Christmas evening has always been wrapped in traditions, beliefs and fables. No matter where you go in the world, you will be surprised how much in common different cultures have when it comes to this particular celebration.
«A look over our country’s borders reveals that people are not so different from one another when it comes to Christmas. Our well-known log-pulling tradition is also present in Scandinavian countries. It has been, in fact, since Middle Ages. Even now this tradition is found in many places around the world. Differences are found only in minor nuisances. In France in Belgium, for example, the Christmas log is made edible,» – says Director of Latvia Tours Ieva Keisa.
Like Latvia, France also has a Christmas log tradition. Unlike Latvia’s oak log, however, the French make their log edible. The ‘log’ is essentially a roulette or roll-biscuit covered with chocolate icing and decorated with marzipan gnome and mushroom figures. This sweet log tradition can be explained with another French tradition involving sweets. Similar to Latvian belief that there should be nine dishes on the table on Christmas, in some parts of France the tradition demands there to be 13 different desserts. All of them are made using fruits, nuts and pastries.
There is a certain tradition in the Czech Republic that is somewhat reminiscent of Latvia’s tradition of tossing a wreath tossing during the summer solstice. Single Czech women toss one of their shoes over their shoulder in the yard of their home to see if the next year brings marriage. If the shoe lands with its tip facing the door, it means the woman can expect marriage soon.
In addition, on Christmas Eve, the Christmas tree is put in a room separate from the one the family has their meal. Once the meal is done, the bells are rung. This signals children to come to the tree and see what presents little Jesus left them.
On Christmas Eve, Greek children, especially boys, go from house to house and sing kalandas (songs). In addition to singing, children play special drums and triangles. Also, they always have a model ship with gold elements – an ancient Greek symbol. For their singing, children can receive money, sweets, nuts or dried figs.
Although decorating the Christmas tree is also popular in Greece, a much more ancient tradition in this country is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire that is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. Some holy water is poured into the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day a member of the family, most often the mother, sprinkles rooms of the house with holy water using the basil to clear the house of evil spirits.
Mexican children have to work for their Christmas presents. In order to get their presents, children have to strike a brightly coloured figure (piñata) with a long stick and with closed eyes. The figure is filled with gifts and sweets.
Another tradition is Mexico is eating the ‘Three Kings Bread’. It is a special cake with a small figurine of Jesus in it or under it. The one who gets the piece containing the figurine is given special privileges and obligations.
English children believe Santa Claus leave presents in stockings or pillowcases. Stockings are usually hung on the fireplace or above of the children’s beds. Children also leave milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. Children believe Santa arrives on a flying sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.
Finnish people believe Santa Claus lives in Finland’s northern parts – Korvatunturi. People from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus and come visit his homeland in Finland.
Similar to other countries, the main Christmas tradition involves a special meal. A traditional Finnish Christmas dessert is rice pudding with plum jam containing a single almond. The one who finds the almond will be happy and lucky in the next year.
Switzerland shares similarities with traditions of its neighbouring countries – Germany and Austria. One of the most interesting differences is that Christmas presents can be brought by Santa Claus or little Jesus and the Three Kings.
It is especially popular in Switzerland to buy or make special cookies. Every family in Switzerland has its own special cookie recipe. The culinary cheese wonder known as fondue is also quite popular in this country.