Celebrating Christmas in Europe

Celebrating Christmas in Europe

by Shereece Spain
Stripes Europe

Christmas is an internationally celebrated holiday. However, many countries and cultures have their own distinct ways to commemorate this time of the year. In Europe, it is definitely a whole season filled with celebration. There are different traditions that aren’t as popular in America.

Christmas Eve

For many Europeans, the main event is on the 24th. People will go to church that evening or at midnight. Afterward, families will gather for their celebratory meal, which is usually some type of fish or a goose. They’ll continue to honor and celebrate the holiday through Dec. 26, so most businesses are closed Dec. 25 and 26.

“Happy Christmas”

We’re used to saying Merry Christmas. However, in many European languages, it’s translated as Happy Christmas - our British friends included (no translation required).

Christmas trees and decorations

Most Europeans don’t put up their tree until Christmas Eve. It usually stays up until Epiphany, not just after New Year’s Day, which is common in the U.S.

You also won’t see much in the way of illuminated decorations as you drive through neighborhoods. However, nativity scenes and the lit paper lantern stars are quite popular. Some larger cities have annual light displays. If you need your fix of Christmas lights, that’s the place to go.

Season beginning 

No, it’s not Black Friday. It does vary by country; however, the top three are St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6, Christmas Eve, or the beginning of Advent.

The “bad” kids 

The possibility of a lump of coal did not serve as much of a deterrent as my parents probably would’ve liked. However, Krampus totally has the potential for keeping a kid on the straight and narrow. He’s the scary looking fellow who goes around with Santa Claus. If you’re good, you get presents. If you’re bad, you get abducted! I don’t know who came up with this twisted idea, but it’s pretty awesome.

Christmas markets

Dating back to medieval times, this allowed locals to bring their handcrafted goods to market. People could get all their shopping done in one location without having to travel great distances for unique gifts and holiday decorations. With the music, small fires and mulled wine, you can’t help but get in the holiday spirit. Sadly, COVID-19 has put these markets on pause, but there are ways to bring the magic of Christmas markets home to you this year. 

Boxing Day

This began in the U.K. in the Middle Ages. Alms boxes were put out to collect money for the poor. On Dec. 26, the boxes were opened, usually by the church, and the contents were distributed to the less fortunate. Today, it’s somewhat more of the equivalent to America’s Black Friday. 

Shoes instead of stockings

Traditionally in several countries, children place shoes by the fireplace or door. They will put in offerings to St. Nicholas or his animals in exchange for the presents he brings.  


Also called Three Kings’ Day, is a feast day in January to celebrate when the Kings visited baby Jesus. It oftentimes includes caroling and having one’s house blessed along with another big, festive feast. Since this is the official end of the Christmas season, you start to notice decorations come down.

If you plan on spending Christmas in your host nation or traveling to another European country, try incorporating some of their traditions into your festivities! 

Frohe Weihnachten! ¡Feliz Navidad! Bon Natale! Buon Natale!

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