Christmas traditions in Europe

As we celebrate the Christmas holiday, there are a number of unique celebrations and traditions around the world that originated in Europe.  Throughout Europe, countries like France, Germany, Norway, England, and others have their own unique ways of celebrating Christmas.

As we look ahead to Christmas, here are some well-known and unusual Christmas traditions throughout Europe.

1.  Mistletoe – This tradition originated from the Celtic Druids around 500 B.C. in England.  These pagan worshipers loved nature and believed that holly and mistletoe warded off evil spirits and helped ensure futility.  In the Christmas tradition, mistletoe was symbolized everlasting life through Christ and faith which would never die.

An English tradition, kissing under the mistletoe has been practiced for years though no one is certain how the tradition started.  It probably has something to do with with the fertility celebration by the Druids.

Mistletoe (Flickr: Dramatic)

2.  Christmas cards – The first Christmas card was issued in December 1843 by Sir Henry Cole.  During this time of the year, holiday messages were written on calling cards to friends and acquaintances.  Sir Henry Cole was too busy and hired London artist John Calcott Horsley to design a card with a Christmas message.  The first Christmas card greeting read “Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you.”  With post offices in England and the United States, this Christmas tradition was spread.

Christmas Card (Flickr: mjurn)

3.  Fruitcake – For people who have tasted fruit cake, it is something that is either loved or hated.  However, the tradition of the fruitcake began in Italy.  Italians have a variety of fruitcakes – panettone (big bread), pandoro (golden bread), panforte (strong bread), and pandolce (sweet bread).

Fruitcake is a blend of break and fried fruits celebrated and eaten throughout various regions in Italy.  While each region enjoys its favorite, the history of fruitcake is debated.  Many believe it may have been created in the 12th century by Sienese monks.

However, the popular, romatic story of fruitcake is that of panettone,  A baker from Milan fell in love with a woman and wanted to capture her love with a delicious cake.  His mixture included eggs, candied fruit, and too much yeast.  The result was panettone version of fruitcake which is popular all over Italy.

Panettone (Flickr: ben hanbury)

4.  Silent Night – This famous Christmas carol was first performed in Austria in 1818.  Legend has it that a local priest was out on Christmas night to bless a baby.  On his way home, the experience of that night on a starlit evening inspired him to write a poem.  Franz Gruber, the church organist, set the poem to music and on Christmas Eve 1818, the song was performed for the first time.  In Obendorf, Austria, the Silent Night Chapel stands on the place where Gruber and priest Joseph Mohr stood as it was performed for the first time.

5.  Nutcrackers – Nutcrackers were believed to originate from the Nürnberg region of Germany.  Legend has it that a man was on his deathbed but schoolchildren sang to him and he recovered.  In appreciation, he gathered what he had – wire, prunes, figs, and walnuts – and made a little man.  These became very popular and were sold in the markets.

Over the years, the Nutcracker became a wooden figurine of policeman, soldiers, and more used to crack the toughest of nuts.  These wooden versions were designed in 15th century Saxony as miners became woodworkers and developed these popular figures.

Nutcracker (Flickr: mikejmartelli)

For many celebrating Christmas, many of the popular traditions originate from Europe.  From mistletoe to Silent Night, the origins of these traditions go back many years.  While the origin of some of these Christmas traditions aren’t certain, it is these Christmas traditions which make celebrating Christmas in Europe so memorable and fun.