Christmas in Western Europe


photo by Victoria Muller

Zoom in of the European drawing of a globe in front of a Christmas tree. Christmas is celebrated differently throughout the world.

From one country to another, Christmas traditions aren’t the same.

“It depends on the region you live in,” Giorgia Iannone who lives in Italy said.

“I would say it varies from household to household,” Sophie Fiebig who lives in Germany said.

The dates are not exactly the same either. In Germany and France, people celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, the 24, and sometimes on the 25 or 26.

“We [Dutch] have two holidays. ‘Sinterklaas’ (Saint Nicolas) on December 5 and Christmas on December 25 and 26”, Larou De Jong who lives in the Netherlands said.

“In Italy, we celebrate Christmas on the 25 but it’s also a holiday on the 24, ‘Vigilia di Natale’ and the 26, it’s called ‘Santo Stefano,’ but we don’t really do anything on that day,” Iannone said.

“We [Spanish] celebrate Christmas the 25, although there’s also a celebration for the three wise men January 6 where there’s also gifts brought overnight to the kids, and the family gets together,” Oscar Garcia who lives in Spain said.

Christmas meals are bigger and more festive than any other meals in all European countries, but they vary a lot depending on the region and family.

“[In Germany] The meal on Christmas Eve is a little lighter, with potato salad and wiener sausages for example, while we have a very rich meal on Christmas Day. This usually includes some kind of meat, for us, it is usually roast duck, but we’ve also had rabbit or even deer,” Fiebig said. “There will also always be sides of boiled red cabbage, Brussel sprouts, peas, carrots, a sauce for the meat, and a kind of potato dumpling called a ‘Kloß,’ making a very delicious meal.”

“For the Christmas meal, the French eat foie gras (duck liver), oysters, stag, turkey or salmon, sometimes caviar. The sides vary from the family; it can be potatoes or risotto. For the dessert, there is obviously the traditional ‘Bûche au Chocolat’ (a cake which has the shape of a yule log), Christmas shortbreads, Chocolate truffles, gingerbread, or mousse,” Roxane Muller a French teenager said. “It’s also an opportunity to open the best wine or champagne bottles.”

“In my region [Italy], we usually eat tortellini. On New Year’s Eve, we have a thing called “cotechino,” which is basically a gelatinous pork sausage in a natural casing, with lentils,” Iannone said.

“For Christmas, my family usually has a lot of seafood, shrimps are really common, but it’s mixed with a lot of other plates just like U.S. Thanksgiving,” Garcia said.

“A typical Christmas dinner for us [Dutch] is normally soup, meat, and things like that, but it’s different per families,” De Jong said.

“On the 25, French people usually have a full breakfast: croissant, pain au chocolat, baguette, eggs, raw vegetables, etc,” Muller said.

Legends and old traditions, like tales or the person who brings gifts to children, vary too.

“In Germany, we get our gifts from the ‘Weihnachtsmann’ which translates to Christmas man so I guess it is just our way of saying Santa Clause,” Fiebig said.

“Spain is one of the most deeply rooted catholic countries in Europe and only the birth of Jesus is celebrated,” Garcia said.

“Our kids [Dutch kids] don’t believe in Santa. They just received their presents from their parents on the 25, but they believe in Saint Nicolas who comes on the 5,” De Jong said.

In Italy and France, children believe in Santa Clause. But in Italy, a little old woman called Befana comes on Epiphany day (January 6) in order to give to good children toys and sweets, and coal to children who haven’t. In France, children are scared of the ‘Père Fouetard’ which can be translated by the beating father, he looks like the Boogeyman. He would come with his whip and his coal bag to give a punishment to bad kids on Christmas night.   

“Every year on December 5, children all over Germany clean their boots and put them outside their door, and when they wake up on the morning of the 6, their boots are stuffed with little presents. If you have been good you get treats, if you have been bad you get a cane made from pine tree twigs,” Fiebig said.

“We [Spanish] don’t have many traditions, but on every New Year’s Eve at 12:00 a.m. we have to eat 12 grapes at each ring of Plaza Mayor’s bell in Madrid, for a year of good luck,” Garcia said.

“Some [French] families attend the ‘Messe de Minuit’ (Mass of Midnight) on the 24, but most Christians go to church earlier at 7:00 p.m. for example. Then we come back home and start a very good and long meal, which ends very late, at one or two a.m.,” Romain Du Bois, a French teenager said.

“I was fascinated by the tradition of putting and filling up stockings. We don’t do that in Germany and I thought it was such a lovely idea,” Fiebig said.

In the West of Europe, there are fewer traditions than in the United States, because this celebration is exclusively religious. With the birth of Jesus, it is more an occasion to gather with your family and friends to share a good meal than anything else.

“I think you feel more Christmas in the U.S. than in Italy. Because in the U.S. you start feeling Christmas in November, we do that after December 8. The 8 is a holiday for us so we usually decorate our house with Christmas stuff, hang out Christmas lights, and put the Christmas tree on this day.” Iannone said.