Christmas traditionally is a time of joy, joining the family, and in Portugal, eating codfish and many traditional sweets, exchanging gifts… But how is it in other countries? The feelings are the same, for sure, but how about the traditions? Talking to our Erasmus colleagues that are here with us this semester, the Corino magazine has researched it, and brings you other habits! 🙂
Starting in Europe, let’s see what’s going on with our neighbours, in Spain. Anna Visser, our Galician colleague, tells us how it is:
“Christmas in Spain is a very special time. As it is a country with a Catholic tradition, many people celebrate it religiously, but the non believers also enjoy these family festivities. For us Spaniards, it’s lovely to be with many people for eating and drinking for many hours, and if is it in our own house with our own family, it’s even better! So Christmas is the best time to be together with our loved ones, those who are near us, and those who are farther. The 1st special festivity in this season is the 24th December evening, Nochebuena (good evening). For the Christians, it’s the day Jesus was born, and on this night, the whole family is together to celebrate it with a big dinner. It’s also when there are the first presents, in some homes from baby Jesus, in others from Father Christmas/Santa Claus. On the next day, Christmas is celebrated with a big meal, and at my house, there’s always the Galician stew. The 25th December is a holiday all over the country, which is perfect – the families can be together almost until dinner, with a huge and typical dessert. Until the 31st December there’s a break from these festivities, but on that night, Nochevieja (old night), we all get together again to celebrate. First things first, there’s a big dinner, of course, and then at midnight, we watch the 12 chimes on the watch in Puerta del Sol, in Madrid, as we eat 12 raisin, one for each chime (if we don’t finish it on time, we’ll have bad luck for the rest of the year). Then, it’s all about drinking and dancing all night long, to happily welcome the New Year. With tired faces and dark circles under our eyes, we all get together on the 1st Januray to eat, though the dessert on this day is shorter, because most of us need to take a nap.
This last day of this season is the most special one, it’s the three Kings Night. The Christian tradition says that the 3 three kings took gold, incense and myrrh to Bethlehem, where baby Jesus was born, and on the 5th January every year, they come back to all the Spaniard homes, leaving presents to the whole family. The little ones, after dinner, leave their shoes under the Christmas tree and something else for the three Kings, for their long trip from the Middle East. On the next day, Three Kings Day, they wake up with presents around their shoes, and the whole family celebrates again with another big meal, this time after having Roscón for breakfast. It’s a typical cake that it’s only eaten on these festivities, and inside it there’s a small figure. The one who finds out must pay the roscón, so the less one eats, the better.
It’s easy to see that Christmas is a special time for the Spaniards, which allow us to show our happy personality, eating, drinking and celebrating with our dearest ones, all with torrón e marzipan. What more can one want?”
The Three Kings
Puertas del Sol, Madrid
From Spain we’re going to Italy. Our colleague from Rome, Giorgio Magli, tells us about those traditions:
“At my home, near Rome, the Christmas preparations start on the 8th December, the Immaculate Conception Day. We decorate the house and the Christmas tree, and there’s also a nativity scene. From that moment on, we start waiting for the 24th, when we have dinner with the whole family. We eat mostly fish and other fried dishes, and then the typical Christmas desserts, like torrone, pandoro and panettone, made by our grandmothers. At about 23h, we exchange presents, and sometimes if there are children, it come Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Then usually the parents go to Church, and the youngster get together with their friends and play card games.
On the 25th, after the mass, we have a family lunch, and this time we eat meat, like lamb. After desert, we play tombola, the Italian version of bingo. At night it’s the moment to be with friends.
The 26th is also special, and we usually visit our relatives who live farther, and spend the day with them.”
Leaving the traditions most similar to the Portuguee ones, with a Catholic origin and from other Latin countries and in Southern Europe, we’re going to Central Europe, to Slovenia. Our colleague Lucija Ceklin tells us how it is:
“In Slovenia, the original celebration of Christmas is related to Christian traditions, which means setting a Christmas tree and a nativity scene, having a festive dinner and then going to the mass at midnight. As almost half the people consider themselves as atheists in Slovenia, there are many ways to celebrate Christmas, and the traditional way is not celebrated as much as before.
Unlike many countries, we don’t have typical Christmas dishes, but Christmas dinner is supposed to be something special. Traditional dessert, which is special for Christmas and also for Easter, is potica. This is a rolled pastry, filled usually with nuts, but can be also filled by poppyseeds, cottage cheese, hazelnuts, chocolate or tarragon.
There is also a costume that Father Christmas or Santa Claus brings gifts on 25th December. However, in Slovenia, we actually have two more men that bring gifts, namely St Nicholas on 6th December and Grandfather Frost (in slovenian “dedek mraz”) on 1st of January.“
Father Christmas/Santa Claus, St Nicholas and Dedek Mraz
Still in Europe, we’re now going to Germany. Ann-Katrin Mink, our colleague from Berlin, tell us all about it:
“Christmas, for the Germans, is the most important festivity of the year. On the 24th December, people get together on Church with the children to see a play, telling Christmas story. After it, families return to their homes and there’s the gifts exchange, many families sing Christmas songs (Weihnachtslieder) or the children recite or something similar. Then, there’s Christmas dinner: the typical is goose with potatoes and red and green cabbage; herring and sausages with potatoe salad (this last one is typical in Berlin). On the mornings of the 25th and 26th December, one can go to Church, where there’s eating and drinking with one’s family.
I can’t add much more. On Advent, we decorate our homes, make an Advent crown with fir branches, with 4 candles (one for each Sunday), we bake biscuits and families go to the Christmas markets.
On the 6th December, we celebrate Saint Nicholas: on the previous evening, children leave their shoes. When they’ve been good the year before, St Nicholas comes, and leaves them sweets on their shoes. When they’ve been naughty, it comes Knecht Ruprecht and leaves the children something as punishment. This is the tradition, but of course all children get sweets! On Christmas evening, the one who brings the presents is either baby Jesus or Father Christmas/Santa Claus. Before children go to the mass and see the play, they leave a plate with biscuits and a glass of milk on the table, for baby Jesus or Father Christmas/Santa Claus. Parents always eat some biscuits, behind their backs, so that the children will think that baby Jesus or Father Christmas/Santa Claus was there.”
Christmas Market in Berlin
Moving from Europe, and leaving the most exotic place to the end, we’re going to Africa, to Namibia. Here’s what Annacky tells us:
It’s the time of year where everyone is jolly and singing Christmas tunes. Families drive 100s of kilometers to get together for this very special day. Most of the people travel to their birth origins to spend Christmas with the parents. Christmas day is started off with a church service. On this day you wear the most expensive dress or suit that you own and it is usually not your everyday attire. The Oshiwambo tribe believes Christmas is also a feast. They believe Christmas is about sharing. You can go from house to house and drink traditionally made drinks. Big celebratory braais (barbeques) are held and everyone is invited.”
Oshiwambo tribe traditional costumes
Our Christmas journey to different places is over, so we now wish you all:
Um Feliz Natal e um Bom Ano Novo!
Feliz Navidad y un Bon Año Nuevo!
Buon Natale e un buon anno nuovo!
Vesel božič in dobro novo leto!
Fröhliche Weinacthen und ein gut Neu Jahr!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Authors: Ana Visser, Ann-Katrin Mink, Annacky Mokili Alfeus, Giorgio Magli, Lucjia Ceklin and Madalena Cabral Ferreira