Going Places Educational Travel Blog - Four Unique European Christmas Traditions
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December 18, 2019

Four Unique European Christmas Traditions

Christmas is just around the corner and surely, you’ve been partaking in many of your favorite holiday traditions. Although the practice of traditions is universal, the festivities have differences.  

Curious to know just how different they are… Check out these 4 Unique European Christmas Traditions. Who knows, maybe you’ll want to partake in these holiday festivities with a destination Christmas next year.

Germany – St. Nicholas Day (Sankt Nikolaus Tag)
St. Nicholas Day is the favorite holiday German Children look forward to all year. Their advent calendars countdown to Christmas day, but the children love the celebration of this age-old tradition. On the night of December 5, kids in every household clean and polish their boots and leave them outside their doors before going to sleep. The next morning, their boots are found filled with candy, nuts, and small gifts from St. Nicholas. Though Santa Claus has also become popular, St. Nicholas remains much more important in Germany than his American counterpart.

Scotland - Christmas and Hogmanay
Thanks to the hit show, Outlander, Scotland has become even more of a hit tourist destination.  But what's surprising about their Christmas traditions is that they are all fairly new and mostly follow US and English traditions.  Why? Christmas was banned for the Scots for almost 400 years. Never fear though- they made up for it with their Hogmanay (new year's) celebration.  The festivities can last for up to a week and include fire festivals and singing of the famous "Auld Lang Syne." Raise your glass and make a toast! Slainte!

Belgium - Sinterklaas/St. Niklaas/Saint Nicholas Day
Similar to the German custom, children place their shoes in front of the fireplace on December 5, along with a drawing for Sinterklaas.  But this St. Nik has some unusual sidekicks… a horse, and Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), Sinterklaas’ assistant. Don’t expect a lump of coal if you’ve been naughty.  Instead, Zwarte Piet will put you in his sack and take you away, to Spain! So maybe you’ll want to be naughty after all…

Spain - Spanish Christmas Lottery (Lotería de Navidad)
The beginning of the Christmas festivities kicks off on December 22nd of each year with a Spanish Christmas lottery drawing held in Madrid, Spain.  Ticket sales begin in July, but you’ll see lines all over the closer it gets to Christmas. Tickets cost €200, but many people and businesses participate in lottery pools. The ceremony is a sweet and highly anticipated Christmas tradition. The first lottery was held to help raise money for the Spanish troops fighting against Napoleon’s armies. It was the beginning of a new tradition that has since grown to what it is today.

You might be a little surprised to learn that it is children who draw the winning numbers. Lottery officials spotted orphans singing in the streets and decided to give them the job of drawing lottery numbers to control potential cheating. Since then, children ranging in ages from 8 to 14 years old from the school Colegio de San Ildefonso (the former orphanage) are selected each year to participate in the festivities.

Children come forward in pairs to pick out small wooden numbered balls from two golden drums. One drum has winning numbers and the other has the prize amounts. Each number is then sung by the child. The entire ceremony takes about three hours. You can bet that every television in Spain is tuned in and watching the drawing in hopes they’ve won El Gordo “the fat one” or one of hundreds of prizes. Sharing money and prizes are what this is tradition is all about. The root of the lottery’s slogan means just that, “El mayor premio es compartirlo” (“The greatest prize is sharing”). This tradition sounds like it’s won the hearts of all of those in Spain and it’s maybe won yours, too.  Passports is holding its annual convention in Madrid in December 2020. Maybe you’ll want to head over early and try your luck….

What are your favorite holiday traditions? 

Category: Travel Inspiration


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