The beginning of December marks, along with the last month of the year, my favourite holiday – Christmas! This month, I will enjoy writing about traditions, carols, and special recipes for Christmas! Today we are going to enjoy some Christmas Traditions from the UK, Italy, Portugal, France and Spain!
What are some Christmas Traditions in your country?
The United Kingdom
- “Deck the Halls” was originally a pagan Yuletide drinking song, with the melody taken from a 16th century Welsh song (“Nos Galan”) and the “fa la la” repetition possibly dating back to medieval ballads. The English lyrics (by Scottish composer Thomas Oliphant) didn’t come along until 1862.
- Christmas cards, which originated in England, were first sent in the 1840s.
- People enjoy decorating a Christmas Tree, and “fighting” over Christmas Crackers.
- Holly and Ivy are also used as decorations, and people serve Christmas Pudding, a pudding composed of many dried fruits held together by egg and suet, sometimes moistened by treacle or molasses and flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and other spices.
- According to Italian legend, a kind witch called “La Befana” flies around on her broomstick on the night of January 5th, bringing gifts to worthy children and lumps of coal to the naughty ones.
- In front of St Peters cathedral in Vatican City, a huge Christmas tree is put up and many families buy tickets to get entrance to the festive midnight-mass which is held by the Pope.
- The whole month of December is filled with joy, there is a festive atmosphere, and Christmas markets with various stalls serve typical food, Christmas sweets and gifts.
- On the 6th of December, many families celebrate St Nicholas Day. Children write letters to St Nicholas asking for gifts, and they hang up a sock on St Nicholas day’s eve.
- During the festive season and Christmas in Italy, a nativity scene, a ‘presepe’, is usually put up in churches, town squares and often in houses and is for many the most important parts of Christmas decorations.
- On Christmas Eve, as in the old Catholic tradition, often no food is eaten during the day as this is a fast day. The festive celebrations start after midnight mass. Nowadays, ‘Babbo Natale’, the Father Christmas, brings presents to children on Christmas eve.
- “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” originally written in Latin in the 17th century, has been attributed to King John IV of Portugal.
- On Christmas Eve Portuguese families gather around the Christmas tree and the Crèche to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Catholicism is the main religion in Portugal. Thus, the Crèche is a very important part of the celebration. Traditionally, children are in charge of collecting materials for the Crèche.
- Most children write letters to Infant Jesus asking for presents rather than to Santa Claus.
- Some families will open the presents (that are displayed around the Christmas tree) on Christmas Eve around midnight. Others open them in the morning of the 25th, Christmas Day. Some families put one shoe (“sapatinho”) of each child next to the chimney (since most of the kitchens in Portugal have one) or next to the fireplace instead of a stocking.
- On Christmas Day, people eat stuffed turkey for lunch and the traditional desserts.
- During the holiday season towns are decorated with lights.
- The festivities end on January 6, “Dia de Reis”.
- “Il est né, le divin enfant,” which has been recorded by everyone from Plácido Domingo and The Chieftains to Annie Lennox, is a classic French carol.
- The four weeks before Christmas are dedicated to preparations for Christmas. On the 1st of December, children open their first ‘window/door’ in the Advent calendar. This French Christmas tradition makes kids even more excited about upcoming Christmas events.
- “The thirteen desserts” is a Provençal French Christmas tradition but worth mentioning as it sounds so ‘challenging’ – can you imagine having 13 desserts after the main (big) Christmas feast? In France they are important as they symbolise Christ and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper. Typical desserts include fruits, nuts and sweets such as dried figs, hazelnuts or walnuts, almonds and dried grapes or a cake called Pompe à l’huile. As part of this Christmas tradition in France, everyone has to taste each dessert in order to have good luck for the upcoming year.
- Mulled wine is popular in bars and in French Christmas markets, although you won’t see it so much at French houses. During Christmas dinner a very good wine is required and Champagne is imperative.
- French children put their shoes near the fireplace so that Père Noël can find them and fill them with small presents or treats.
- Mistletoe is popular in French Christmas traditions and used as an important decorative item. People hang it above the door during the Christmas season, where it is supposed to bring good luck during the the coming year.
- These are the nativity scenes or crèches displayed in many French homes. There are little clay figures called santons or little saints in the crèche, which you can buy from Christmas markets. There are plenty of pieces available for sale so you can create a small or huge crèche at home.
- The 6 January is a day to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings. Some places in France perform a street procession of the Three Kings for children to watch.
- In Catalonia, Spain, they have a uniquely bizarre holiday tradition known as the Caga Tió, or pooping log. Kids will decorate a small log by adding wooden legs, a face, clothing, and a Catalan hat. They’ll keep the log in their home or school, feeding it small pieces of bread or fruit every day. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, they hit the Caga Tió with a stick while singing a special song encouraging him to poop out plenty of sweets, such as turrón (a popular nougat), for them.
- Have you ever heard of King Cake, the popular dessert served in New Orleans during Mardi Gras season? The Spanish have a similar tradition of serving a sweet bread ring known as Roscón de Reyes on January 6, during celebrations of Día de reyes (Kings’ Day), to commemorate the arrival of the 3 Wise Men. This Christmas cake is usually topped with crushed almonds, candied fruits, and powdered sugar, and sometimes stuffed with whipped or almond cream. There’s usually a baby Jesus figurine (or a dry fava bean to represent him) stuffed inside the cake, and the lucky person who finds it gets to buy the following year’s roscón.
- Apart from Christmas, there is another festival that is celebrated in Spain that is about the Christmas Story. It is called Epiphany and is celebrated on 6th January. In Spanish, Epiphany is called ‘Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages’: in English this means ‘The festival of the three Magic Kings’.
- Most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve before the service. The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner was ‘Pavo Trufado de Navidad’ which is Turkey stuffed with truffles (the mushrooms, not the chocolate ones!) or ‘Pularda asada’ (a roasted young hen), although they are not commonly eaten now. In Galicia (a region in north-west Spain, surrounded by water) the most popular meal for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day is seafood. This can be all kinds of different seafood, from shellfish and mollusks, to lobster and small edible crabs.
- Popular deserts and sweets include ‘mazapán’ (made of almonds, sugar and eggs), ‘turrón’ (made of honey and toasted almonds) and ‘polvorones’ (made of flour, butter and sugar).
- After the midnight service, one old tradition was for people to walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums. One Spanish saying is ‘Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormir’ which means ‘Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping!’
- A few different languages are spoken in different regions in Spain. In Spanish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Feliz Navidad’; in Catalan it’s ‘Bon Nadal’; in Galician ‘Bo Nadal’; and in Basque (or Euskara in basque) ‘Eguberri on’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
- December 28th is ‘Día de los santos inocentes’ or ‘Day of the Innocent Saints’ and is very like April Fools Day in the UK and USA. People try to trick each other into believing silly stories and jokes. Newspapers and TV stations also run silly stories. If you trick someone, you can call them ‘Inocente, inocente’ which means ‘innocent, innocent’.
Please find below the sources for the information above!