In our neighboring country, Italy, the Christmas season starts from December 8th and ends on January 6th. The streets and central squares are decorated with lights and the traditional manger. Between December 23-24, most people fast and on Christmas Day, they have their traditional meal. More or less it looks a lot like Christmas in Greece. With a significant difference, on January 6th (the end of their Christmas vacation) when Befana is rumored to be making her arrival. An old, poor and good witch. Inside Christmas stockings he leaves coals for the naughty children and sweets and toys for the good and wise. In return he eats nuts and biscuits, with which the hosts have taken care to fill the plates. The symbol of Christmas for Italians is the Manger, where all the characters dominate from December 8, while the Divine Child is placed on December 25 (midnight).
Christmas in Spain is not very different from that in both Greece and Italy. The main difference is that on January 5th there is a big parade called the Cabalgata de Reyes, during which people parade dressed as the “Three Wise Men” but also in other forms of religion. As long as the parade lasts, those participating in the parade offer sweets to the children.
The Christmas season is very important and especially in France Christmas means family. On the evening of December 24, the whole family gathers and enjoys the Christmas family dinner. There, Pepe Noel (Santa Claus according to the French) makes his appearance, distributing joy, love and gifts to all the children. The French place special emphasis on the reveille, the traditional festive table. They usually prefer seafood and oysters, while on Christmas day they choose turkey, a custom that we also have in Greece.
Christmas in Belgium has a lot in common with that in Italy. It is not a good witch who brings gifts to the children, but Santa Claus with his helper. The gifts are placed inside the Christmas stockings (as is also done in the case of Italy). Instead of nuts and cookies left by the Italians, the Belgians leave hay and sugar for Santa’s horse. It is important to know that in Belgium there are small performances throughout Christmas. The main theme of the shows is the Nativity.
The Christmas season in Poland is particularly important. Locals find the opportunity for inner and spiritual searching in their anticipation for the great celebration of Christmas. The decoration is mainly based on pine and alexandria branches. Christmas day is exclusively dedicated to the institution of the family. The festive table symbolizes purity and joy, with the white tablecloth being a hallmark of the Polish Christmas table. White, according to Polish tradition, symbolizes purity and the beginning. The Christmas meal begins with the “sharing of the cookie”, as a sign of love and reconciliation. Warm wishes and hugs accompany this wonderful meal. The gifts are placed under the Christmas tree and offered by the youngest member. According to the Anglo-Saxon tradition, gifts are not addressed to a specific person, but are of general use or interest.
The Christmas period is not significantly different from that of other countries. It remains a family celebration with traditional dishes filling the table. With the Christmas tree and lights adorning not only the houses, but the entire country of Romania. A rather special custom in Romania is on the evening of December 5th (twenty days before Christmas), when small children, always accompanied by their parents, take off their shoes outside the house. The next day in the morning, in the shoes of the good children, Saint Nicholas, together with the help of his elves, places sweets and gifts as a reward for their good behavior throughout the year. For the most naughty children, Agios Nikolaos leaves coals and sticks (to beat them)!
For the English, the celebration of Christmas is significant. The preparations for the Christmas celebration start from the first days of December. On Christmas Eve there is an English rugby match (between neighboring villages in England and people up to the age of 21 participate). During half time and after the end of the match there is plenty of drink and food, while listening to Christmas carols. At the church In Betchworth church there is a re-enactment of the birth of Christ and the faithful gather around the local quarters and sing carols. The filming of the movie “4 weddings and 1 funeral” took place in this church. Christmas Day starts in the early hours of the morning. The day begins with the exchange of gifts between family members. The Christmas sweater is an essential accessory in every home in England. At 3:00 p.m. the family atmosphere takes a short break to listen to the Queen’s speech. Next, there are family board games, games and family Christmas movies. The day after Christmas, December 26, is a public holiday for the English. This day is called boxing day. Since ancient times, this particular day had been established as the day when the rich gave gifts to their servants. They were also given permission to return to their families and celebrate with them the birth of the Divine Infant.
For Denmark, as for all the above countries, Christmas is of special importance. Each family makes their own handmade wreaths of alexander and place four candles on it, one for each Sunday until Christmas. The special custom in Denmark during Christmas is the well-known “candle custom”. In Denmark, gnomes (known as Julenisser) also play a leading role. Things are no different from other countries when it comes to the festive meal. The only difference is that an almond is “hidden” in the Danish dessert. Whoever is lucky enough to find it is rewarded with the so-called “gift of the almond”.
Christmas Day is celebrated quite early in the Netherlands, more specifically on December 6. The day on which the memory of Agios Nikolaos is commemorated. According to tradition, Saint Nicholas arrives in the Netherlands three weeks before his feast day. He comes in a ship in which there is an abundance of gifts. At the port he is welcomed by Queen Beatrice, together with a crowd of people. This custom dates back to when the Netherlands was colonial. In the following days, Santa Claus together with his helper the well-known Black Pete, start distributing the gifts to all the children. It is important to mention that children receive their gifts on December 5th. The next day, the first Christmas trees begin to be decorated, always after Santa Claus has left.
For Germans, Christmas is also special. Quite an important day for Germany, during Christmas, is December 6, because then St. Nicholas is celebrated, who is similar to Santa Claus for them. Germans pay particular attention to the decoration of their home. Typically, in those houses that have a garden, you will see a real fir tree with lights. Adventskranz is also a well-known custom. A custom that has slowly started to spread in Greece from Germany is that of the Christmas calendar. It is given to young and old; it starts from 1 and goes up to 24. It is paper and every day you open one and a surprise awaits you. Usually, it is some kind of chocolate or candy. Gifts “come” on December 24th from Christ or Weinachman. This custom began after Luther’s reformation, to give a more festive touch to the day of Christ’s birth. They decorate the tree on Christmas Eve, and it is no different from what we decorate in Greece. Another special custom is that of the three magicians. From the 27th of December until the 6th of January, little children, dressed as three wizards, go from house to house and sing. They are offered nuts, sweets and money for whatever fundraiser they represent. As a sign of gratitude, the alleged three wizards chalk their initials (Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) this year as well. For example, 20*C+M+B+22. These graffiti are considered to bring good luck and landlords do not erase them.