Christmas Traditions around Europe

December 17, 2017

Anybody who has enjoyed travelling around Europe during the festive season will know that each country likes to celebrate Christmas a little differently.

From cute gingerbread houses, to fun secret Santa parties, there’s always something new to discover when you take a trip across the sea.  Here are some of the most endearing European Christmas traditions that can add a touch of magic to those cold winter nights:


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Gingerbread house building – Germany

If you’re lucky enough to attend one of Germany’s legendary Christmas markets, then there is a good chance that you’ll stumble over a gingerbread house at some point.

Ever since the early 1800s, German bakers have been making these delightful delicacies out of gingerbread, chocolate and candy in homage to the famous Brothers Grimm fairytale – Hansel and Gretel.

Although the original fairytale has a fairly morbid twist, the modern gingerbread house is far more festive with all manner of weird and wonderful creations on display in Lebkuchenhaus (Gingerbread house) hotspots like Nuremburg and Ulm. But whilst the gingerbread houses are lovely to look at, most people would agree that they are far better to eat!


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St Nicholas’ Day – Belgium and the Netherlands


Christmas comes early to the children of Belgium and the Netherlands as celebrations begin on St. Nicholas’ Eve (5th December), with presents delivered by Sinterklaas opened on St Nicholas’ Day (6th December).

Children’s Sinterklaas parties take place on the 5th, where children will do ‘secret santa’, exchange chocolate letters with their friends and enjoy festive treats together. Traditionally, on St Nicholas’ Eve, children will leave their shoes in front of the fire along with a gift for Sinterklaas such as biscuits, drawings or a carrot for Sinterklaas’ horse.

Sinterklaas is said to arrive on the roof during the night to leave gifts – but for the good children only! Sinterklaas is always keeping an eye on the behavior of the children and keeps a note in a book throughout the year. On St Nicholas’ Day, children will wake up to shoes filled with presents, speculoos biscuits and chocolate figurines and the festivities begin.


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Yule log – France

The classic Yule log is one of the most mouth-watering features of the festive season. But this delicious European Christmas dessert also has some fairly ancient origins.

It’s thought that the Yule log goes all the way back to the Iron Age where our European ancestors would burn logs decorated with holly, ivy, and pinecones to celebrate the passing of the bleak midwinter’s night.

But thanks to the ingenuity of certain Parisian bakers in the 19th century, this European Christmas tradition evolved to become a seriously edible treat.

With plenty of chocolate buttercream frosting, marzipan holly, and sprinklings of icing sugar, the Yule log has become a Christmas classic the world over. But by taking a ferry to France, you’re guaranteed a typically indulgent way to enjoy this wonderfully French Christmas delicacy.


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Christmas trees – Germany


There’s plenty of debate about the origins of the humble Christmas tree. But most would agree that the European Christmas tradition of using evergreens to celebrate the festive period goes back to Germany in the 1500s.

The early origin of Christmas trees in the home can be pinpointed to Germany, through the ‘Tannenbaum ballad’ songs written at the time and the historical references of German professor Martin Luther. Martin Luther was apparently walking home from a sermon and was awed by the beautiful stars amidst evergreens, so brought a tree into the home adorned it with candles for his family. We can be sure that we have Germany to thank for our desire to litter our living room floors with pine needles every Christmas!

Whilst lighting the tree with real wax candles may no longer be considered to be safe, there’s still something magical about having a twinkling Christmas tree in our homes during the festive season.


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Mistletoe – United Kingdom

The green leaves and white berries of mistletoe have long enjoyed a special place in the mythology of many European nations. Vitality and fertility are both associated with the common shrub, as it remains green and growing during winter when the trees are bare, though the berries are poisonous to humans.

Mistletoe is said to have origins in Norse mythology, as the goddess Frigg blessed the plant so that everyone who passed underneath it received a kiss. This act was popularised by the Victorians in the UK and over time, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe has evolved, so now, it’s common for two adults caught underneath it to be expected to pucker up.

Whilst this has led to all manner of embarrassing situations, it seems to have lost none of its popularity. So if you’re looking for a truly memorable Christmas, be sure to add plenty of mistletoe decorations to your home this festive season.

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