Christmas around the world

We asked a few of our friends to tell us a bit about how they celebrate Christmas in their countries. We wish you a good read, Happy Christmas and Happy New Year!

Carlos, from Portugal

Nowadays, Christmas in Portugal is very influenced by other cultures. One of the facts that proves this tendency is the substitution of the Baby Jesus for Santa Claus in the delivery of the presents.

But still, most of the families make the Christmas crib under the Christmas tree with all the people and animals. As Christmas decorations, we also put the socks over the fireplace and lights around the house.

On Christmas Eve, the whole family and friends sit around the table to celebrate. For dinner we eat codfish with boiled potatoes and vegetables, and drizzle it with olive oil.

For dessert, we have a great variety of delicious sweets such as filhoses, azevias, sonhos, coscorões, broas, rabanadas and the traditional King cake. Those who don’t like crystallized fruit have the option to eat Queen cake.

Around midnight, a lot of families go to church celebrate the Midnight Mass. In the end of the mass, we use to kiss the baby Jesus as prove of devotion. When we get back home, we open the presents.

On Christmas day, we eat the leftovers from Christmas Eve, what we call “old clothes”.

Bacalhau de Natal
Bacalhau de Natal

Carlo, from Italy

Italy has many different Christmas traditions by region, to describe them all would take a book. As for the Veneto region is closely linked to the figure of Saint Lucia is celebrated mainly in Verona, where every year a great Christmas market in Piazza Bra is prepared. The other important feast is connected to the Epiphany, while the Christmas Day apart from the Christmas Eve dinner is not particularly celebrated and
gifts in the traditional receiving only in Saint Lucia and Epiphany. On the night of 12 December,  Venetian children await the arrival of St. Lucia who brings them the expected gifts; she is riding a donkey. According to tradition, you leave a plate of food for both her and the donkey before you go to sleep. That night the kids go to bed early and close their eyes. If she  finds them still awake, she makes them blind with ash. The following morning, kids find their plate full of sweets from Lucia, including “pastefrolle of Santa Lucia”, cookies of various shapes (star, pony, heart …) which take away the evil and bring good luck, as well as the equally ” ghiaia dell’Adige ” (sweets shaped like pebbles) and ” carbone dolce ” for the kids who were “bad”. The night of the Epiphany, however, throughout the Veneto region there is a custom “ardere la vecchia”, to set up a huge snowman in a human form (consisting of wood, rags and bundles  in the streets or in the fields, which is called “Pan e Vin” (bread and wine) and is then placed on a pile of wood and set on fire. According to tradition, this act is a kind of hope for the new year: the witch in fact is the old year and for this reason it burns hoping that the new one is better than the past. In the popular imagination, it was said that the destruction of the old represented the end of all evil. In ancient times the night of the Epiphany was the opportunity to practice a series of rites since before the fire, he called for good crops for the next agricultural season. The performance of the smoke and sparks you drew the auspices for the year just begun: if they go to the south or east – because wind-driven rains wet carrier – the harvest will be plentiful, if you smoke and sparks go north or west , the harvest will be meager. Hence the saying: Se el fun va a la marina, ciol el sac e va a farina; se el va a la montagna, no se ghe magna (if the smoke goes towards the south, take the bag and go to flour, if it goes to the north, you do not eat). In Venice, however, on the morning of the Epiphany in addition to receiving gifts in the sock, it is custom to make the tour of the nativity scenes in churches (there are beautiful and very old ones) and for good luck in the new year one must visit at least six, while in some neighboring countries such as Noale is tradition to visit the living nativity scenes staged by actors. Then in the afternoon, both in Venice on the Grand Canal that in Mira along the Brenta there is the traditional Regatta Befane, with oarsmen dressed like an old lady who challenges the gondolas. Finally, another Christmas tradition typical of the Veneto are the markets set up in the lagoon of Venice where the angle is inevitable taste of  wine brulé (red wine boiled and flavored with fruit and cinnamon) and pinza (call in Venetian dialect “pinsa “) that, in the past, was cooked in the embers of the bonfires that were lit in the fields the night on 6th January. The recipe caliper varies by location, but you can sketch the general features. The ingredients are simple, typical of the country tradition, such as white flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, eggs, candied fruits, raisins, figs and fennel seeds which are mixed together. Often the mothers prepare the caliper from old bread and dried fruit.

Typical dishes of the Venetian Christmas menu are:

Soppressa all’aceto (a salami with vinegar), ravioli cooked in the broil of capon with pevarada (sauce made with chicken livers, sausage and pepper), boiled capon, chicken or boiled beef “al cren” (horseradish sauce) served with mashed potatoes, boiled nose (kind of sausage) with mustard and salad of radicchio and sweet as the fugassa (a cake similar to Panettone or Pandoro), the zaletti (corn cookies with raisins) with zabaglione (cream from eggs and marsala wine) and delicious almond nougat Torone.

Pan e Vin
Pan e Vin

Dana, from Slovakia

To make a potato salad you mix potatoes, carrots, pea, eggs, mayonnaise and season the whole thing. My Polish friend claims that the mayonnaise makes the salad too fat and she would prefer it with yoghurt. Well, no such luck here! Us, Slovaks, we are a hard-working, modest nation. Our cuisine is, naturally, not one of the low-fat ones. Why is it, you ask? Well, a long time ago, when a Slovak shepherd came home after a long day of doing shepherd stuff, he wanted to devour a huge, fat meal to make up for all the hungry hours of shepherding. His wife cooked mostly from ingredients they themselves were able to produce – fat, eggs, poultry meat, onions, potatoes, etc. That is why most of our meals are also rather simple. But boy, can we have a blast during Christmas time!

Every year, my grandma devotes her free time before Christmas to baking 11 types of cookies. Chocolate ones. Caramel ones. Coconut ones. Liquor ones. Rum ones. Nut ones. But especially ones that are baked and decorated in every household and we call them “medovníky”. They look like this:


It’s only logical that we let ourselves go a bit during Christmas. But it’s ok, because an opinion spreading throughout media nowadays claims that boys like a little more booty to hold at night. And I can always start jogging after the New Years’. Or maybe a week after that, one might not want to rush into the New Year’s resolutions too quickly.

Furthermore, we gorge on fruits, cabbage soup with mushrooms and the main course usually consists of the mentioned potato salad and fried carp. You wouldn’t believe how many people end up in the emergency rooms because of the teeny-tiny bones that carp is full of! If you don’t like it, you and your family can also be all about that salmon or chicken, no trouble. If you wait and don’t eat until the Christmas dinner is served, rumour has it that you might see a golden pig! There has been a popular commercial running on TV for several years now that depicts this phenomenon of ours in a really cute way:

And this is how things go on the 24th of December, the Christmas day. The whole family meets at the dinner table at 5 or 6 pm. Firstly, we eat a very thin waffle covered with honey. One of the family members cuts an apple in halves and if there is a star in the middle of the apple, it means our next year is going to be a successful one. There is one interesting tradition which raises my hopes too high every year and still I get disappointed again and again. We put some money under our table cloth in order to have more money next year. I don’t know exactly how this magical mechanism works, but I’m sure as hell I am doing something wrong. After we eat our dinner, one of the family members rings a small bell, which signalizes that our presents are under the tree, usually in the living room. After all the unwrapping and cheering ends, we just lay down on the sofa, eat some more and watch cartoons.

You must be wondering where our presents come from. Who brings them? Is it Santa Claus? Oh no, sir! In our country, little Baby Jesus does that. Although it is hard to define the exact way and logistics of a new-born infant bringing presents into every Slovak family roughly at the same time, I have always imagined the holy baby just floating in the air and by swinging one of its cute little arms, the presents we wished for somehow appear under our beautifully decorated Christmas tree.

Most of our Christmas traditions are deeply rooted in Christianity. But no matter who you believe created your world, be it God, the Big Bang or any other supernatural being, we all meet at the midnight mass in the church to sing Silent night together and in that moment, we all feel blessed and happy.

Happy holidays to everyone!