7 European Christmas Traditions

7 European Christmas Traditions


In New Zealand, we tend to enjoy presents and a Christmas feast on 25 December, but Christmas is celebrated slightly differently in Europe. Here are seven Christmas traditions from around Europe.

1. Germany

For many European countries, the 6th of December marks St Nicholas Day. On this day in Germany, children will put shoes outside their front door for St Nicholas to leave presents if they’ve been good. However, if they’ve been naughty, his servant Knecht Ruprecht will leave twigs for them instead, as a warning to be good next year. On Christmas Eve morning, a Christmas tree will be brought inside the family home where families will decorate the tree and exchange gifts after dinner.

2. Austria

Besides most towns having a Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) from late November to December, many Austrian towns also put up a second smaller Christmas tree, decorated with treats for the birds to eat. At home, Austrians like to decorate their Christmas tree with silver and gold ornaments, with stars made from straw.

3. Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic, it is the Baby Jesus who delivers the gifts to the children. Whilst Christmas Eve dinner of fish soup (made of carp), fried carp and potato salad is served in another location, the Baby Jesus will leave the gifts under the Christmas tree. Once all the gifts have been left, he will ring a bell signalling the gifts have arrived and the children can open these after dinner. 

4. Slovakia

In Slovakia, the main Christmas meal called ‘velija’ comprises 12 dishes, symbolising the 12 disciples and includes a fish dish and Kapustnica – a thick cabbage soup with sausage, meat, dried mushrooms and cream. Christmas traditions include cleaning the house and windows ready for Christmas Day, putting fish scales under dinner plates for good luck whilst unmarried women will throw shoes over their shoulders on Christmas Eve to see if they will be married in the New Year. If the shoe lands with the toe pointing towards the door, she will get married next year.

5. Hungary

On the 6th of December, children in Hungary will receive small toys or sweets in their shoes from Mikulás – their version of Father Christmas that have been placed on the windowsill. On Christmas Eve, a spicy, paprika-based fisherman’s soup (halaszle) will be served as an entrée to kick off the Christmas feast. This bright red hot soup was traditionally prepared in large cauldrons over fires by fishermen who fished along the Danube and Tisza rivers. 

6. France

In France, just like in many other European countries, children leave their shoes out to be filled with treats by Père Noël rather than a stocking above a fireplace. The main Christmas meal is eaten late Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning once people have returned from their midnight Church Service. The meal called Réveillon typically includes roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, foie gras, venison and cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël is normally eaten.

7. Netherlands

In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) is believed to come from Spain and on the last Saturday in November he arrives by boat. It is rumoured however that any child that has been naughty this year will be taken back to Spain on the boat. Catch sight of St Nicholas as he travels throughout the Netherlands, dressed in dark red bishop’s robes and a hat, whilst travelling on a white horse called Amerigo. He will also be accompanied by his assistant Black Peter (Zwarte Piet), dressed in black with his face covered in soot. He is the one who goes down the chimney to leave gifts for the children. On Sinterklaas Avond on December 5, children will traditionally leave a shoe out for St Nicholas with a carrot or hay for his horse. In the morning, the carrot and hay will be replaced with small gifts.
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