Most of us agree: Christmas time is a time of reflection, family and tradition. You’re drawn to the comforting warmth of the hearth, the children making hand-made Christmas decorations, decorate the tree and munch on peppermints. Christian traditions and customs surrounding the celebration of Christmas have taken on starkly different forms in their journey around the globe – for instance many celebrate Christmas Eve on the 24th of December and use the following days of Christmas to relax and visit friends and family. Orthodox Christians, however, follow the Julian Calendar, and thus don’t celebrate Christmas until the 7th of January.
At the same time, the Christmas season is an undeniable boon for the economy – thanks to films and television, this holiday has spread to the farthest corners of the globe, such that Christmas (known in India as the “Big Day”) is celebrated even by non-Christians. The appetite for commercial enterprise goes through the roof this time of year: in the USA, it’s become a modern tradition to ring in the holiday watching the classic “Home Alone” movies or greeting Santa Claus atop his Coca Cola truck.
The carp in the bathtub
In many countries, the Christmas Eve feast is particularly decadent, as it often marks the end of the fasting season. In Central and Eastern Europe, the end of this Christian fasting season is marked by a meal of fish (usually carp). In the Czech Republic, carp is purchased live and lovingly cared for in the family bath tub during its last days (side question: does this mean that on the days before Christmas you have to bathe with the carp?). In contrast, in Estonia, Latvia and Luxemburg, blood sausage (with the obligatory applesauce) is a normal component of the Christmas meal.
In Scandinavian countries like Finland and Sweden, the Christmas ham (such as the Swedish Julskinka on the richly laid Julbord) is an indispensable part of the Christmas meal, while in Iceland, lamb is the preferred dish of the day. As an antidote to cold, most Scandinavian countries enjoy a type of spiced mulled wine with almonds and berries (known in Sweden as Glögg). In Iceland and Denmark, after the meal it’s also common to eat rice pudding with an almond hidden inside – whoever finds the almond receives a small gift.
Santa Claus and his elves
Many young children (and maybe even a few adults) believe in Santa Claus, who delivers presents by sliding down the chimney. This custom is so widespread that in Australia, children await sweets left on the mantle (although Christmas in Australia is in the summertime, and hardly anyone has a fireplace). In Finland, Santa Claus is a bit more direct, and just knocks on the front door.
Santa is supported in his work by all manner of elves and sprites. In Sweden, they’re known as Tomte, in Denmark, Norway and the Faroe Islands, the Nisse (a kind of gnome-St. Nicholas) is said to take refuge in houses and stables, protecting homes and pets and playing pranks when mistreated.
But Santa Claus isn’t always the one who brings the gifts: in The Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, the baby Jesus is the one who makes the delivery. In Spain, children have to wait for the arrival of the Three Kings on January 6th.
Luck in the new year
With all sorts of customs, people across the world use Christmas as a transition to the new year and a playful chance to glimpse the future. In Germany, Austria and Slovakia, for example, place branches from fruit trees, known as Barbarazweige, into containers of water on December 4th. If the branches flower before Christmas, this is thought to be a sign of luck in the new year. In Bulgaria and Macedonia, a coin is hidden in a loaf of bread before the big meal. The bread is broken and shared, and whoever finds the lucky coin is said to receive luck and health.
Christmas is getting closer, and last minute preparations are already underway. Have you already finished your Christmas shopping? In case you haven’t, have a look at our blog post from last week, where we give you our top 10 tips for must-have Christmas gifts. At the top of the list, of course, is tripwolf Unlimited, which you can give as a gift with a 25% discount – only until Christmas! You can learn more here.