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Christmas around Europe

Christmas is celebrated around the world in many different ways.

The unique traditions  and cultures of different countries gave birth to various styles of celebration. Nonetheless, the basic meaning of Christmas and the feel-good spirit of the season remains the same in most parts of the world.  Unsurprisingly, the way people wish each other Christmas greetings varies across the boundaries. Here's a guide to how people celebrate Christmas in different parts of Europe.

Spain: Spain is catching up with the rest of Europe on the Christmas front. More and more decorations adorn balconies and window sills of houses, with Father Christmas climbing a ladder being the most popular. The traditional family meal takes place on Christmas eve, with Christmas day being nothing more than a fiesta day. The giving of presents is traditionally at Reyes  (Los Reyes Magos )  on January 6th. However, since schools normally return shortly after this and with the commercialisation of Christmas in recent years, many opt to split the presents between the two dates.

England: An English Christmas usually means a visit from Father Christmas. Children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. Carol singing is also believed to have started in England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town, visiting the castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians hoped to receive a hot meal or money.

Ireland: Food forms an important part of the Irish Christmas. Plum pudding is the traditional Christmas dessert and many special foods such as Christmas fruit cake and mince pies are also eaten. It is a tradition in these parts to keep mince pies and a bottle of Guinness as a snack for Santa.

Germany: In Germany, things are somewhat different during Christmas. The period between December 1 and  24  is called Adventszeit, which means the time before Christmas. During this time, all the houses hang wreaths decorated with ornaments and four candles. The candles are lit on every Sunday until Christmas Eve.  Another traditional Christmas figure is the Christmas Man or the Weinachtmann, who looks like Santa and also brings gifts. Germany has a unique tradition called Christbaumloben, in which people visit friends on 26 December to praise their Christmas tree.  Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt eröffnet

Italy: In Italy, Christmas generally begins after the Feast of Immaculate Conception. By the second week of December festivities are in full swing across the country. Christmas trees are lit across the city and in most houses. An important part of the customary decorations are the presepe. These display a hut with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a donkey and a bow. In addition to the holy family, some include the three wise men along with their respective gifts.  Santa Claus features very little in the traditional Italian Christmas. In fact Italians believe that it is Jesus Christ who visits their houses bearing gifts. Unlike their counterparts in many other countries, Italian children do not hang stockings or sacks on the mantelpiece.

France: In France, Christmas is called Nöel. This comes from the French phrase 'les bonnes nouvelles' which means 'the good news'. It is a time of festivities and celebrations. The story of Christ's birth is re-enacted at the cathedral square by players and puppets.  French children have their own Father Christmas called Père Nöel. They leave their shoes out, before going to bed, hoping to find them filled with gifts the next morning.

Switzerland: Christmas in Switzerland begins with the ringing of the bells. The tinkling of the bell heralds the arrival of the white-clad angel called the Christkindli, who comes along with presents. Three candles are lit when she comes and she hands the presents from the baskets held by her helpers.

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