Destination of the Month

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This month we are going to talk about the holiday traditions

Christmas traditions in Europe Part 1


The origin and the name given to this celebration are different depending on the country. For example, for the French word Noël definitely comes from the Latin word natalis(birth). The masses of Christ, held by English evangelists in December, gave birth to the English word "Christmas". "The Holy Night" is translated in German as Weihnacht...Taking place in the last few days of December, this holiday is not celebrated in the same way in every country. There are many symbols attached to this holiday in Europe, and each country has kept its own identity and traditions, while enriching them with influences form various other sources. This diversity and richness prove the importance given by Europeans to the Christmas holiday.

Here are some examples...

Advent, its crown and its calendar...

Advent corresponds to the four-week period that precedes "the arrival"(adventus in Latin) of baby Jesus, that is Christmas. In certain parts of Germany, Advent begins on the 11th November, on Saint Martin's Day. Depending on the country, various saints (Saint Martin, Saint Catherine, Saint Eligius, Saint Barbe, Saint Nicholas or Saint Lucia) are honored in a meaningful way during this period. These celebrations sometimes become more important than Christmas itself.

The Advent Crown

The Advent Crown, made of woven fir branches and four candles, representing the four seasons of the year, appeared quite late in the Protestant regions of Germany. It reached Scandinavia before spreading to various other countries. The four candles are lit one by one, on each of the four Sundays before Christmas.

The Advent Calendar

The Advent Calendar is a tradition of German origin aimed to encourage children to be patient until Christmas. Thus, in order to feel that they have less time to wait, children are given an Advent Calendar at the beginning of December, which has twenty four little doors. Every evening, they open one door, the last one being opened on Christmas Eve, just before the arrival of Santa Claus. Originally, the closed doors hid pious images that have been replaced nowadays with sweets. The first Advent Calendar is thought to date back to 1851.

The Christmas tree

The evergreen Christmas tree, like ivy and holly, is the symbol of eternal life. This tradition is first mentioned in the 16th century, in Alsace; but as early as the 11th century, the houses seem to have been decorated with "greenery taken from trees". Very early on, the Christmas tree was covered with various decorations and candles to light it up when Christmas came. In Hungary for example, the tree is decorated with biscuits, sweets and chocolates, which can be eaten from December 24, making sure that the colored wrappers are not removed, so as not to leave the tree bare.
In the 18th century, the Christmas tree reached the whole of Germany, and then spread to many other countries. However, certain countries, such as Italy and Spain, were long reluctant to adopt this tradition.
In Greece, the Christmas tree does not exist, but people grow a Christmas rose called Ellebore.

The Christmas crib

The Christmas crib, which reminds us of the Nativity, first appeared in Italy and underwent considerable development in other southern Catholic countries of Europe (Spain, Portugal) as well as in France and Southern Germany after the 13th century. In the Early Middle Ages, cribs were set up in churches and liturgical games (Nativity games) were organized on Christmas night. Set up in a cave, or more modestly, in a stable, the traditional crib gradually became commonplace in the homes of churchgoers. At that time, it included only the main characters: baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the three Wise Men, the Angel Gabriel, not to mention the donkey and the bullock. However, in certain countries, other characters are traditionally included in the Nativity scene. This is particularly the case in Poland, where national heroes, represented by small figurines, are included alongside the crib characters. Moreover, the French Jean-Louis Lagnel invented in the18th century, small clay figurines, very colorful, representing little characters from the south of France, that are included in the Nativity scene. These are known as the Santons de Provence and have been since quite popular.

Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets originated in the Middle Ages. The oldest are those taking place in Vienna in Austria and Munich in Germany. In 1570, Strasbourg organized its first Christmas Market. This is the Christkindelsmärik (baby Jesus market) which still takes place today.
Christmas Markets bring the opportunity to discover various culinary specialties, as well as Christmas decorations, cribs and other objects made by craftsmen.
They bring a holiday atmosphere to cities, waiting for Christmas Day.

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