French Christmas Customs and Traditions. Although there are some small differences in the various regions of France, the main traditions are the same and as in many countries they have their own special Christmas Cake the Buche de Noel, a rich chocolate cake baked in the shape of a yule log. The yule log was traditionally burnt in the hearth from Christmas Eve to New Year to ensure a good harvest and good luck in the coming year. Although the Christmas tree is not quite as popular in France as in other countries, French homes are still decorated and the pride of place is taken by the Nativity Scene -crèche- revolving around the crib, to which figures are added during the lead up to Christmas. Many of these figures are very ornate and are sold in Christmas shops and markets around France. On Christmas Eve after Midnight mass there is a great family meal called Le Reveillon. This late meal will vary with the regions of France, but will all be very lavish. On Christmas Eve French children will leave their shoes out in the hope of having them filled by Pere Noel by the time they wake up on Christmas morning, he will also have been busy decorating the tree with sweets, fruits, nuts and little gifts during the night. La fête de Saint Nicolas on the 6th December heralds the start of the Christmas season for children in Northern France, while in Lyons La Fête de lumières (The festival of lights.) on the 8th December has candles burning to honour Our Lady in every window. France is, of course, famous for its food and it does not disappoint us at Christmas time, with a huge array of candied fruits, biscuits, cakes and breads. Meats and regional dishes vary around the country and are all showcased for the festive season
Italian Christmas Customs and Traditions. The Christmas season in Italy revolves around the Christian aspect of the festival. Italy has many unique customs and traditions and although in these modern times when customs from other countries are also adopted Italy still holds dear these special customs. The Christmas season begins on the 8th December with the feast of the Immaculate Conception, beautiful ‘Presepe’ -Cribs- are set up in churches and homes around Italy and it is around these that will be the focus of Christmas. The main feastival begins on the 24th December and will last until 6th January, Epiphany. These dates go back to the Roman times which started with Saturnalia a winter solstice festival and ended with the Roman New Year the Calands. Today the Holy season is started with the firing of a canon from the Castle of St.Angelo in Rome. In the lead up to Christmas children will go from house to house singing carols and poems, homes of Carpenters will be visited to honour St.Joseph. In the week before Christmas they dress up as shepherds and receive money for singing so that they can buy presents. Unlike other countries children do not make wish lists for Father Christmas, but instead they write letters of love to their parents which are read out after the meal on Christmas Eve. Prior to the meal of Christmas Eve, the Cenone, people fast strictly for 24 hours, the meal will be quite lavish and will vary from region to region. On Christmas day, at noon, the Pope will read out his Christmas blessing to those gathered in St.Peters Square. Children do not receive their presents at Christmas but have to wait until the 6th January when the witch, La Befana fills their stockings, although Bobbo Natale will also help in this task. The story behind La Befana is that she was too late when she went to visit Jesus in the manger and therefore she now visits all the houses where there are children just in case Jesus should be there. Another tradition in Italy is the Urn of Fate, this is a decorative bowl in which there are presents for all the family, when everyone is gathered together they all draw out their respective gift
Polish Christmas Customs and Traditions. Christmas, or Wigilia, is a very important time of the year and has many ancient traditions still observed today. Days before Christmas begins Polish women will start to clean their homes completely, it is believed that if your home is dirty at Wigilia then it will remain dirty all through the coming year. Like many other countries 6th December, St.Nicholaus brings’ Mikolaj’ filling up the shoes of children with sweets, fruits and small gifts. The Christmas tree is traditionally decorated on Wigilia Day with the children. The tree is decorated using fruits, sweets and nuts wrapped in colourful foil paper, and homemade decorations. There is a strict 24 hour fast before the meal on Christmas Eve which can not begin until the first star appears in the sky. Before the meal can begin the head of the family will break the Oplatek, a wafer prepared from flour and water and, today, sold in religious shops, although formerly distributed through the parish. Once broken the Oplatek is shared out with all the members of the family. A polish Christmas Eve meal will always consist of 12 dishes, although none of them will contain meat. The Twelve dishes represent the twelve apostles and there is always an extra place set at the dinner table in case the Holy Spirit or a stranger drops by and joins them. The main dish will be fried carp, other dishes will consist of borscht, Uszka, fish soup, potato salad and fried dumplings, the family will then attend midnight mass -Pasterka, mass of the shepherds . On Christmas day everyone sits down and rests there is no cooking only prepared food that may need heating up is eaten. The 26th December is known as Holy Szczepan, or St. Stephen’s Day, this day is known as the second holiday and is spent visiting family, the evening will see carol singers visiting from house to house.