Christmas Eve Traditions

It’s traditional in some countries to wait until Christmas Eve to decorate the tree © Anna & Michal

I simply love looking at the traditions of different countries, and Christmas Eve is one of the most interesting times to do this. The Christmas Eve which many of us enjoy in the UK is quite different to that which is experienced around Europe.

It’s a great time of year for lovers of culture and history, and I really enjoy educating my children about different European cultures at Christmas time. Take a look at a few different Christmas Eve traditions below, you might choose to take part in some yourself!

Exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve

Many countries across Europe, such as Germany, Portugal and Sweden, exchange gifts on Christmas Eve. For these places, Christmas Eve is the main event during the festive period, and this is when they play games, share presents and put up traditional decorations with family and loved ones.

 Many countries unwrap their presents on Christmas Eve, instead of Christmas Day.
Many countries unwrap their presents on Christmas Eve, instead of Christmas Day. © Shimelle Laine

The Christmas Tree

Also in Germany, as well as Serbia and Slovakia, Christmas Eve is the time to bring the Christmas tree indoors. This might be a shock to some of you, as in the UK we often put our Christmas trees up at the start of December! In these parts of Europe, tradition says that the tree is carefully chosen, before being brought into the house and lavishly decorated.

A Christmas Eve feast

In countries such as Belgium, Denmark and Finland, Christmas Eve is a time for feasting. Where Catholicism is the predominant religion, people will look forward to the year’s most important service – Midnight Mass – on Christmas Eve. Before this, however, families will gather to enjoy a hearty Christmas Eve meal, filling their stomachs before the long church service.

In France, Christmas Eve centres around a family meal. It’s a country famous for its great cuisine, and the people of France enjoy it to the fullest at this time of year. Known as Le Reveillon de Noël, this Christmas Eve feast often lasts well into the night, with the cuisine differing depending on the region of France you’re in.

 Christmas dinner is often enjoyed on Christmas Eve, before Midnight Mass.
Christmas dinner is often enjoyed on Christmas Eve, before Midnight Mass. © David Goehring

The Yule Log

Originally an entire tree, history states that the Yule Log is a tradition which started before Medieval times, and today is experienced in different ways around Europe. Similar to choosing a Christmas tree in parts of Europe today, the Yule Log started as a specially-chosen tree, which would be burnt in the fireplace using the remains of the previous year’s log.

In France, a small piece of the log is burnt each night for the Twelve Days of Christmas, while the last piece is safely stored indoors to be used the following year. A similar tradition is practiced in Holland, but the remaining piece of Yule Log is stored beneath a bed for safekeeping. Also in France, the Yule Log is sprinkled with a little wine, most usually red. This means that it produces a pleasant smell throughout the house when lit.

The ashes produced by the Yule Log shouldn’t be discarded straight away, as it’s thought that if they’re disposed of on Christmas Day, it will bring bad luck!

Most people today settle for a chocolate Yule Log cake, and this is often a centrepiece dessert, especially during Le Reveillon de Noël feast on Christmas Eve. A delicious cake, smothered in cream and chocolate, the Yule Log cake is traditionally decorated with icing sugar and sweets shaped like mushrooms and moss, which is a nod to the fact that the log’s ashes are beneficial to the growth of plants. Enjoying a Yule Log cake is less messy than a real log, and far more delicious!

 Leave treats out for Father Christmas and his elves on Christmas Eve!
Leave treats out for Father Christmas and his elves on Christmas Eve! © Eric

Excited for Christmas?

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