Christmas traditions in Central Europe
From end of November till beginning of January you can live a special experience in the Central Europe region. It is when the cities get wrapped in Christmas joy and you can experience the cultural traditions in every corner. Every country has its own variations, there are different importante dates and also diffrent characters, from Saint Nikolaus to Father Christmas who bring presents and treats to the children who have been good and behaved.
Make most of the season and visit some of many Christmas markets and party on the main squares on a New Year´s eve!
Christmas markets are definitely one of the most known traditions in the region. They are oftenly installed on the main squares, close to the Town Hall or the Cathedral. You can visit the best Christmas markets on Christmas tour.
The markets were first held on the late Middle Ages and took place for several days. They were more known as winter market where people got together to purchase food and products and stock up for the winter.
The central festives of Christmas celebrations normally last from two to three days and usally start with the Christmas Eve. According to the tradition, when the night falls and first starts begin to appear, the dinner should be served. The Christmas eve´s dinner doesn´t include any meat as it is a day of fast. In some households, the presents are given after the dinner, although those are usally more modest then those you´ll find in the United States. The majority of Catholics attend the midnight mass that evening. On Christmas day, 25th of December, there are morning masses and after that the day of rest in family circle with traditional Christmas meal with meat dishes and other goods that differentiate from one country to another.
The day after Christmas, denominated St. Stephen’s Day, is also celebrated in most of the countries and is free of work. Other kinds of festivities take place up to 6th of January when they celebrate the arrival of the Three wise men also called the Three kings who on that day brought presents to the baby Jesus. It is also the day when the households remove the christmas tree and other decorations.
BARBOKY AND CARPS
There are several odl traditions that celebrate the Czech Christmas. It all starts on 4th of December whit the feast of St. Barbara. On that day, single women get twigs of cherry treas and put them in water. If they bloom until Christmas eve that means the girl will get married in one year´s time. This tradition is called “Barboky”.
On the Christmas eve, a bowl of garlic is placed under the table where the Christmas dinner takes place which, according to the traditions, protects the family from the evil spirits. Fresh carp is the central dish of the Christmas dinner and fishing for carps is a popular diversion in the days leading up to Christmas. The selection of the main fish on the Christmas table can be explained as a good choise for a fasting meal and originates in 13th century.
There are other traditions that revolve around Christmas eve. Everyone at the table gets an apple and cuts it in half. If, in the middle, he can see a five-pointed star it means he will be very happy in the following year, if, on the other hand, sees a four-ponited star that means he will get ill.
If you are visiting Prague in December make sure too chech out the concerts held in the Municipal House, the Rudolfinum or St Nicholas’s Church.
LUCA´S DAY AND FISH SOUP
The Christmas festivities in Hungary start on the first Sunday of Advent time when the wreaths are put in the homes and first candle lit. In the days following up to christmas a tradition of boys going from door to door representing the Holy family is held. They put on the costumes and do a short skit and sing songs.
Some of the traditional celebrations take place on Saint Lucia Day on 13th of December. In the past it was considered as the darkest day of the year and day of the evil when people had to protect themselves from the spells and witches. The popular tradition connected to this day is carving a wooden chair, made out of 9 types of wood. It starts on Luca´s day and needs to be done by the Christmas eve with only one procedure a day being possible. The maker of the chair brings it to the midnight mass. Sitting on the chair he can see who the witches are. He then runs home, sprinkling poppy seeds behind him so they can´t catch him and then burns the chair.
On that day they also plant wheat and keep watering it until Christmas. The greener it gets, the richer the person will be the next year. The tradition also says that the person who doesn´t spend any money on this day will be rich in the following year.
Some days before Christmas the children write letters to ´Jézuska´ (baby Jesus) asking for gifts. They then put them on the window so the special angels can get them.
On Christmas eve the family decorates the tree and gather around for dinner which is similar to the ones in the neighboring countries. A fish soup is one of the dishes that has to be on the table. Beiglie is a traditional Christmas treat, soft cookies with walnuts and poppy seeds. A popular tree ornament, Szaloncukor (chocolate covered with candy and filled with different fillings such as orange, marzipan, etc.), can be admired, wrapped in different colored foils.
If you are in Hungary around Christmas time you can catch a traditional folk dance shows or baroque organ performances. Make sure to try some ´flódni´(traditional Hungarian Jewish confection), the chimney cake and some mulled wine. In the evening enjoy the ice-skating at the City Park Ice Rink or warm up in one of the spa baths.
VIENNA BOYS CHOIR AND THE HOLIDAY ANGEL
Austria is known to held some of the most beautiful Christmas markets. The first ´December market´ was held in Vienna in 1298. Nowadays, the Viennese Christmas markets are full of lights, sound and rich smells. You can´t miss out a classical music concert. And of the top experiences around Christmas time is definitely the concert of the Vienna Boys Choir, organized every year at Wiener Konzerthaus, preforming the classical Christmas songs.
One of the central figures of Austrian Christmas is Christkind or Christ child which is supposed to be the incarnation of the baby Jesus. It is represented as a feminine blonde child with wings and oftenlly portrayed by girls at Christmas markets or other Christmas events. During the Protestant Reformation it was first promoted by Martin Luther in order to take place of another popular figure, Saint Nicholas. Christkind is the one who brings gifts in many countries of Central Europe on the 24th of December. In the Steyr (part of Austria) the statue of Christkind stands in the church and children write letters to the figure.
PAJAKI AND KRAKOW SZOPKA
There are a few traditional dishes prepared during the Advent time. ´Piernik´ is a honey cake that comes in different shapes like animals, hearts, the figure of Saint Nicholas, etc. Another baked good is ´oplatek´, bread representing the Holiy family (Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus). It is split into several pieces and every family member gets one to eat. A small piece is oftenly given to a farm animal or a pet. It is believed that the ones who share the bread forgive all the bad things from the year passed and wish each other all the best.
Traditional Christmas decorations are made in Poland, called ´pająki´ which translated spiders. They are made of papers, straws and other materials and installed on the ceilings as chandeliers. They are known as symbols of fertility and good luck for the year to come.
If you´re in Krakow around Christmas time you´ll have a chance to see traditional naitivity called Kraków szopka. They began to make them in the 19th century. Every first Thursday of December a competition for the most beautiful nativity scene takes place, a tradition that dates back to 1937.