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What European Traditions Does Your Family Have for the Holidays?

Since so many people on this forum either have family in Europe or were born here or may have ancestors here, I was wondering what traditions you may have for the holidays. Are these traditions your family has handed down or did you just discover them and then bring them into your own family? I know that Christmas will be celebrated quite differently in the Netherlands then in Italy, or Switzerland. Germany of course seems to be quite popular for Christmas traditions, but every country has its own little things that are meaningful or fun. Like Christmas crackers, or Santa Lucia, or St. Nicholaus, or midnight mass, and well, you get the picture. Tell us about what your family does that comes from the "old country".

Posted by
2297 posts

Oh Cate, "Dinner for One" is just a must. A couple of years I finaly found a good version on youtube and sent it out to all my friends here in town. No false modesty here, but that link made a lot of people very happy :-)

No wonder, the catch phrase of the show is “Same procedure as every year” - that's a pretty good definition for a tradition! I'm very tempted to watch it right now, but that would be so wrong ...

Posted by
360 posts

My parents were French Canadian in ancestry. Whenever we spent Christmas with my Father's parents, we had a meat pie called Tourtiere. I found a recipe that tastes very much as I remember. We'll have it this year on Christmas Eve. It'll bring back a lot of memories for me & I'll try to convey some of those to my son.

Posted by
12040 posts

At my parent's house, they and my grandparents still consume the traditional Lithuanian Christmas Eve meal... which unfortunately, is one of the most dreadful examples of ethnic cuisine I have ever encountered. Stewed dried peas, stewed prunes, "Lithuanian sauerkraut" (different, in a worse way, from the German variety), fried fish and flat bread. For years, until I actually visited Lithuania, I thought all Lithuanian food was this bad, which I can now thankfully report is not the case at all.

Consequently, I now try to attend Christmas with my in-laws in Belgium. There, the meal usually consists of some kind of roast bird, a hearty vegetable stew, fresh baked bread and copious amounts of beer. And one delightful cultural import from France, the magnificent Buche de Noel cake... imagine icing nearly one inch thick!

Posted by
2297 posts

Good timing Jo, as today is Nikolaus day :-)

My kids set out their boots last night and Nikolaus filled them with chocolate and a little gift. Tomorrow we will have a big party for all our German friends and Nikolaus will come in person, meet the kids, read from his Golden Book (to see if the kids were naughty or nice) and hand them a Stutenkerl/Weckmann, a treat made out of sweet bread dough that looks like a little man.

The big debate in our house for Christmas is always over the question of Christmas Eve vs Christmas Day. So we end up having a small but very fine dinner on Christmas Eve just with my parents in our house and afterwards open about half the gifts while sitting next to the Christmas tree that has real candles lit. That is the only moment we light them on the tree. For the rest of the holidays the electric lights are on.

Christmas day is celebrated entirely in the Canadian tradition with a big turkey dinner and many family guests.

Many of the German traditions we use are around decorations. We never start decorating before the first Sunday of Advent. I have a nice collection of crafts made in the Erzgebirge. And no tree set up until a few days before Christmas (if you do it earlier it will be so dry by Christmas that it would light up in fire with real candles, a fresh tree is actually very safe!). Instead we have an Advent reef with four big candles on our kitchen table and light it at every meal.

My kids also get Advent calenders starting on Dec 1. We actually have two: the ready made ones filled with chocolates behind the doors. And I always make one as a craft project for myself and fill it with German treats (Kinder chocolate, Lakritzschnecken, Brause ...) and some special events like tickets for a movie. Even now that they are teens/preteens my kids insist on getting this personalized calender. And they now help making it.

Posted by
2297 posts

When my kids were younger we also picked one book with a Christmas story that we would read in chapters throughout Advent. There are a couple by Cornelia Funke that are just wonderful. "When Santa fell to Earth" is now available in English translation and I very much recommend it for kids 6-12

Christmas baking is done with German recipees only. We do only two kinds and lots of it: Vanille Kipferl and thin shortbread cookies, cut out and decorated with melted chocolate. Well, I do also some cut-out maple leafs and decorate those with red icing (made from beet juice!).

Posted by
669 posts

We do Advent calendars starting on Dec. 1st, the Advent wreath for the 4 Sundays before Christmas, St. Nickolaus Day (although my German mom didn't introduce that to us when we were young- we picked up on it when we lived there and got her to start it up.) We celebrate on Christmas Eve, too, and my mother would rather do bratwurst but my So Cal dad's family does tacos, and he won on that. My husband's great-grandparents were Norwegian and his great-step-grandfather was Swedish, so his family celebrates on Christmas Eve with Swedish meatballs- we have dinner twice on Christmas Eve, and it's quite a range of food!

New Year's Eve is also traditional with Krapfen and the annual watching of "Dinner for One." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinner_for_One

Posted by
8064 posts

I had to really think a bit about what we do that was actually German. I always kept the Santa Claus and reindeer thing going because of the kids. What I did realize, was that it was subtle things, like little white twinkle lights instead of colored ones, no more of that silver tinsel on the tree, advent calendars of course, St.Nickolaus (today), going downtown to hear the "pealing of the bells" on Christmas eve. We also started inviting bachelor friends over on the 24th and 25th so that they don't have to spend this time alone. So many expats do not have family over here, so it can be lonely for them. Sometimes it is soldiers on R&R, as Frankfurt is an easy place for them to come to.

The consulate community used to do a great turkey dinner at the Bahnhof mission at Christmas and hand out goodie bags with warm socks, toiletries, etc. to Frankfurts down and outers. They did a hot meal there once a month anyway, but this was a special dinner. So, though this isn't an old tradition I thought it might be interesting as a sort of "new" European tradition.

Posted by
5668 posts

For our family it's the food. We have a dundee cake, shortbread, and lemon honey's. The last is a lemon curd in pastry. Most of the recipes are from Women's Institute cookbooks or my grandmothers old one Cumbria--then Cumberland. We always have Christmas Crackers at our Christmas dinner. I think that the creamed onions are English because my grandmother always made them before I got saddled with the task! On Christmas Eve we have oyster stew, but I don't think that is particular to a country. It is a in the tradition of having seafood still until Christmas Day. A number of years ago my sister's in laws joined us for Christmas. They are Scandinavian and so all types of pickled herring go added to Christmas Eve's feast.

Posted by
8064 posts

Oh, we like "Dinner for One" also. When my husband came over here, he was confused as to why all the Germans watch this show in English on New Years Eve and why it was on over and over on so many channels. It is kinda funny when you think about it.

Posted by
2297 posts

Well, it is kind of funny but if you look at the dialogue of "Dinner for One" it's not that surprising anymore. There are no more than a handful of phrases that basically get repeated again and again. Even as a child with very basic school English I had no problems following it and repeating the dialogue by heart :-)

Posted by
669 posts

I have watched "Dinner for One" since I was a child and only last year did I catch on to what was going on when he carried her upstairs at the end. I turned to my parents and said, "Oh my gosh- I just got that!"

I always like watching my dad laugh when he blames the cat after drinking the flower water.

Posted by
429 posts

What a great topic, Jo. Food, glorious food !!

My original roots are firmly planted in England, on all 4 sides of my family. My early memories are of my gg-grandmother's Christmas pudding recipe, with sweet, sticky rum sauce, pies and tarts made from mince meat my mother had made months before - recipe also from my gg-grandmother. Christmas dinner was the traditional turkey, stuffing (bread, melted butter, onions, celery and poultry seasonings), carrots, brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes. My father insisted on real home-made cranberry sauce, and my uncle liked the canned, jellied kind, so my Mom always had both on the table. Yum -- I'm drooling already.

We always had Christmas crackers, and I remember my grandfather and father wearing those silly paper hats. We had such fun laughing at each other.

My father used to read "The Night Before Christmas" to us before we went to bed Christmas Eve, and we ALWAYS put out carrots for the reindeer and cookies and milk for Santa. This part is not from the "old country", but it sure brings warm and happy memories for me.

Now that we're older, we like to blend the traditions of our youth, new ones learned from friends here and afar, and ones we've created for ourselves. This time of year is about friends and family, and it is so nice to share what makes us happy.

Posted by
1346 posts

My wife spent part of her childhood and young adulthood in Germany and brought home the tradition of the Advent Calendar. When we were in Germany for a military tour she made a cross-stitched Advent Calendar for my daughter, who was born during that time in Bremerhaven. Every year she fills it with candy for our two (now adult) kids. This year they were both off to college so she hung the calendar but did not fill it with candy. My son (now 19) came home the other day and grilled me, "Why hang the Advent Calendar and not fill it?" Some childish traditions outlive childhood.

Regards, Gary

Posted by
8064 posts

On New Years, besides letting off a small amount of fireworks, we do fortune telling with lead. You get these little kits from the store. It comes with a little spoon and little lump of lead. You melt it, then drop it into water. Then you look at it to see what it reminds you of and then you can look in the little booklet that comes with the kit and it will tell you your "fortune" for the year. I don't know why this is fun, but it is.

Posted by
1 posts

My family is Scandanavian and we, like many families, eat traditional foods! The Saturday before Christmas, my grandmother, aunt and her daughters and I get together to make Lefse and Fattigmann for Christmas morning. We always eat a bit that day, too! We spread butter over the lefse and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar before rolling them up and eating- YUM! And the fattigman (a fried cookie) are eaten with coffee, breakfast, well, anytime! On Christmas Day's Eve, we all get together and eat dinner and "enjoy" Lutefisk (a very rubbery kind of disgusting fish soaked in lye) which we dip in warm melted butter.
With my other grandparents, its the decorations- old Swedish decor they brought here with them that have now found a home with me, which I proudly display every Christmas.

Posted by
11450 posts

My dad and sister and I always have raw oysters before Christmas dinner, then whole family has escargots before dinner. I can eat 2 dozen oysters , then 1- 1.5 dozen escargots before I explode. I will then have small helpings of turkey , stuffing , gravy and brussel sprouts. I skip mashed potatoes , buns, yams, and what ever else is on table, oysters and escargots are my Christmas dinner.

PS It is not traditional to have both at Xmas, but in our home we just go gluttonious .. LOL I think it is more usaul to just have oysters.

Posted by
448 posts

Our Christmas tradition is "whose turn is it to get Tante Suzanne?"...and it looks like i'll have her two years in a row..plus her sister in law, my mother in law..and they only pretend to get along. Last year Suz brought the free box of chocolates given by the Mairie to seniors, but she took out all the dark (because she likes them) and replaced them with milk chocs, from the discount store where she also bought the very on sale foie gras. I'll be going to midnight mass to ask for strength to prepare the meal..i'm seriously considering serving lasagna (homemade of course) with cakes from the bakery..i look at them every year and say "why not?"

Posted by
11450 posts

Regina,, thank you for that, I laughed out loud. I guess we all have our crosses to bear at Christmas,, all that forced Christmas family togetherness..LOL

PS DO the store bought cakes, my goodness if someone complains they can bloody well make and bring desssert themselves( of course no one will complain( to your face, LOL ) but you know how it is behind your back. LOL

Good luck

Posted by
478 posts

Our traditions are also German and come from my side of the family, being born in Germany and raised in the US. Growing up, we did St. Nicklaus day, where we put out our shoes/boots and received goodies in them the next morning. Every Christmas Eve we go to my parents' house and eat our traditional dinner of Wiener wurstchen, potato salad, assorted cold cuts, broetchen, fleighsalat, etc...

I decorate our home with German candle pyramids, schwibbogen, nativity scenes, and other wood decorations from the Erzgebirge. I also get out hand-stitched decorative tablecloths and runners.

My kids (who are now almost grown) love the traditions.

Posted by
1253 posts

My grandfather was from a small town in Switzerland. I'm not sure this is a Swiss tradition but he used to love to sing christmas carols. The last carol was always Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

After he passed my mother carried on the tradition. She could sing the hell out of the last verse.

Now that she is gone I can't help but get a little emotional when I hear that song. Thanks for the memory.

Posted by
386 posts

I know this is a little bit out of left field, since I am as Austrian as apple strudel,
but my three youngest children were raised pretty much while I was living in the USA.
Of course, I held on to all our Christmas (and Hanukkah)traditions from Austria.
Advent wreath, baking cookies with the kids, Christmas tree put up on the 24th, only candles & white lights, much singing & Würstlsuppe (soup with sausages), or sausages on the eve of 24th, roasted goose and red cabbage on Christmas day (25th). In time my older children took over the task to go sledding or snowman building with their younger siblings, while I decorated the tree, which they NEVER, EVER got to see until the moment of 'Bescherung' the gift giving. I was a single Mom for many years. And at midnight, when no church was around, we went for a family walk, came hell or high water!
Along the way we had heartbreaking scenes in the vein of: but we want COLORED, blinking lights like the neighbors/everybody already has a tree, but we don't!/why doesn't Santa Claus come visit US???/& much more. But I stood my ground & gave ridiculous explanations ranging from: we are not a circus, to Santa doesn't speak Austrian, to Because I said so! ;-)
About 10 yrs back we had the chance to spent the holiday in Austria with my family, & my children were stunned, enchanted & forever reformed ;-))
Today they proudly carry on all our family traditions, no matter where in the world.
Oh! We never listened to 'Silent Night, Holy Night' until Christmas eve!
By the way, I always resisted the urge to fall into the commercial aspect of Xmas in USA, the kids only got one special present each, lovingly wrapped, and a few smaller ones. At times, I actually cried over this quite a bit, because for many years I simply didn't have the $$s, later my conviction took over once more, now I am sooooo grateful to have raised the kids outside the shopping madness, even though it wasn't always by choice.

Posted by
448 posts

afternoon of Dec 24th...i've got the christmas eve menu done: Snails/escargots...Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce and noodles (fresh from the market)...and profiteroles for dessert ( bought at the frozen food store)...And then i go to "midnight" mass at St Martin...where i give thanks to many things including the "internationalishness" of our family...
If you want the Christmas day menu i'll write that, but be warned, it includes reindeer sausage...

Posted by
386 posts

My second Christmas back home in Austria :-)
I am actually making something else since year, since we had goose for St. Martini Day, and because we have such plentiful, delicious local venison available around here:
Slow-simmered deer roast with gravy(Hirschbraten) , lingonberries, Semmelknödel (dumplings of breadcubes)and red cabbage.
I have soaked the deer roast all night in an eintire bottle of red wine :-)
For the starter course: trout filets with a yogurt/chive/horseradish sauce.
For dessert: Cappuccino Parfait
Fröhliche Weihnachten, Merry Christmas to all from Austria