Christmas traditions across Europe are different: from wise men bringing gifts to the observation of religious traditions.
We are curious to learn about some of these celebrations and are taking a look at some of Europe’s more exciting holiday traditions. Let’s dive in.
1) Italy – La Befana
In Italy, instead of having Santa visit, children wait for La Befana, a kind old witch to fill their socks with candy and presents. Sometimes, in parts of Italy, parents will leave out broccoli with sausage to entice the witch to leave nice gifts.
Not only is La Befana different, but it marks the official end of the holiday season, on January 6, the day of the epiphany. Similar to Santa, she supposedly comes down the chimney and is sometimes known to leave coal if children have not been good during the year.
2) Spain – Los Reyes Magos and Caga Tió
There are two peculiar Spanish Christmas traditions: Los Reyes Magos and Caga Tió.
First, the processions of the three kings or the Reyes Magos that go through every town, giving candy and gifts to children. There is something special about this unique tradition. The kings arrive on January 6, the day of the Epiphany, and bring gifts to the children who come out to celebrate their arrival. Then, later in the afternoon, Spanish children leave out a shoe in case the kings leave anything behind overnight.
The holiday season officially ends on January 7, when children wake up to their presents and can bring them straight to school to show off!
Another tradition unique to Spain that is celebrated in Catalunya is the Caga Tió. This might be the most bizarre tradition of them all!
Each year, on December 8, the official beginning of the Christmas season in Spain with the feast of the immaculate conception, families bring out Caga Tió. What is it? The Caga Tió is a hollowed out log that needs to be fed during the holiday season.
Spanish children ‘feed’ the Caga Tió dried fruit, orange peels and nuts until Christmas eve when the fun really starts. The log is known to give great gifts, but he needs some incentive, so children beat him with a stick until presents come out of a hole as the children sing a song encouraging him to deliver!
The origins of this tradition go back to a time when people would cut logs to warm their homes. The Catalans would save a log to celebrate and commemorate the warmth that the earth gave them even during the winter months. However, the tradition has become somewhat of a Catalan Santa Claus experience.
3) Sweden – St. Lucia Day
Sweden celebrates St. Lucia day on December 13. Tradition says that St. Lucia was a young girl, killed in 300 because of her Christian beliefs. To commemorate the event, the Swedes celebrate with parades, led by a young woman dressed in a white dress with a wreath of candles on her head.
Although not an official holiday, the tradition is longstanding, and is also a time when University students tend to hold their Christmas parties before they head home for the rest of the holiday season.
Most cities in Sweden elect a ‘Lucia’ each year, who leads a group of young people to engage in charity. They will visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing carols and handing out traditional gingernut cookies.
While you are here, you may want to learn more about the culture and language in Sweden.
4) Greece – Basil Crosses
In Greece, despite Easter being the holiday that is most predominant, Christmas is still celebrated. Children go from house to house singing carols in exchange for sweets on Christmas eve. They play music and wait to be rewarded.
Before Christmas, fresh Greek basil is wrapped around a wooden cross in each household. The cross is then used to sprinkle water around the house. The Greeks believe this will keep the killantzaroi away. Killantzaroi are goblins that appear during the twelve days of Christmas. They are mischievous and can be known for spoiling milk or braiding horses’ tails.
We love learning about the many wonderful ways that the Christmas holidays are celebrated around Europe! How do you plan to celebrate this holiday season? Is there a tradition you want to share with us? We’d love to hear about it!