We take you on a journey around Europe to see how Christmas is brought to life and the New Year is welcomed in!
Sweden and Denmark
Sweden knows how to build anticipation and create a festive feeling in one go: the calendar candle – which looks a little like a tape measure with markings from one to 24 – is commonly lit during mealtimes to count the days to Christmas.
If a Christmas in Sweden sounds magical to you, remember that in Denmark, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, December 24th. A feast of roast duck, roast goose or roast pork is served up with all the colours of the festive season: boiled and sweet potatoes, beetroot, red cabbage and cranberry jam. The poultry is roasted with a stuffing of apples and prunes and is commonly followed by a dessert of rice pudding with whipped cream, vanilla and almonds, topped with warm cherry sauce, known as ris à l’amande. If you’d like to recreate the dish for yourself, be sure to hide a peeled almond in one portion, and have a little present ready for whoever finds it!
In Germany, Christkind is a fairy-like being who brings gifts to children over Christmas. Children write letters to Christkind which they leave on their windowsills, often decorating them with sugar to make them shimmer beautifully in the moonlight.
For a taste of a German Christmas, try a Christstollen. This loaf-shaped cake contains dried fruit, nuts, spices and sugar, often with marzipan and icing sugar. Traditionally, the first Christstollen is not cut until the first Sunday of Advent.
Anyone wanting an even bigger taste of the Christollen tradition should join in the festivities at Dresden’s Stollen Festival – Stollenfest. This year, December 7th will mark the 20th Stollen Festival. Visitors witness the grand unveiling of the Giant Stollen, which is paraded around the streets before being divided up at the ceremony of the First Cut using the traditional Grand Stollen Knife.
Presents are given on December 6th which is Nikolaustag, St. Claus day. Children leave a shoe outside their door the night before in the hope that they’ll find it full of presents. Naughty children may open their door to find nothing more than a rod in their footwear, however, in line with German tradition.
Many of us may be unknowingly enjoying a German Christmas tradition already, as the Advent calendar was first printed in Germany in the 19th century.
If you’d love to get that Christmassy feeling in France, you needn’t be there for December 25th: in some parts of France, le Père Noë (Father Christmas) delivers presents and sweets on December 6th, which is also the feast day of Saint Nicolas in the North and North-East of France.
Traditionally, French people gather on Christmas Eve for a feast called le réveillon which takes place either in their homes or in a restaurant. So for a traditional French Christmas dining experience, spend Christmas Eve filling your belly with les huîtres (oysters) les escargots (snails), le caviar and l’oie (goose) roasted and perfectly complemented with a good glass of le vin (wine). Delicious!
A French Christmas will be very much centred around children, with adults sometimes missing out on receiving presents, but the adults get the perfect opportunity to let their hair down on New Year’s Eve, la Saint-Sylvestre: a feast called le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre provides the opportunity to indulge in delicacies such as champagne and foie gras, and eating is sometimes followed with a rather grand ball – une soirée dansante. At midnight, kisses are exchanged under mistletoe, as are best wishes for the year ahead.
If you want to be in Italy to see all the Christmas trees, decorations and nativity scenes go up in houses all over the country, be there for Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione (The Feast of the Immaculate Conception) on December 8th. This national holiday is sure to get you feeling festive!
A rather lovely Italian tradition takes place in the build-up to Christmas: children often write letters telling their parents how much they love them and promising to be good in the New Year, and the letter is then hidden under their father’s plate or napkin at Christmas Eve dinner, and is read after the meal.
©Davide “Dodo” Oliva/flickr.com