Christmas in Europe is not just blinking lights and sweet carols in the shopping streets: each country has an incredibly rich Christmas culture and an intense sense of family bonding that all visitors will surely perceive.
If you travel to Europe for a holiday over Christmas, from end of November till beginning of January you get for sure the chance to take part in some traditional celebration: there are different dates in different countries and various characters – Saint Nikolaus, Saint Lucia, the Befana, Joulupukki, the 13 Jule lads, however there is the same sort of universal meaning behind their origin… an incentive, especially for children to be good, to behave, so that they can be rewarded with sweet treats and presents!
It is the end of the year, the colder season in Europe… That’s the perfect time to reconnect to family and friends, share a meal in a cosy atmosphere (in Poland it is a twelve-course Christmas Eve!) dinner, relax and recover energy to start the New Year at best.
Travellers can mingle with locals in the countless Christmas markets, on vibrant New Year’s parties in the main squares, on pub crawls and concerts. Or they can decide to escape from the crowd, staying out in the nature in snow and sun, experiencing a sauna in the wilderness in Scandinavia or even unwinding in a steam bath in the centre of Budapest.
There are plenty of choices: is just a matter of choice and personal feel!
As a personal gift to you and your discerning guest we have selected a couple of less known stories about Christmas traditions respectively in Northern Europe, Central Europe and Southern Europe, along with some special shows that can be lots of fun for the whole family.
So the next time you will have clients travelling here in Europe at this time of the year you can easily give them good suggestions about what to do and where to go.
Christmas in Northern Europe is much more than you might think
Everyone in the world has heard about the home of Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, Finland, but actually that is not the authentic local tradition, or at least not the only one!
In Northern Europe Christmas Christian beliefs melt with the Nordic culture, creating a very interesting outcome in terms of traditions.
In SWEDEN December 13th was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old calendar and a pagan festival of lights which was turned into St. Lucia’s Day: the celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.
St Lucia was in fact a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304: she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, hiding in the catacombs under the city; she would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. The name Lucia means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.
Still nowadays she is celebrated in may Swedish towns and schools by processions, led by a girl in a white dress with a crown of candles and children singing carols.
In FINLAND and NORWAY the major celebration for the family takes place at Christmas Eve (24th December) when, after quite a big dinner, children are allowed to open their presents.
Father Christmas in Finland is known as Joulupukki, which means “Christmas Goat”. Because of this, people dress up in goat masks to deliver presents to the children.
Norwegian children instead look out for two creatures at Christmas: one is also a creature like a goat, called Julebukk, who is a present-carrying gnome; the other is Jul Nisse, who guards farm animals and plays tricks on children if they don’t leave porridge out for him.
In THE NETHERLANDS, Sinterklaas arrives already by the end of November on his white horse Amerigo from Spain, where he lives and where naughty children are said to be taken back to if they don’t behave; then on the night of December 5th (instead of December 25th) he brings presents and sweets to good kids.
So you might spot Sinterklaas at the beginning of December while cruising the canals or visiting one of the Christmas markets in the centre of Amsterdam … nevertheless, if you are not that lucky, you will in any case be repeatedly surprised by Amsterdam Light Festival (on from 29/11/18 to 20/01/19): much more than common Christmas lighting! Artists from home and abroad take you on a journey along 30 light artworks specially created for Amsterdam around the theme ‘The Medium is the Message’: role of light in conveying a message and the city of Amsterdam as a medium for telling stories are central to this 7th edition of the Festival. And there are many events and activities to join!
Another very unique event for the whole family in the Dutch capital is The Winter Parade.
Is it theatre? Is it delicious food? Is it that warm feeling of togetherness? From 20st until 29th of December in the Zuiderkerk (the first Proptestant church that was built in the city and that cannot be usually visited inside) acrobats, actors and musicians show off their talents on a 120 meter-long table. At the same time chefs and waiters take the stage to provide marvellous meals. This year the parade will take you on a thrilling journey is inspired by the Danish fairy-tale “The little match girl” in which guests make a film, eat, dance, drink and enjoy acrobatics and theatre all at the same time. It is a night out for the whole family!
Find out more on our listing for Northern Europe here:
Come and listen to the Christmas sound in Central Europe
Central Europe is nowadays worldwide known for its Christmas markets on the main city squares, very often close to the Town Hall or the Cathedral. Where does this tradition originate from?
Before they were called Christmas markets , winter markets were held in Europe during the late Middle Ages. Usually they took place over a few days. These markets were a chance for people to come together, buy food and handicrafts, and especially, stock up for the long cold winter. Even though the markets weren’t yet specifically “Christmas Markets”, people would purchase wood carvings, toys and special seasonal baked goods and meats.
Vienna, (AUSTRIA) first held a “December Market” in 1298, and the idea may have spread from there: first northwards, to German-speaking countries, and then some centuries later, by the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire also further east and south.
A Viennese Christmas is about the lights, the sights, the smells, and above all the sounds. Expect fewer sleigh bells and more violins, though – you’re in the concert capital of classical music, after all.
Among the countless others, the Vienna Boys Choir is probably the best vocal experience you can get in Vienna at Christmas time. Each year the choir boys’ angelical voices lend themselves to an amazing Christmas concert: they perform their classical Christmas songs at Wiener Konzerthaus supported by top opera singers.
Also when in Budapest (HUNGARY) you can get into the festive spirit of Christmas with music: from classical to Gypsy salon; traditional folk dance shows and charity concerts, Baroque organ performances and contemporary live music bands will surely make your Christmas brighter!
And to fully immerse yourself in the city’s winter magic with all the senses… taste some flódni’, the Hungarian cinnamon-favoured chimney cake together with some mulled wine, have a look at the 3D light-painting show on St. Stephen’s Basilica façade, take up some ice-skating at the City Park Ice Rink (one of the largest in whole Europe!) close to the romantic Vajdahunyad Castle, and finally warm up again in the Szechenyi Spa Baths, enjoying 2 open air thermal pools and 15 indoor pools with their 38°C thermal waters!
In Prague (CZECH REPUBLIC) Classical Christmas music is always offered in the Municipal House, the Rudolfinum, St Nicholas’s Church at Old Town Square, however… Where else to go for an Advent concert rather than the National Theatre? There will be four concerts given by the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir along with soloists and the orchestra of the National Theatre every Sunday in December.
A diverse family fun opportunity can be found in Munich, (GERMANY) at the brand new Showpalast München: a bit out of the beaten track of Christmas carols, but equally good to take you all to a different world, out of reality for a while…
Venture on a journey to the mythical land of Equila, where humans and horses have always lived in harmony. This is a magical mix of touching encounters, impressive horse riding displays, breath-taking acrobatics and a moving story of the great friendship between a young man named Phero and his horse. No other show combines elements of music, dance, artistry and horse acts in such a unique way.
Find out more on our listing for Central Europe here:
Christian Nativity scenes: the signature Christmas symbol in Southern Europe
Italy is a must-visit destination for international travellers coming to Europe, and particularly for Indians.
Over Christmas, your guests can enjoy much more than just the most renowned monuments when cities and villages light up their Christmas cribs. The tradition of celebrating the Nativity scene creating a Christmas crib is said to be originated in Italy before spreading in other Southern European Countries, and it was made very popular by St. Francis of Assisi several centuries ago, for the first time in 1223. Painting and statues are the most common way to represent the Nativity, but St. Francis thought of a deeper involvement of the viewers, using living people, from elderly to children, and animals to recreate the crib (if you carefully look at the picture you’ll notice that characters are in fact not statues!).
Since then the tradition has been maintained, particularly in Central Italy, where in many towns locals for some days during December become the protagonists of a live Nativity scene. This is a great chance to discover the hidden gems of Italy and enjoy Christmas traditions at the same time!
We have picked 3 of the most spectacular ones for you:
– Greccio (about 100 Km North-East to Rome), the actual place where St. Francis created the very first Nativity scene, and where today characters wear medieval costumes.
– Frasassi (about 3 hours’ drive both from Rome and Florence), the biggest live Nativity scene of Italy (and most probably of the whole world) with over 300 people representing the local ancient crafts and traditions, who climb up to the crib which is located in the stunning natural backdrop of the renowned Frasassi Caves.
– Matera (about 3 hours’ drive both from Naples), known as “the Underground City” or cave-town, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, since the 10th millennium BC, and a very evocative UNESCO site that in 2019 will also be European Capital of Culture. Its live Nativity scene direction is supported by Rome Cinecittà film studios and the scenic design by the Schol of Fine Arts from Bari, so you can really expect a great experience!
In Catalunya, (SPAIN) people have a very unique sense of humor during the Christmas time.
This region has two very interesting Christmas traditions: the “Tió de Nadal” and the “Caganer”.
The “Tió de Nadal” (also known as “Caga Tió”, which, funny enough, means “poo log”) is a wooden log with a happy face painted on one side. Each night during the Christmas time, children have to pamper the log, cover it with a blanket, and feed it with nuts and dried fruit. When Christmas Eve comes, children need to beat the happy log and sing a traditional song and he will release candies and treats. Your guests visiting Barcelona and other Catalan during the Christmas holidays, might spot the Tió de Nadal in the Christmas markets as well.
The “Caganer”, instead, is an item which represents a person sitting to “do his necessities” that is usually hidden in Christmas cribs to bring luck and fortune to the family.
Travelling across Europe during Christmas time is an incredibly inspiring experience your clients can’t just miss out.
And there is no better place to spend a wonderful Christmas time with the most enchanting and interesting traditions in Europe.
Bring your discerning travellers to Europe with Polo Marco Experience!
Find out more about us here: Polo Marco Experience