Christmas Eve Traditions
Celebration of Christmas is present everywhere in the Christianity world, and Christmas Eve traditions are almost the same.
We all believe the same thing, we just have a slightly different approach to it.
By reading this following text, you’re going to understand what we are talking about.
Christmas Eve Traditions In Macedonia
Most Christians in Macedonia belong to the Orthodox Church and Christmas is celebrated on January 7th (The Orthodox Church use the ‘Julian’ Calendar for their festivals).
Christmas Eve traditions and celebrations really start on 6 h January which is called ‘Kolede’. On this day people, especially children, like to go carols singing around their neighbors.
They are given fruits, nuts and coins for healthy and prosperous year.
People gather around big bonfires on 5th of January. They are sometimes held in parks where hundreds of people can go to see them.
Others like smaller events where the local community comes together and lots of traditional food is eaten.
At the end of the night on 6th of January, a special Christmas bread which has a coin baked in it, is passed around. Everyone takes a piece and if you find the coin you’ll get luck for the next year (and you might also have to host the bonfire the next year!).
On Christmas Eve (6th January) people look forward to the special Christmas meal that will be eaten in the evening.
The meal traditionally contains no dairy, meat or animal products.
Dishes might include nuts, fresh and dried fruits, baked fish, bread, kidney bean soup, potato salad, Ajvar (red-pepper dip), Sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and spices) and pickled vegetables.
Coin bread or Christmas Cake with a coin in it is eaten at the end of the meal.
Christmas Eve is also when the traditional oak yule log, called a ‘Badnik’, is brought into the house and is lit (the Christmas Eve meal is also sometimes called ‘Badnik dinner’).
Houses are also often decorated with oak branches and Christmas Trees. There’s sometimes straw either on the floor or under the tablecloth.
On Christmas Day (7th January) most Christians go to a Church service and then come home to eat a large Christmas feast!
The traditional Christmas Day greeting is “Hristos se rodi” or “Христос се роди!” (Christ is born) to which you reply “Navistina se rodi” (He truly is born!).
In Macedonian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Sreken Božik’ (Среќен Божик)
The big Christmas Day meal might include different roasted meats, cheese pies, salads and lots of bread, cakes and sweets.
Christmas celebrations often last for another three days after Christmas Day.
Christmas Eve Traditions In Croatia
In Croatia, preparations for Christmas start on 25th November which is St Catherine’s day. People also celebrate Advent.
Over 85% of people in Croatia are Catholics, so Advent is an important time for them.
It’s traditional to have an Advent wreath made of straw or evergreen twigs which has four candles. The wreath symbolizes endlessness and the four candles symbolize different parts of history and life:
- First Candle (purple): creation – hope;
- Second Candle (purple): embodiment – peace;
- Third Candle (pink): redemption – joy;
- Fourth Candle (purple): ending – love;
A fifth candle is sometimes added in the center which is lit on Christmas Day!
You can buy wreaths, but many people like to make them. People also often have a paper Advent Calendar.
One of the most common Christmas Eve traditions is on St Nicholas’s Eve (5th), when children clean their shoes/boots and leave them in the window.
They hope that St. Nicholas will leave them chocolates and small presents in their boot. If children have been naughty, Krampus (a big monster with horns who sometimes travels with St Nicholas!), leaves them golden twigs to remind them to behave.
On St Lucia’s Day people often sow wheat onto small plates. The grassy sprouts that grow (called Christmas wheat) are put underneath the Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Trees are very popular and are normally decorated on Christmas Eve but some people put them up and decorate them on St Nicholas’s Day.
In Croatia they’re traditionally decorated with ornaments in the shapes of fruits. They used to be real fruits or persevered candied fruits that were sometimes covered in gold!
There’s an old Croatian tradition that young men gave their girlfriends a decorated apple at Christmas.
In rural parts of the country, it is still customary to bring straw into the house on Christmas Eve as a symbol of future good crops.
A yule log called a ‘Badnjak’ (also the word for Christmas Eve) was traditionally brought into the house and lit on Christmas Eve.
But not many people have fireplaces these days!
Presents are normally exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Many people like to go to a Midnight Mass service.
In Croatian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Sretan Božić’.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are mostly celebrated with close family. On Boxing day friends and extended family visit each other.
One of the most common among Christmas Eve traditions in Croatia is when most people eat dried fish called ‘bakalar’ or some other kind of fish as it’s considered as meat fast (so you can’t eat meat).
The main Christmas Day is often turkey, goose or duck. A popular side dish is sarma (cabbage rolls filled with minced pork meat).
There’s also always lots of small cookies and cakes to eat with donuts being very popular!
There’s ‘Krafne’ which are filled with jam, jelly, marmalade or chocolate and also ‘fritule’ which are flavored with lemon and rum.
The Christmas celebrations finish on Epiphany (6th January).
Christmas Eve Traditions In Russia
In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much.
Following the revolution in 1917, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday in 1929 and Christmas Trees were banned until 1935 when they turned into ‘New Year’ Trees!
If people did want to celebrate Christmas, they had to do it in secret just in their families.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, people were free to celebrate Christmas again. But it’s still a quieter and smaller holiday in Russia after the big New Year celebrations.
The New Year is the big time for spending lots of money and eating and drinking lots. Christmas is much more religious and private.
New Year is also when ‘Grandfather Frost’ (known in Russian as ‘Ded Moroz’ or Дед Мороз) brings presents to children.
He is always accompanied by his Grandaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year’s eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz.
When they appear the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up!
Ded Moroz carries a big magic staff. The traditional greeting for Happy New Year is ‘S Novym Godom’.
Christmas in Russia is normally celebrated on January 7th (only a few Catholics might celebrate it on the 25th December).
The date is different because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the old ‘Julian’ calendar for religious celebration days.
The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent, but it has fixed dates, starting on 28th November and going to the 6th January, so it’s 40 days long.
The official Christmas and New holidays in Russia last from December 31st to January 10th.
Among Christmas Eve traditions in Russia is that some people fast (don’t eat anything) on Christmas Eve, until the first star has appeared in the sky.
People then eat ‘sochivo’ or ‘kutia’ a porridge made from wheat or rice served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (especially berries and dried fruit like raisins), chopped walnuts or sometimes even fruit jellies!
Kutia is sometimes eaten from one common bowl, this symbolizes unity.
In the past, some families like to throw a spoonful of sochivo up on the ceiling. If it stuck to the ceiling, some people thought it meant they would have good luck and would have a good harvest!
Some Orthodox Christian Russians also don’t eat any meat or fish during the Christmas Eve meal/feast.
Other popular Christmas Eve foods include, beetroot soup (borsch) or vegan potluck (solyanka) served with individual vegetable pies (often made with cabbage, potato, or mushroom), sauerkraut, porridge dishes such as buckwheat with fried onions and fried mushrooms, salads often made from vegetables like gherkins, mushrooms or tomatoes, and also potato or other root vegetable salads.
The meal often consists of 12 dishes, representing the 12 disciples of Jesus.
‘Vzvar’ (meaning ‘boil-up’) is often served at the end of the meal. It’s a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water.
Vzvar is traditionally at the birth of a child, so at Christmas it symbolizes the birth of the baby Jesus.
Following the meal, prayers might be said and people then go to the midnight Church services. They often don’t wash the dishes until they get home from Church – sometimes not until 4.00am or 5.00am!
The main meal on Christmas day is often more of a feast with dishes like roast pork & goose, Pirog and Pelmeni (meat dumplings).
Dessert is often things like fruit pies, gingerbread and honeybread cookies (called Pryaniki) and fresh and dried fruit and more nuts.
There are Russian Christmas cookies called Kozulya which are made in the shape of a sheep, goat or deer.
In some areas, children will go carol singing round the homes of friends and family and to wish people a happy new year.
They are normally rewarded with cookies, sweets and money.
Australian Christmas Eve Traditions
In Australia, Christmas comes in the towards the beginning of the summer holidays.
Children have their summer holidays from mid December to early February, so some people might even be camping at Christmas.
Australians hang wreaths on their front doors and sometimes go out Christmas carol singing on Christmas Eve.
People also decorate their houses and gardens with Christmas Trees and Christmas lights. Neighbors sometimes have little competitions to see who has got the best light display.
The neighbors often visit each other to look at the light displays at night. Sometimes the displays are put out as early as December 1st.
Australians also decorate their houses with bunches of ‘Christmas Bush’, a native Australian tree with small green leaves and cream colored flowers.
In summer the flowers turn a deep shiny red over a period of weeks (generally by the week of Christmas in Sydney).
Many towns, cities and schools also hold their own Carols by Candlelight services, with local bands and choirs sometimes helping to perform the Christmas Carols and songs.
As it is the middle of Summer in Australia at Christmas time, the words to the Carols about snow and the cold winter are sometimes changed to special Australian words.
Belgium Christmas Eve Traditions
Children in Belgium believe that ‘Sinterklaas/St. Niklaas’ (Flemish) or ‘Saint Nicholas’ (Walloon) brings them presents on December 5th and 6th, St. Nicholas’ Eve and St. Nicholas’ Day.
Children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, together something for Sinterklaas like a drawing or biscuits.
They might also leave a carrot for Sinterklass’s horse and something for Zwarte Piet (Black Peter, Sinterklass’s assistant).
Then in the night, Sinterklaas arrives on the roof on his horse with Zwarte Piet.
Zwarte Piet climbs down the chimney and leaves the presents in and around the shoes. Sinterklaas has a book in which he keeps all the names of the children and it tells if they’ve been bad or good.
Children are told that if they’ve been bad, Zwarte Piet will put you in his sack and take you back to Spain.
Traditional foods that are left for Sinterklaas include tangerines, gingerbread, chocolate and ‘mokjes’ (cookies made in the shapes of letters.
There are lots of songs that children sing about Sinterklaas. Different regions of Belgium have different customs and traditions about St. Nicholas.
The visit of Sinkerlass is a separate occasion than Christmas. Christmas is a more religious festival.
On Christmas Eve (‘Kerstavond’ in Flemish and ‘le réveillion de Noël’ in Walloon), a special meal is eaten by most families.
It starts with a drink (apéritif) and ‘nibbles’, followed by a starter course such as sea-food, and then stuffed turkey.
The dessert is ‘Kerststronk’ (Flemish) or ‘la bûche de Noël’ (Walloon) a chocolate Christmas Log made of sponge roll layered with cream.
The outside is covered with chocolate butter cream and made to resemble a bark-covered log.
German Christmas Eve Traditions
A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent.
Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes. As well as the traditional one made of card that are used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it.
Each box or bag has a little present in it.
Another type is called a ‘Advent Kranz’ and is a ring of fir branches that has four candles on it. This is like the Advent candles that are sometimes used in Churches.
One candle is lit at the beginning of each week in Advent.
Christmas Trees are very important in Germany. They were first used in Germany during the late Middle Ages.
If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the mother of the family.
The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas Eve. In some parts of Germany, during the evening, the family would read the Bible and sing Christmas songs.
Sometimes wooden frames, covered with colored plastic sheets and with electric candles inside, are put in windows to make the house look pretty from the outside.
Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families.
Germany is well known for its Christmas Markets where all sorts of Christmas foods and decorations are sold.
Perhaps the most famous German decorations are glass ornaments. The glass ornaments were originally hand blown glass and were imported in the USA in 1880’s by the Woolworth stores.
In some parts of Germany, mainly the south east of the country, children write to the ‘das Christkind/Christkindl’ asking for presents.
The letters to the Christkind are decorated with sugar glued to the envelope to make them sparkly and attractive to look at.
Children leave the letters on the windowsill at the beginning of or during Advent.
Christmas Eve Traditions In Sweden
Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th.
The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.
St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304.
The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city.
She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.
December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old Julian Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day.
St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head.
Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are often used!
The crown is made of Lingonberry branches, which are evergreen and symbolize new life in winter.
Schools normally have their own St. Lucia’s and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung.
A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and old people’s homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out ‘Pepparkakor’, ginger snap biscuits.
Small children sometimes like dressing up as Lucia (with the help of their parents).
Also boys might dress up as ‘Stjärngossar’ (star boys) and girls might be ‘tärnor’ (like Lucia but without the candles).
A popular food eaten at St. Lucia’s day are ‘Lussekatts’, St Lucia’s day buns flavored with saffron and dotted with raisins which are eaten for breakfast.
Christmas Eve is also very important in Sweden. This is when the main meal (well really a feast!) is eaten.
This is often a ‘julbord’ which is a buffet, eaten at lunchtime.
Cold fish is important on the julbord. There is often herring (served in many different ways), gravlax (salmon which has been cured in sugar, salt and dill) and smoked salmon.
Other dishes on the julbord might include cold meats including turkey, roast beef and ‘julskinka’ (a Christmas ham); cheeses, liver pate, salads, pickles and different types of bread and butter (or mayonnaise).
There will also be warm savoury foods including meatballs, ‘prinskorv’ (sausages), ‘kåldolmar’ (meat stuffed cabbage rolls), jellied pigs’ feet, lutfisk (a dried cod served with a thick white sauce) and ‘revbenspjäll’ (oven-roasted pork ribs).
Vegetables such as potatoes and red cabbage will also be served.
Another potato dish is ‘Janssons Frestelse’ (matchstick potatoes layered with cream, onion and anchovies that is baked to a golden brown).
There’s also ‘dopp i grytan’ which is bread that is dipped in the broth and juices that are left over after boiling the ham.
The desert of the julbord might be a selection of sweet pastries, some more pepparkakor biscuits and some home made sweets!
Christmas Eve Traditions In Italy
The city of Naples in Italy is world famous for its cribs and crib making.
These are known as ‘Presepe Napoletano’ (meaning Neapolitan Cribs). The first crib scene in Naples is thought to go back to 1025 and was in the Church of S. Maria del presepe (Saint Mary of the Crib), this was even before St. Francis of Assisi had made cribs very popular!
Having cribs in your own home became popular in the 16th century and it’s still popular today (before that only churches and monasteries had cribs).
Cribs are traditionally put out on the 8th December, but the figure of the baby Jesus isn’t put into the crib until the evening/night of December 24th.
On Christmas Eve, it’s common that no meat (and also sometimes no dairy) is eaten.
Often a light seafood meal is eaten and then people go to the Midnight Mass service. The types of fish and how they are served vary between different regions in Italy.
When people return from Mass, if it’s cold, you might have a slice of Italian Christmas Cake called ‘Panettone’ which is like a dry fruity sponge cake and a cup of hot chocolate.
As you can see, in these countries we’ve chosen to elaborate, the Christmas Eve traditions are similar.
They all end with big feasts with friends and families, and the dishes served, represent symbolism of health an abundance in live.
No matter to which religion people belong – they all believe in the same thing – birth of Christ.
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