbara’s Day which is on December 4th. In Santa Barbara, California, a real person portrays Saint Barbara at the head of their (held in August) Fiesta Parade and entertainment. In Europe, Santa gives gifts out to children on December 6th, and the night of December 13th is St. Lucia’s Day and the night is taken over by bad spirits.
Feast and meals are a tradition in Europe and they can be associated with fasting as well. The French have 7 meatless meals before attending church mas on Christmas Eve. Roast meat and wine break the fast after the service. Danish families eat biscuits, cookies, biscuits, and small cakes made by children. Lunches are long affairs, and fish, pudding, cold meats, fish, biscuits and cheese, and beer and schnapps are served. Lithuanians hold a Christmas Eve supper called kucios. This is to break the fasting held for several days before Christmas.
In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, and a few other Central European countries, the main public celebration date is December 24th. This can be a fasting day and children are said to be able to see a golden piglet if they don’t eat until dinner. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the main dish is fried carp and potato salad and cabbage or fish soup. Some areas prefer mushrooms and porridge while other homes eat and serve from twelve rich entrees and desserts.
Gifts are given out after dinner and they can be from the Christkind (Little Jesus), or parents. Gifts have been placed under the Christmas tree and the children’s names are written on stickers. Under Soviet influence, the Russian tradition of Grandfather Frost was promoted heavily. Many people like to attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Bethlehem cribs, trees, garlands and mistletoe are a tradition in Europe. Santa Claus comes early to visit children in several countries. This is on December 6th, or St. Nicholas Day. Candy bags and presents are deposited into shoes which children have placed on window ledges the night before.
Santa, without his sleigh and reindeer, may visit families accompanied by his devil-like servant called Krampus. Krampus gives out no presents, but gold-colored birch twigs for naughty children. Most children get both twigs and presents. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Christmas Eve is called Generous Day. Gifts are brought by baby Jesus and any old traditions are celebrated with a fun twist and attitude. Families can fast on Christmas Eve and will eat a small amount of sauerkraut soup for a little energy. Children wait to open presents and when they hear the Christmas bell, they may do so.
Other traditions are predicting the future and if someone cuts an apple across the middle and a star appears, then they’ll have a great year. If it’s a warped-looking star, then that means bad luck or sickness. If a girl throws a shoe over her shoulder and the toe points outward, then she’ll be getting married in the near future. In a few instances, molten lead is poured into water and messages are guessed from the shapes which form.
In Austria, Knecht Ruprecht is often a companion of St. Nicholas. In a lot of German-speaking countries, presents are delivered on Christmas Eve by the Christ Child. He rings a bell before entering, but is invisible. In protestant circles, a late afternoon church service comes before the Christmas Eve meal, and then gifts are exchanged. Lutheran churches may offer midnight candlelight services.
Christmas trees are usually erected and decorated in the morning, on December 24th. In many families, it is customary to sing Christmas songs before opening presents. Potato salad with hot dogs cut up in it are a favorite dish for German families.