We’ve searched for “What people think about Christmas” and 90% of the quotes associated Christmas with family, friends and food. But how do these three elements combine to form specific cultural traditions? We’ve asked some of our multicultural team members and they revealed their Christmas Tradition…this is what we found out!
Food: Roast pork with cracklings, chips, gravy, boiled potatoes, caramelized potatoes and red cabbage. Lastly, rice pudding with minced almonds. Usually there will be one whole almond hid in the pudding and whoever gets it will receive an extra present (or the first present since gifts can only be opened after dinner on the 24th of December). In Denmark, as you will read in the paragraph below, Christmas is based on games…even throughout dinner!
Family&Friends: In Denmark, families and friends are reunited through games. One that caught our attention is the wrapping game. There is a big gift, excessively and entirely wrapped in newspaper or gift paper. Every time someones rolls a 6 on the dice, they have to put on some gloves, a wooly hat and a fake nose and are given a knife and a fork to try open the extremely wrapped gifts before someone else rolls a 6. Once someone gets to the parcel, they can keep it! The picture on the right shows one of our Danish team member’s son playing this game, although she wants to specify that they had lost the fake nose by that point! In addition, families get visits from Nisserne (gnomes) who usually “live” in the loft. These gnomes are famous for playing tricks on the family, such as turning the milk green, hiding the cutlery, and changing the bed covers around. During Advent month, it is custom to give a small present to the children (either a small one every day up to Christmas, or a slightly bigger one on each Sunday before Christmas).
Food: Italians start mentally preparing for Christmas Eve’s dinner and Christmas Day’s lunch since August. On the 24th of December, in the late afternoon, hoards of family members invade the house and move to the kitchen, where busy men and women have been cooking for the past 2 weeks. Christmas Eve’s dinner includes an array of batter-fried vegetables, fish and potatoes. There is fresh fish and crustaceans and tons of typical Mediterranean delicacies such as different cheeses, olives and vegetables. Christmas Day’s lunch could last 2-3 hours. Usually there is pasta with meaty sauce, typically Ragù (or Bolognese), roast pork with roast potatoes and/or lamb with roast potatoes. There could potentially be some leftovers from the night before, no worries, they will be eaten too. On both days, dessert comes in the shape of Panettone and/or Pandoro, a sweet and soft bread containing raisins/candied fruit for the first one, and plain powdered sugar for the latter. These can be served with Chantilly cream or melted chocolate. There are also nutty chocolate bars to nibble on.
Family&Friends: Normally, it’s chaos. The number of relatives you can find in an Italian’s home during Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, is infinite. The Christmas Tree and Nativity Scene are artistic masterpieces exhibited to raise awe and praise. Presents are usually opened on Christmas Eve after dinner (or after midnight). Family and friends reunite to play cards and a board game similar to bingo. Card games are typical national Christmas card games based on money wins, with specific Neapolitan or Piacentine cards. Usually Italians play these games from the 24th of December until the end of the first week of January.
Food: Christmas (“Weihnachten”) is considered to be the most important holiday in Germany. In terms of food, the traditional German Markets are a typical representation of Christmas joy and coziness accompanied by all sorts of specialties. With regards to the traditional evening meal of the 24th, families serve goose, although some prefer turkey, rabbit or a roast. These dishes are normally accompanied by traditional German sides, such as apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage, and potato dumpling. Another popular Christmas meal is sausages and potato salad.
Family&Friends: Apart from the traditional German markets, Christmas in Germany is less consumption-orientated than one would imagine. The Christmas tree (“Tannenbaum”) is usually put up and decorated on Christmas Eve (24th December), but some families already put it up during the Advent season, the weeks leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, some German families attend mass or a church service either at the early evening hours or at midnight, others sing Christmas carols together or read the story of Christ’s birth aloud before the family members exchange gifts.
Food: The Christmas dinner is very stodgy and usually consists of a large ham, ribs, meatballs, salmon and herring, along with potatoes and the occasional veggie. The most incredible thing about Swedish Christmas, are sweets! There are twisted-shaped gingerbread cookies, glorious sponge cakes, chocolate fudge, and caramels. In the late afternoon, everyone has a steaming cup of glögg, a spiced wine. There are also Pepparkakor, spicy, clove-scented gingerbread cookies. Risgrynsgröt is a creamy rice porridge than can also be left in front of the door as a gift to thank Santa Claus’ helpers. In this way they will protect the family’s home in the coming year. The day before St. Lucia’s celebration (described below), people make and eat fluffy and buttery buns that are tinted gold with saffron.
Family&Friends: In Sweden most of the celebrations happen on Christmas Eve, including the giving of presents. While Swedish kids get their gifts from Santa, the gifts don’t magically show up under the tree, instead, Santa himself (usually played by a dad or uncle in disguise) comes to the house after Christmas dinner and hands out the gifts himself. Family and friends join their hands together and dance around the Christmas tree, for the joy of the little ones. On December 13th, Sweden celebrates St. Lucia, to pay , homage to the Italian saint who symbolizes the arrival of light (which is precious during Swedish winters). To celebrate this event, young children and even adults normally dress in white tunics and wear candles on their heads, singing angelic songs together.
Food: What Norwegian families eat depends on where in the country they come from, but the three most common dishes are pork ribs, lamb ribs or cod. For dessert many serve rice pudding with a hidden almond. Whoever gets the almond gets a prize, normally a marzipan pig (sometimes covered in chocolate).
Family&Friends: In Norway, like in Denmark and Sweden, families count down to Christmas with a calendar containing little presents or chocolates. This is what is known as Advent calender. It is custom to light a candle during every Sunday in December, which according to Google (says our Norwegian colleague), nobody is quite sure why…
Christmas in Norway is celebrated on the 24th, in the evening, with family.
After the food, there is usually a knock on the door and in comes Santa Claus with presents! Coincidentally at this point in time there is always either a grandfather or an uncle who decides to leave the room for quite a while (I guess you can’t be a relative and Santa all in one!) Even though Norway is not a very religious country many go to church before dinner and also visit the graveyard to light candles.
Food: Christmas Dinner rigorously starts in the early afternoon, around 2-3.00pm on December 25th. As a starter there may be either chestnut soup or onion soup accompanied by smoked salmon. So far so good. The fun bit starts now: delicious glazed roast turkey accompanied by all sorts of sides and trimmings. Roast potatoes happen to be even more delicious on Christmas day (especially because they might be roasted in goose fat!). Other vegetables include roast parsnips and the oh-so-hated Brussels sprouts (not everyone likes them, but they are a must-have for Christmas). Pigs in Blankets (sausages enveloped by bacon) are a good meaty and exquisite side to the roast turkey. Cranberry sauce is also a must-have trimming in the Christmas platter, it’s just so fun to taste something so delicately sweet in all the savory! And lastly, the UK’s number one final touch: the oh-so-loved gravy! No one puts gravy in a corner, oh no. Gravy is strictly poured in large quantities all over the plate, drowning the potatoes, the pigs in blankets and the main dish. There is no Christmas without gravy. Ultimately, for dessert, there is an utterly confusing piece of English culture: the misunderstood Christmas pudding. I bet at least half of the UK has not even ever tried it and the remaining other half instead is split into people who love it and people who hate it. It is essentially a soft bread with raisins and all sorts of dried fruit. The pudding is aged for months or even for a year before it is actually served at the dinner table and brandy will be poured on it every month so that it will be soaked with alcohol. It can be eaten with custard cream, lemon cream or rum butter.
Family&Friends: At the dinner table, everyone is given a cracker. The cracker is pulled from each end from two people (usually people sitting next to each other) until it breaks, making a popping sound. The gifts contained in the cracker are a paper crown, that everyone will wear on their heads during the entire meal, and other small items, such as marbles, a mini card deck, measuring tape and silly jokes. Board games are also played in the afternoon after dinner and sometimes the family reunites in the living room to watch a Christmas film. It is also fair to say that the amount of alcohol flowing in everyone’s veins that day is quite elevated.
…So wherever you are: Glædelig Jul! Buon Natale! Frohe Weihnachten! God Jul! And…Merry Christmas!