Central Europe is cold during Christmas, so the inhabitants make up for it in filial warmth and self-amusement. The shifting borders over the centuries mean many countries share similar traditions (England too has strong links to central European traditions due to the royal family’s past Germanic connections) but they all still hold their own. Let’s take a glimpse at how they do Christmas.
Hungarians get to enjoy szaloncukors over Christmas, namely over-sized individually-wrapped fondant sweets that they hang on their tree. They eat piles of the stuff, as well as poppy seed, walnut cakes and cookies (Mézeskalács) with the main Christmas meal.
The night before Christmas, kids put a boot outside their window and expect Mikulas (a modest version of Santa) to fill it up with presents. Obviously, they don’t want him breaking into the house via the chimney.
Austria’s most infamous Christmas tradition is Krampus, Santa’s demonic evil brother. In Austrian lore, Santa deals with just the good kids, and delegates the bad kids to Krampus who merrily punishes their immortal soul. Terrifying, but totally normal for Austrian children.
Germany is all about weihnachtsmarkt, more commonly known as winter markets. Every conurbation throughout the country will host the seasonal stalls where visitors can enjoy mulled wine and beer, gingerbread and traditional arts and crafts.
Nuremberg is home to one of the biggest and most famous weihnachtsmarkt, the Christkindlesmarkt, which is opened by the Christkind, a teenage girl elected to represent the sensible traditional values of the season.
In Slovakia, it’s the baby Jesus who gives out the presents of Christmas Eve, adding a new bizarre present-dragging dimension to the infant god that western countries are unfamiliar with.
Slovakian kids will be tricked into leaving the living room when he arrives and will have just missed him when they come back and find their presents there. That cheeky generous baby is just too quick!
The traditions of teeny-weeny Liechtenstein are similar to those in Switerland and Austria, the two countries it’s squeezed between.
We just wanted to mention it though because the whole country is in the Alps so that must make it the most wintry and therefore Christmassy country in the world.
Slovenians get more presents than most over the Christmas period because they get an extra set on New Year’s Eve.
This time it’s Grandfather Frost who breaks into people’s housing on a gift-giving binge, helpfully aided by the midnight fireworks outside that distract all the children. Slovenians also burn a lot of incense over Christmas, filling the house with the traditional aroma of 1960s hippy culture.
Advent, the lead up to Christmas, is just as important as the big day itself in Switzerland. The Swiss love the tradition of opening little windows each day that they sometimes recreate such decorations on actual buildings in cities like Basel and Geneva.
Elsewhere, Switzerland has some of the most interesting and varied carol-singing in Europe due to the multi-lingual abilities of its citizens.
The Czechs have a long tradition of superstitions that make their big Christmas Eve meal a baffling deadly game if all are observed. For example, it’s bad luck for anybody to get up from the table during dinner – but there are nine courses so you need a seriously sturdy bladder to prevent yourself from breaking this rule.
In what is certainly an attempt to counteract this problem, it’s also bad luck to drink alcohol so you hopefully won’t need the toilet that much. Most risky of all, the first person to leave the table after dinner will die the following year – to avoid this horrible fate, everybody has to carefully synchronise standing up from the table together. Scary!
(Featured image by Wonderlane)