Discovering European ways to celebrate the holidays
Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. I love hanging ornaments on the tree, making colorful sugar cookies, sipping apple cider by the fire, and spending time with my family.
When I was younger, my brother and I had the tradition of running around our house 100 times before going to bed on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember how this got started, but my best guess is that our parents initiated it to tire us out. It worked every year!
This holiday season, my husband and I are backpacking in Europe, so I wanted to research how Christmas is celebrated across the pond (and how we can join in). Here are the customs and traditions that I discovered.
While children in the United States leave their stockings hanging above the fireplace, children in France leave their shoes on the hearth for Père Noël, or “Father Christmas.” On Christmas Eve, Père Noël makes his appearance and stuffs gifts into the children’s shoes while the families are at the evening Mass. On Christmas Day, well-behaved boys and girls search their shoes for presents and spend the day playing with them.
If you are planning on having Christmas in France, then check out the city of Colmar. Located in Alsace, this charming village is made up of pastel-colored, timber-framed buildings that date back to medieval times. The shops, restaurants, and Christmas markets are impressively decorated to celebrate the season. Every year, a children’s choir sings Christmas carols on decorated boats in the canal in the “Petite Venise” district of the city (Wednesday and Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.). It’s a magical sight that you won’t want to miss.
Christmas in the Czech Republic is about more than just celebrating the current holiday season. It’s also about predicting what the new year will bring. On Christmas Eve, families take part in a variety of fortune-telling practices. For example, they slice open apples to determine their health. Star shaped cores predict good health, while square shared cores predict poor health. Families in the Czech Republic also float walnut shells, pour molten lead into water, and perform many other acts to to help determine the future in the coming year!
If you are planning a trip to the Czech Republic during Christmas, then make sure you spend some time in Prague. The city hosts a variety of festive activities in the Old Town Square. Head down to the “Center of Christmas” and explore the Christmas market stalls that sell food, drinks, and holiday gifts. Don’t forget to take a moment to admire the giant, ornately-decorated Christmas tree thats in the center of the square.
Children in Belgium start the Christmas season earlier than others. Sinterklaas or “Saint Nicholas” delivers presents on December 6, which is the feast day of the Saint. However that doesn’t mean the Christmas season is over. Children also receive a second delivery of gifts under their trees by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Lucky them!
If you are planning a trip to Belgium for Christmas, then carve out some time to see Brussels. The city hosts an event called Winter Wonders at the Grand-Place. The event has become extremely popular with the locals and it lasts for five weeks from November 25 until New Year’s Day. It’s very family friendly with a ferris wheel, merry-go-round, ice skating rink, and of course, a Christmas market! The evening gets extra festive with a light show by the massive Christmas tree.
Although decorating Christmas trees is a worldwide tradition, Germany can take credit for its origin. Bakers in the town of Freiburg setup the first known Christmas tree, or “Tannenbaum,” in 1419. The bakers decorated the tree with sweets, fruits, and baked goods. It became a tradition for children to remove the treats on New Year’s Day. In today’s world, families in Germany continue to decorate their trees with sweets, tinsel, and real wick candles. Parents place gifts for the children beneath the evergreen bows. While the children open their gifts at Christmas, they still have to wait until New Year’s to eat the sweets that decorated the tree!
If you are considering Christmas in Germany, then plan a trip to Nuremberg. Christmas is king at the Christkindlesmarkt (another Christmas market!) which dates back to 1628. You can feel the holiday spirit in the air, smell the aromas of baked goods, and taste the most delicious spiced mulled wine. Apart from browsing the market for gifts, try the famous Nuremberg gingerbread, or “Lebkuchen.” The city is world-famous for these soft, tasty treats. Try the ones dipped in chocolate! You can also taste the equally popular fire-roasted bratwurst sausages. Yum!
Christmas in Europe is a special time. Each country has their own way of celebrating, so the season is fresh and exciting wherever you go. Why not mix things up this year and discover new holiday traditions around the world?
Where do you want to experience new Christmas traditions?
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