Holiday customs in nearly every European country include gatherings for meals and observation of religious traditions as early as November, and as late as January.
However, European Christmas traditions vary greatly from country to country.
Christmas begins with Advent: a preparation for the coming of Christ four Sundays before Christmas. Throughout December, families gather for celebrations. Children hang final tree decorations on Heiligabend (Christmas Eve), and open presents Christmas Day. Germany observes December 26th as part of Christmas.
At 12 noon on Christmas Eve, “Christmas peace” is declared and observed for 20 days. Finnish Christmas is quiet: people avoid crowds and noise. A Christmas Eve sermon followed by sauna bathing is an ancient Finnish Christmas ritual welcoming ancestral spirits.
Traditional French foods are served throughout the Christmas season, which lasts until January 2. Holiday snacks include foie gras, figs, and onions confit. “Réveillon” (Christmas Eve dinner) is a feast of cheeses, potatoes, lamb, and oysters, which is served late on Christmas Eve, or early Christmas morning. Christmas Day breakfast must be finished before children are allowed to open presents from Père Noël (Father Christmas).
The December 8th Feast of the Immaculate Conception begins the Christmas season. Traditional Christmas dinner, Pavo Trufado de Navidad (Christmas turkey with truffles), is served before midnight mass, “La Misa Del Gallo” (Mass of the Rooster), named for the legendary rooster’s crow the night of Christ’s birth. Some gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day, but most are given on January 6th, Día de los Reyes Magos (Day of the Three Wisemen).
Children receive gifts from Julebukk: a present-delivering gnome—if they remember to offer porridge to Jul Nisse, who taunts those who forget his porridge. Christmas Eve includes a large meal. As thanks for help during WWII, Norway presents a tree to England yearly, which is displayed in London’s Trafalgar Square.
December 13th marks the start of Christmas with St. Lucia Day. On December 23rd, children offer Tomten (Father Christmas) porridge in hopes of receiving gifts. The Christmas Eve meal, “Julbord,” is a lunchtime buffet of regional cold fish, “Julskina,” (Christmas Eve ham), and rice porridge with raspberry jam. Presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve, and families attend church on Christmas morning.