European Holidays… More or Less

Who doesn’t love Christmas? (except maybe the Grinch, but that was fixed in the runtime of a Christmas movie) Many many thanks to Edus Juhász, Dani Karaivanova Elle Loughran, Dóri Gozdán, Martine Bjørnsbo, Filip Novotný, Tamara Gunkel, Marco Agozzino and Nastja Zajec, for writing their respective parts (you guys are lifesavers)!

In Ukraine, contrary to the other countries on our list, people celebrate Christmas in the 7th of January, because they use the old Julian calendar for church celebrations. They fast on Christmas, so the festive dinner (“holy supper”) in Christmas Eve comprises of 12 meatless and dairyless dishes, and it starts when the first star is out in the sky. The main dish is Kutia, which is a sweet comprised of wheat berries, fruits and seeds. In Edus’ region, for example, it has 12 different ingredients. Fun(?) fact: Kutia sans the poppy seeds is called koliva in Greece, and they serve it after funerals… multiculturalism?


They also have a tradition called Vertep, which is a little drama scene reenacted by children or puppet scene of the nativity.


In Bulgaria, have a special Christmas bread the Christmas Eve, called koledna pitka. There is one coin in it; the one who gets it will be the luckiest and will get the most money within the next year!

Koledna pitka – made by Dani and her family! Recipe here:

In Ireland, a usual Christmas dinner is turkey and ham, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce.


In Hungary, they don’t eat meat on Dec 24th; they traditionally have fish soup and a Hungarian cake called bejgli, which is a poppy seed or chestnut roll. They also have gingerbread, but there are also two traditional sweets: szaloncukor (it comes in several flavours but mostly it’s jelly-filled chocolate) and habcsók (meringue).

Szaloncukor By (seriously, check out this link; it’s got a recipe and everything!)

In Denmark, they also celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December. There are two types of families in Denmark; the ones eating roasted duck and the ones eating roasted pork. They eat it with caramelised potatoes and cabbage (and it’s awesome, Martine says!) Afterwards they eat a rice and cream based dessert, which is called Risalamande. There is a competition as well; in the dessert there is one almond and the person that gets the almond, gets a present (and it’s a pretty big deal to get the present)!


The main celebration starts in the evening of the 24th, after Christmas dinner. They dance around the Christmas tree while they sing gospels. Afterwards they open their presents, which are placed under the tree. During the days between Christmas and New Year’s they visit friends and families and have “Christmas lunches” together.

In the Czech republic, they celebrate Christmas by having a huge dinner on the 24th of December with the whole extended family. The usual Czech Christmas food is a carp with potato salad. After the dinner, they unwrap their presents under Christmas tree (just like Denmark!). And there’s also the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.

Carp with potato salad


In Germany, the main custom is the Barborky. On the 4th December they cut twigs of special fruit trees which are put in a vase. They are supposed to flower on Christmas day.

Other customs would be advent wreaths, advent calendars or Christmas markets. But these aren’t only German customs, they’re shared by many different countries!


So, how’s Christmas in Italy? Well, unbelievably cool!

First thing you have to know: it is not Christmas time until you have built the presepe and decorated the tree. Nothing strange ah? Wait, what’s the presepe? Well, nothing you haven’t heard of: it’s a nativity scene, with plastic or plaster statues representing the holy family, shepherds, angels and the three wise men (re magi). So, again, what’s special? Well, we invented this tradition! It is said that St Francis of Assisi made the first presepe back in 1223. In modern days it is still a big thing and almost every Christian family puts together a presepe in their house and it can get pretty complicated too with moving figures and real water. In Naples, there’s an entire street that’s full of markets which sell handmade presepe supplies: it is called via San Gregorio Armeno. In some village it is also a custom to do a live reenactment of the scene, usually on Christmas Eve and sometimes even with real animals!

Presepe store in Naples

Coming to our second habit, it won’t surprise you that it involves food:

You probably know that we like big family meals, but, regarding christmas Italy is split in two:

if you are from the South you will organise a huge family dinner on Christmas Eve whereas if you live in the north you will eat broth with tortellini (filled pasta) that night and then have a big lunch the next day. Meals are usually really long (some last even for 5 hours) and between courses card games are played or gifts are opened. Yeah, we are among the countries that open gifts on christmas. Stereotypes aside, it is strongly believed that the best place to bond with people is around a table.

When we come to New Year’s Eve, we find another peculiar tradition:

It is almost mandatory to eat lentils with cotechino (a type of sausage) at midnight. Why? Well, lentils symbolize money, so, they will bring you good luck. Obviously many other countries have their tradition for getting good luck, for example in Spain for a lucky new year you must eat a grape with each of the 12 midnight bell strikes. So, I can’t wait to see if you have any habit like this in the comments.

Finally (but sadly for us students) we have the Epiphany on the 6th of January.

When in Spain los reyes magos (the wise men) bring gifts to the children, we have the befana, an old lady, with an ugly face, patched clothes and a foulard around her head. She comes down the chimney and fills the good children’s stockings with sweets and little toys whereas the bad ones get only charcoal.

That’s all folks: Buon natale! Merry Christmas!

In Greece, the most notable custom is Vasilopita that we have in New Year’s, which is a cake or a pie that has a coin in it, and the one that wins it has to keep it because it will bring him luck (kind of like Bulgaria)! Both the Christmas dinner and the New Year’s dinner are meat-based, but what type of meat it is depends on personal choice (or, rather, whim).


In Slovenia, they have a midnight mass and family dinner the night before Christmas, but maybe the most important thing that Nastja reminded us is that this holiday is all about spending time with your family, because what are traditions, if not instances to bond over?

And with that, a very happy New Year from the blog team!


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