Christmas in Europe
Did you ever wonder how Christmas is celebrated in Europe? Check out here the most unique cultural customs in Christmas around Europe.
Most people worldwide are familiar with the Christmas holidays and Santa Claus. Usually, it is a family holiday. Everyone gathers to have a family dinner with delicious food, some red wine, and lots of presents.
Santa Claus is a chubby and plump, jolly old bearded man that goes around the world with a sleigh and his flying reindeers. Today’s Santa Claus version became popularised thanks to Coca-Cola.
Still, in Europe, many countries have different customs during Christmas originating either from Christianity or their own culture and lifestyle. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Since thousands of years ago, Greeks have been known as masters of sailing. Thus, in Greece you won’t see only Christmas trees, you will also see decorated boats. Greek wives and children would decorate wooden ships throughout history to welcome their husbands and sons back from the sea, safe from harm.
The Christmas season lasts from Christmas Eve to the Epiphany on January 6. Furthermore, traditionally most Greeks will wait until St. Basil Day on January 1 to exchange gifts. St. Basil is the equivalent of Santa Claus.
Like in Greece, in Spain, there’s no Santa Claus. The Three Kings or the Three Wise Men bring gifts to good children at Christmas. They also don’t come on Christmas Eve. Instead, towns and cities hold huge Three Kings parades on the night of January 5, where the Kings parade through the towns on floats and throw out sweets for the kids.
Portal de Beléns, meaning ‘stable of Bethlehem’, is the incredible nativity scene found across Spain at Christmas time. They’re more than just a few figurines in a stable. These are huge and elaborate nativity scenes, with houses, markets, farms, rivers, and all kinds of characters.
Although you’ll also find a holy and jolly ambiance in Austria, there’s also a far more sinister Christmas tradition that originates here. The Krampus is a scary-looking creature who has appeared during Advent in Austria for centuries.
The half-goat, half-demon beast is the definition of an anti-Santa Claus, and folklore has it that he whips naughty children with his bundle of birch sticks and drags them down to his lair in hell. The night of December 5 is known as Krampusnacht or Krampus Night.
Adults dress up to scare kids, and there are often parades in the streets, sometimes even a Krampuslauf or Krampus run, where hundreds of Krampuses fill the streets.
A Christmas legend in Italy that dates back to medieval times is La Befana, an old witch-like woman invited by the Three Wise Men to join them in visiting Baby Jesus. The story goes that La Befana declined at first as she had too much housework to do. She later changed her mind and looked for them with her broom and a basket of homemade goods for Mary, who she thought might prefer a clean floor and some food to other gifts.
But she was unable to find them. She even ran so fast to catch up with them that she was lifted into the sky on her broom. So every year on the night of January 5, La Befana visits all the homes in Italy in search of the Three Wise Men and Baby Jesus, bearing sweets, which she leaves for the good children, and coal, which is given to the naughty ones.
Nowadays, kids put out stockings for La Befana to fill with gifts, as well as a glass of wine and a plate of sausage and broccoli for her.