Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year! Well, it is for anyone who wants to celebrate the birth of Christ or just unwrap some gifts after knocking back a glass of eggnog (we don’t judge). But different parts of Europe have developed their own traditions, and all of them are weird to outsiders.
- Norway: A Very Bright Christmas
Most northern Europeans will moan endlessly about how early it gets dark in winter. Well, Norwegians, especially the ones at the very north, have more reasons to complain than others. That’s why Christmas – and the whole advent season – is a festival of lights.
Nothing exemplifies that more than the feast day of Santa Lucia, the Queen of Lights, that falls on the 13th of December. While it would be a little strange for Norwegians to venerate a 4th-century Sicilian saint, they do have their own version of her legend! A young woman from a rich family brought baked goods to farmsteads while dressed in a white gown and red sash, whole wearing a crown of lingonberry twigs with lit candles and holding a torch.
The celebration is usually started by a procession of girls, led by a dedicated “Lussibrud,” who gets to wear the robe and the crown. They carry baskets of “Lussekattor” – saffron buns, which they hand out. The rest is celebrating the day in family gatherings, churches, and so on.
- Spain: El Gordo and the log that poops
The Spanish Christmas Lottery – usually called El Gordo (“The Big One”) – is the second longest running lottery in the world, dating back to 1812. It has the biggest prize payout in the world, with the 2017 prize pot being €2.31 billion. Naturally, you don’t give all that money to a single person, but the first-place winner gets to take home some €720 million. The prize draw on the 22nd of December can last for five hours.
A more traditional thing is Tió de Nadal or Christmas log. Originally from Catalonia, this sees children get a festive-looking log (smiley-face included) which is “fed” and kept warm (via blankets) from the 8th, the feast of Immaculate Conception. On Christmas Day, the kids get sticks and beat the log to make it poop presents: those are usually sweets meant to be shared by everyone (you get your big gift from Three Wise Men). The people have no qualms about the pooping aspect of the tradition, and a popular name for it is Caga tió (“the Shitting Log”).
- Sweden: Goats on fire
From the depths of pagan history of Sweden comes the julbocken – the Christmas Goat – who delivered gifts on this day. Naturally, like many pagan traditions we attached a nativity scene to, it it still invoked during the Christmas time.
Gävle Goat is the most famous of the goats, being situated in the town that gave it its name. This 13 meter-high goat is supposed to be torched on the New Years Eve. Instead, the goats stands 77% of being destroyed way before that. It has been torched 37 times since the 1976. In 2016, it burned down despite high-tech security and guards being posted to protect. At this point, you can say that Gävle Goat sabotage is a tradition in on itself. Heck, someone tried to steal it using a helicopter once!
- Netherlands: The War Of Spanish Gift Giving
You think Christmas shopping season is creeping ever closer to summer each year? Well, the Netherlands don’t even care to wait for December. In the Netherlands and some parts of Belgium, Sinterklaas – St. Nicholas – arrives by boat on the last Saturday of November. He arrives from Spain of all places and rides a horse called Amerigo.
This probably has something to do with the historical Spanish occupation of the Netherlands and the Eighty Years War that the Dutch (and others) fought for independence. It might explained why kids are warned that if they misbehave, Sinterklass will take them back to Spain! At any rate, Sinterklass tours the Netherlands dressed in bishop’s garb, the kids leave out carrots for Amerigo, and gifts are unwrapped on December 5th.
- Germany: Knecht Ruprecht the Shoe Filler
We all know that the Germans started many of the Christmas traditions that we all know, like the Christmas tree. We have also heard some trivia about something called Krampus this one time. However, you probably don’t know about Knecht Ruprecht!
So, the Christmas season starts from 6th of December, on St. Nicholas day. Traditionally, children leave their shoes for St. Nick to fill with gifts (makes as much sense as the stockings, really). However, if the kids were bad, Knecht Ruprecht would fill those with twigs! Since Germany isn’t a barren, featureless wasteland, twigs aren’t really a luxury good, so this supposedly teaches the kids a lesson: crime doesn’t pay, naughtiness doesn’t gift.
- Ukraine: Christmas 2 – Jingle Harder
Look at you, reader. A pathetic celebrant of gingerbread and Glühwein. Panting and sweating as you celebrate Christmas once. How can you challenge a perfect country that does it twice? That’s right, Ukraine has two official public holidays for Christmas.
That happens because Ukraine has mixed population of adherents Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, one of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, or one of the Protestant denominations. Thus both the 25th of December and 7th of January are the proper days to observe Christmas. Sviata Vecherya is the special supper had on the Christmas Eve, caroling takes place, and so on – possibly twice!
However, flight disruptions could ruin even triple Christmas (I bet those happen somewhere). That doesn’t mean that you can’t get some good out of those nasty flight delays, cancellations or overbooking. Aside from a possible refund, you can also claim flight compensation of up €600! Do it via Skycop and we’ll take care of the fight with the airline while you can concentrate on the vigil of keeping the cat away from the Christmas tree!