Christmas is fast approaching, and different cultures celebrate in different ways. To get into the spirit I would like to take you on a journey around the world exploring special and unique traditions in different countries!
In most towns in Italy the most common thing is to have the “presepe” which is the crib scene that helps tell the Christmas story of Mary and Jesus. Most of the time the main crib scene will be set up in the center square where people line up to visit, but many people also prepare them in their houses. They are usually put out on the 8th of December when Italians put up their Christmas trees but Jesus isn’t usually put in until Christmas Eve.
Family is very important in Italy and especially at Christmas, so traditionally celebrations run over 3 days, the 24th, 25th, and 26th where they spend the days and evenings together. Italians love to eat so there is always food. Their meals consist of many courses including pasta, fish, meat and then they finishe off with some traditional Christmas sweets such as panettone (bready sponge cake with dried fruit) and torrone (a nutty, chocolately sweet) The evenings are usually spent chatting around the table playing “Tombola” (Italian bingo) drinking prosecco.
One of the most popular Christmas traditions in Switzerland is Advent which marks the start of Christmas preparations. Real advent calendars are used in some villages where the owners of houses decorate “advent windows”. Each evening the houses, in turn, hold a party for the villagers where they play music and offer food and mulled wine.
Christmas markets are also very popular in the big towns which attract not only locals but also lots of tourists. There are all different stalls which offer different types of food, sweets, mulled wine and Christmas decorations.
It is common for the Swiss to use real Christmas trees which can be brought on the side of the road the week before Christmas and usually decorated on Christmas Eve using real candles. The main meal is also on Christmas Eve and they like to enjoy meals such as Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes and walnut cake or Christmas cookies for desert.
Christmas in Hungary is in the Middle of Winter and usually it is snowing. Hungarians enjoy getting their coats, hats and boots on and having walks in the fresh air.
Santa Clause comes on the 6th of December and brings sweets and chocolate for children. Then on the 24th of December everyone puts up their trees, (always real ones, never plastic), and the main celebration is that evening where they usually dress in their finest clothes and have an intimate dinner with their loved ones. Dinner usually consists of fish, often including a thick fish soup with paprika and then cakes and biscuits. The atmosphere is intimate, quiet and holy.
Christmas Day and Boxing day is spent with extended family and friends and meals usually consist of duck or turkey with stuffed cabbage (with minced meat)
Some like to visit the graves of lost loved ones and light a candle for them to show they are still part of Christmas.
A well known tradition in Sweden is the Saint Lucia Festival which is celebrated on the 13th of December, the shortest day of the year. Girls dress as Lucia’s maidens in a white gown and a red sash with a wreath of candles on her head. They walk the streets of cities and towns giving out saffron buns and singing songs. It is thought that those who celebrate St Lucy’s day will help them get through the long Winter days with enough light.
Christmas Eve, the 24th is when the Swedish have their main Christmas celebrations. They put their tree up the night before after the children go to bed so that the children are surprised in the morning when they come down the stairs to a beautifully decorated tree and the house smelling like pepparkakor, which is a gingerbread biscuit.
There is an abundance of food with a Swedish smorgasbord full of lots of different little dishes. Fish dishes include pickled herring, gravadlax (pickled salmon) with mustard sauce, new potatoes and even fermented fish. The meat dishes are pig dominated with Swedish meatballs, prince wieners, cold ham, and the pig fat that you dip bread in. Of course they love to drink snaps with their meal!
Australians celebrate Christmas in the middle of Summer so it is usually very hot. Christmas Eve is usually spent singing carols either by attending one of the many events in the big cities where big performers sing, or watching it at home on TV where it is broadcasted. Children leave milk and cookies (or sometimes even beer or whiskey) for Santa Clause by the Christmas tree for him to have when he delivers the presents that evening and are usually in bed early. (So that the parents can then fill the tree with presents).
Christmas Day is usually spent with family opening presents, and exchanging gifts. Aussies love having a barbeque or eating cold ham, turkey, or seafood. When setting the table there is a Christmas cracker (bon-bon) for each person which is a wrapped up cardboard tube with a prize inside. During the meal, you and the person next to you pull each end and the lucky person holding the longest end wins the prize.
Wherever you are in the world this Christmas, have a fabulous time with Friends and Family!