Driving Home for Christmas

Christmas traditions all around the world

Most Germans can not imagine Christmas without a Christmas tree, the goose dinner and attending the Christmas mass. 78% of Germans celebrate Christmas. For the majority, it is a long-standing family tradition. The first Christmas sweets can be bought at the supermarket in early September. Not much later people start decorating with fairy lights, drink mulled wine, and listen to Christmas hits on the radio. As different as languages and countries are, so are their Christmas traditions. Mr. Lodge's team is as diverse as the presents under the Christmas tree.
Our colleagues tell us how Christmas is celebrated in their home countries:



In Germany, Christmas presents are given on the evening of December 24. On Christmas Eve, we traditionally go to church and dinner is somewhat simpler in many families. Usually December 24th is celebrated with close family members, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are for celebrating with the extended family and eating lots of more elaborate meals. Unlike many other countries, in our country the Christ Child brings the presents on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus for us is St. Nicholas and he comes on December 6th, and brings gifts to the children in a big sack or fills their boots on the night of December 6th. Putting up a Christmas tree is a German tradition that is now popular all over the world. We buy ours a few days before Christmas Eve and usually decorate it just before. It usually stays up until January 6th.
Other traditions include cookie baking during Advent and the Advent wreath with 4 candles marking the 4 Sundays of Advent before Christmas, mulled wine drinking at the Christmas market, and Christmas parties at work or in sports clubs.



Unlike Germany, Christmas in Laos, which is celebrated on December 25, plays only a minor role because Buddhism is the predominant faith. In fact, only the few Catholics in the country celebrate Christmas. We put up a Christmas tree to make the children happy, but presents are not so common. Actually, we don't really have customs at Christmas time, but we attend Christmas mass followed by a meal at the church.



The family celebrates on December 24th in the evening. First we decorate the tree, then there is an early dinner and afterwards we open the presents. On the 25th and 26th we celebrate with grandparents and cousins and eat a lot. There is meat, vegetables, rice, potatoes or the popular cabbage roll filled with meat and rice: "Töltött káposzta".

On Christmas Eve, we traditionally eat a special fish soup called Halászlé: the famous Hungarian fish soup is one of the most popular Hungarian appetizers. It is made from freshwater fish, as Hungary has no access to the sea, but has many still waters. The main ingredient is usually carp. Lots of paprika seasoning gives the soup its bright red color. It is served with homemade bread, such as white bread, ciabatta or a strong mixed rye bread.



On December 24 and 25 we meet with the whole family including children and grandparents. On the 24th, there is an aperitif in the evening followed by a 3-course meal with fish; the gifts are not laid out until the night of the 25th and then they get unwrapped first thing in the morning. While the children are busy with their new toys, the women meet in the kitchen and prepare the Christmas dinner for the lunch table. The meal starts again with a common aperitif or champagne, with some Foie Gras as well as graved salmon and a 3-course menu with fish, meat or even turkey accopmpanied by a glass of wine. The whole meal lasts from 12.30 p.m. to about 4 p.m.. For dessert there is a special Christmas cake called "Bûche de Nöel".



We start having dinner once the first star is in the sky (or at least we try to do that). The children look out the window and wait impatiently, because after dinner they get their presents. We don't eat meat on 24 December, only fish and vegetarian dishes. There should be 12 dishes in total (the number of Jesus apostles), but probably only the very religious families eat exactly 12 dishes, the others prepare a little less. The most typical fish is carp, it should not be missing on any table. Another tradition in our country are the Christmas wafers: they are made of flour, water and starch and taste a bit like paper when you have them in your mouth. Everyone at the table breaks off a piece of the wafer and shares it with everyone present. In doing so, they wish each other good luck and blessings for the coming year. This tradition is very important to us. In case someone lives abroad, Christmas wafers are sent to friends and family all over the world. For the deceased, they break off half of the wafer and place it in the cemetery.
The faithful go to church on Christmas. On December 24 at midnight, there is a service at church that is always very well attended, we call this "Pasterka".



Christmas is celebrated very religiously in our country, we are Christian Orthodox. All parents and grandparents observe Lent six weeks before Christmas, only the children are excluded.
On December 20th, or "Saint Ignatius", the festivities start, then we slaughter the pig for Christmas, that is our main meal. When I freshly moved to the city in 1994, the pig was slaughtered between the cars and it squealed very loudly, that was a real experience. Now it is forbidden to do so in the city, but they still slaughter the pigs like that in the countryside. Traditionally, the children were then always allowed to sit on the dead pig with a rug underneath them. Besides the pig, cabbage rolls are the staple for everyone in the family. They are cooked in the pot overnight for 10-12 hours.

The Christmas tree is decorated on the 24th with the family. When it is dark, the carol singers walk through town singing songs for candy and money. By the way, if you don't open the door for the carolers, it brings bad luck. On the 24th only the children and young people sing and on the 25th the adults go along and you visit each other. On the 25th you are not allowed to work, clean or cook, only drink, eat and celebrate with neighbors and friends. On the 24th, traditionally you just stay with the close family. Sometimes we were all allowed to stay awake until Santa brings the presents at midnight. But actually, you are supposed to find and unwrap them on the 25th in the morning. After that we attend church and then have a big feast.



We get presents on 13 December, the day of Santa Lucia. Then we also set up the crib, which will not be taken down until 6 Januray. On 25 December, we celebrate Christmas and get presents. Very often the christmas tree is artificial, due to the warmer temperatures in Italy.
Also in Italy, St. Nicholas (Ital.: San Nicola) brings gifts for the children on 6 December. But  in the night of 12 to 13 December, the messenger of light Santa Lucia puts sweets and small gifts on the windowsill or in the shoes of the children.
More than 1600 years ago, saint Lucia lived in Sicily. At night she would sneak out and provide the poor people with food. To light her way and have both hands free to carry the goods, she put a wreath of lights on her head. Lucia was killed as a Christian because she would not renounce her faith. Since her eyes were allegedly gouged out, she is considered a saint of eyes, sight and light.
In Europe, Santa Lucia is also celebrated in Finland, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Denmark. In some regions of northern Italy, Santa Lucia takes the place of Santa Claus: children receive gifts from her during the celebration on 13 December. In some places in Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Emilia-Romagna, Santa Lucia is celebrated and presents are given to children.


In Turkey, there is a Christian minority that celebrates Christmas. Some Turks also celebrate Christmas, but strictly religious Muslims tend not to. In Turkey we have a big New Years celebration. Starting 1 December, people are already preparing for the turn of the year. There is a New Year's tree and also New Year's men who can be seen on Turkish streets on New Year's Eve, that look just like Santa Clause.  You also get presents. They are placed under the New Year's tree. The decorated tree and gifts are actually an old Turkish tradition. Before Islam, Turks celebrated the Nardugan festival. It takes place on 21 to 22 December, at the time of the winter solstice. In the ancient belief of Turks, the day and the night fight with each other. On 22 December, the day defeats the night. The forces of good prevail over those of darkness. On Nardugan, children get presents. They can put wish lists on the trees beforehand.



Due to another calendar time calculation, we celebrate Christmas two weeks later on 6 January with the whole family. But no gifts are given, we already get those on 31 December. On this day, we also celebrate Christmas with our friends. Our New Year's Eve also takes place 2 weeks later, on 13 January. The Christmas tree is put up on 31 December and stays until 13 January. So basically, there are two New Year's Eve celebrations: one on 31 December and one on 13 January, which is not an nofficial holiday. Customs: Children go from door to door and tell a little story for sweets or money. A traditional dish is Kutya, a sweet cereal dish eaten mainly in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus and the eastern areas of Poland.



In Sweden we celebrate Christmas on December 24 or as we say "jul". Most of it is actually taking place during the day. One very important tradition is a Disney TV show that runs at 3pm and is watched by over 50% of all Swedes, "Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul" (Donald Duck and his friends wish Merry Christmas). This is an American program that has been on Swedish television since 1960 and it shows various clips from the Disney movies. Afterwards we have lots of food. We have a so-called "Julbord" - a buffet with many different traditional dishes. One thing that cannot be missing is, amongst other things, the Christmas ham, graved salmon and pickled herring, eggs with caviar, Köttbullar & liver pate, beetroot salad and my personal Christmas favorite "Janssons Frestelse" - a kind of potato gratin with anchovies. After we finished eating, Santa = Jultomten comes. This is usually one of the adult family members or a neighbor or friend, who has been hired for this job dressed up as Santa Claus. Before Christmas Advent is celebrated in Sweden as it is here, with Advent wreaths and 4 candles that may be lit one by one. A special tradition in our country is Lucia, which is celebrated on December 13.  St. Lucia and her entourage brings light in the dark, songs are sung and it is really something special.



On December 25 it´s  Christmas day and the night before Santa Claus comes down the chimney. Before you go to bed on the 24th in the evening, you put out a whiskey or milk and cookies for Santa Claus and carrots for the reindeer. Beforehand, all the preparations are made and the Christmas tree is decorated, but there is no celebration on the 24th yet. When you wake up in the morning of December 25, the presents are there and the children open them immediately. On the 25th we usually have a whole turkey "roasted turkey" and a whole ham "honey glazed ham" with all kinds of potato sides like roasted potatoes, mushed potatoes, boiled potatoes. For dessert there is a traditional cake with raisins and whiskey, which has been prepared one month before already. On the 25th, we celebrate traditionally with the whole immediate family and on the 26th, St. Stephen's Day, with the extended family.

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