Christmas traditions in Europe

Travel December 5, 2017


Think Christmas traditions are the same everywhere in the world? Think again! Cities all over Europe celebrate December 25th in more ways than you can imagine. Whether you’re travelling to one of these wonderful cities over the holidays or your just curious about the different Christmas traditions in Europe, sit back, relax, grab a cup of hot chocolate and check out our list.



Travellers to London, you might be surprised if you’re planning on doing some sightseeing on December 25th! That’s because public transport in London shuts down on Christmas day, so if you’re planning on exploring, you better do it on foot. Another curiosity well worth seeing is the Christmas day swim in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. This chilly plunge isn’t open to everyone, however; you have to be a member of the Serpentine swimming club to participate, but it’s tons of fun to watch!


While you’re there, check out Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, a charming Christmas market with amusement park style rides as well. But whatever you do, don’t forget to be near a TV for the Queen’s speech on Christmas day at 3pm! And finally, no Christmas in London would be complete without opening your Christmas cracker, a little packet containing a paper crown, a little plastic toy and a corny joke. It’s not Christmas until you’re wearing your crown!




If you’re spending Christmas in Rome, one of the most iconic things you can do is attend the Pope’s Christmas address in St Peter’s Square (but do make sure you request your tickets online far in advance). If you have the good luck to be spending Christmas Eve with a Roman family, you’re in for a real treat. The Christmas Eve meal, known as La Vigilia, consists of 7 or more courses! Luckily they tend to be lighter with fish and vegetables in order to purify before the big Christmas day meal. If you stick around until the Epiphany on January 6th, you’ll get to know La Befana, a benevolent old witch who leaves sweets for the good children and coal for the naughty ones – just don’t forget to leave her a glass of red wine 😉




You’d be hard pressed to find Christmas traditions in Europe as strange as the ones in Barcelona! The first has to do with the nativity scene, which children in Barcelona love to set up with all their figurines every year. Look closely, though, and you’ll notice the figure of the caganer, a traditional Catalan peasant who’s, um… going to the bathroom. The origins are the subject of debate, but don’t be surprised when you see it at the Barcelona Christmas market!

The other Barcelona curiosity comes in the form of a log with a face, hat and legs. He’s set up in the living room and the children “feed” him throughout the days leading up to Christmas. Then, on Christmas Eve, the children sing a song while hitting the log with a stick so that he’ll poop out their presents – yes, this is a real thing!




In Berlin, it’s not Father Christmas who brings the gifts at all, but rather the Christkind, or the Christ Child. Represented as a youthful version of Christ with golden curls and a crown, this is quite a different character than Santa! Food wise, on Christmas Eve, German families normally eat a simple meal of sausages and potato salad in recognition of the hardships that Mary and Joseph faced while searching for a place to sleep, but have no fear, there are plenty of Christmas cookies for the next day!




The City of Light, on the other hand, goes all out for its Christmas Eve meal! Called the Réveillon, this feast could consist of oysters, caviar and foie gras – would you expect anything less from Paris? You can’t leave Paris at Christmas time without trying the bûche de noël, a buttercream cake in the shape of a Yule log. All the bakeries in the city will have them!


Honourable mentions


  • Europe’s biggest Christmas tree is located in Lisbon, at 76 metres high (although it’s not a real tree, of course!).
  • In the Netherlands, you can forget about Rudolph and the other reindeer… Santa rides a white horse called Amerigo.
  • Sweden celebrates with a “Christmas goat” made of straw, which is sadly been burnt to the ground by vandals year after year!
  • Day of the Dead or Christmas? In Wales, the skull of a mare called Mari Lwyd processes through the streets with Christmas carollers.
  • Santa has an alter ego in Vienna and Munich – the Krampus is a type of demon that terrorises naughty children!
  • Poland’s Christmas Eve meal is called Wigilia and starts as soon as the first star is spotted in the night sky. It’s a 12-course meal with the star dish of carp… hope you’re hungry!
  • Forget just one Father Christmas – in Iceland, there are 13 Yule Lads who bring gifts! Just make sure one of your gifts is a new article of clothing; otherwise, you might be eaten by the giant Christmas cat!


Did we leave any of your favourite Christmas traditions in Europe out? Let us know in the comments below! And Merry Christmas 🙂

Image credits: Rome by Giuseppe Milo via cc, Barcelona by Valerie Hinojosa via cc and Berlin by Marcus Meissner via cc

By Leah Ganse

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