Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Europe

Contributing Writer

GAST REPRSENTATIVES: From left are Gutta Tankersley and Gabi Richardson, members of the German American Society of Tulsa, and Doris Gallagher, public relations representative of German American Society of Tulsa.

Tatyana Norborg for GTR Newspapers

In Europe, Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations are very festive and exciting.

In Germany the Christmas celebration starts four weeks before Christmas Eve. Doris Gallagher, a public relations representative of the German American Society in Tulsa, was delighted to introduce me to German traditions.

“Christmas preparations are always very exciting for kids. On December 6, Saint Nikolaus, who is a helper and a son of Santa Claus, comes. Germans depict Saint Nicolas as a thin and tall man. The night before his arrival, children polish a boot or a shoe and put it outside in front of the door, so Saint Nicolas can fill them with fruit, cookies and sweets. If a child did not behave well then the Saint Nicolas’ gift can be mixed with branches of trees or chunks of coal. This is how kids get a message that they should improve their behavior in order to get better presents on Christmas day,” laughs Gallagher.

Most people in Germany do not decorate and show the Christmas tree to children until the night of Christmas Eve. Many years ago gifts were put under the tree unwrapped, but now many Germans wrap them, like Americans. It is a whole ceremony for kids to see the Christmas tree. First, a mother or a father rings a bell to signal the entrance to the “Christmas Room,” then children sing songs or tell rhymes and only after this can they get to their presents.

“Germans put 12 real candles on the Christmas tree and used to light them,” says Gallagher. “So there was always a bucket of water and sand next to the Christmas tree because of fire hazard.”

According to Gallagher, each child gets gifts including a pretty plate with candies, fruit, nuts, and cookies. Germans also made and followed the advent calendars from the first to 24th of December. Each day on the calendar has a window where adults put tiny presents for kids such as pictures or candies.

Many Germans are Catholic so they attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the Catholic Church.

Protestants have Christmas Eve services at different times during the afternoon. The 25th of December is a family gathering time and German families usually eat a goose with potato dumplings and cooked red cabbage for lunch. The celebration continues to the 26th of December with friends. All stores are closed for these two days.

Christmas celebration in Poland is very spiritual. Celina Joachowska, a 23-year-old, came to Tulsa from Poland with her husband, an ORU student. “We decorate our houses for Christmas inside and outside,” Joachowska says. “There are lights outside and a Christmas tree with ornaments inside. In December we cover tables with a red or green tablecloth and on Christmas Eve with a white tablecloth. We put hay under the tablecloth because it represents a barn where Jesus was born. The Poles leave one set of plates and a cup free on the Christmas table. It is in case a stranger comes.

“Christmas Eve is very important for a family,” Joachowska continues. “We fast the whole day and when the first star appears on the sky, we sit down and eat, pray, read the Bible and say good wishes to each other. The Poles usually serve 12 dishes on Christmas Eve. These are differently cooked fish, dumplings with poppy, and punch called kompot, but no red meat or alcohol. After the supper, Santa comes with presents. Most Poles are Catholic so at midnight we go to church. Next day we have a Christmas breakfast, go to church and enjoy the family.”

Listening to Gallagher and Joachowska, I had sad feelings because I had nothing to say about Christmas traditions in the country where I am from the former Soviet Union, part of which is in Europe. Christmas and Christianity were prohibited there. I know that before the Communist revolution in 1917, Christmas was wonderfully celebrated in Russia with parties and presents, but after 70 years of oppression the traditions were lost. So now Russians usually do not give presents to each other on Christmas, but they go to the church and have a Christmas dinner.

In the Soviet Union, the communists tried to replace Christmas with New Year celebrations: they simply took some Christmas traditions and made them New Year traditions. For example, children get gifts on New Year’s Eve. Usually these are sweets, candies, cookies and fruit. Schools and businesses, especially big companies, organize New Year parties for kids with beautifully decorated large fir-trees. Children usually wear different costumes, like here for Halloween, and there is a contest for the best costume with prizes awarded. Children sing, dance, and play games at the parties, but the most exciting moment for them is when Grandfather Frost and his daughter Snegurochka, Snowgirl translated from Russian, will come with a sack of gifts. Grandfather Frost looks exactly like Santa Claus. Snegurochka is dressed in a pale blue coat and a cap with white fur, or it can be a kokoshnik on her head instead of the cap. Kokoshnik is the very pretty Russian peasant woman’s headdress adorned with beads and gold and silver embroidery.

For the New Year celebration, Russians build temporary, just for winter, fairy-tale towns where there are different huge mechanical toys on display, usually heroes and heroines of national fairy-tales. In other cities, local governments build ice towns with castles and fairy-tale figures. The fairy-tale towns are very much loved by children.

In Germany and Poland, the New Year celebration is similar to the Russian, because it is a party without an end. Except Germans buy a live carp and keep it in their bathtub filled with cold water until they kill it, then they pour vinegar on the carp to make its skin blue because it is pretty, and then boil it with lots of spices. Germans also wear paper hats, throw confetti and paper rolls, and blow noisemakers. They like to melt lead over a candle and drop it into a bowl of water, and see a figure that symbolizes a person’s future. Shortly before midnight, children are awakened and join the grown up party. They climb on a chair and at the stroke of midnight, jump from the chair.

Updated 12-18-2004

Back to Top


Back to Top

Contact GTR News