December 15, 2021
Every European country has holiday traditions; some you would expect, and others…not so much. In Italy, Christmas isn’t just one day. The Christmas season starts on December 8 (Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception) and ends January 6 (the Epiphany). In certain Italian cities, you may see people dressed as shepherds playing bagpipes in town squares.
Children in Spain look forward to the tió de nadal. He is a smiling log that “toots” presents every year on Christmas Eve. In Iceland, Gryla the giant troll and his 13 sons, the Yule Lads, visit children during the 13 days before Christmas. The Yule Lads leave good children candy and toys. They leave a rotten potato for the naughty child.
In Bulgaria, the Christmas Eve meal is vegetarian and consists of an uneven number of dishes (7,9, or 11). Fortune-telling is a tradition in Russia during the holidays. Christmas Eve takes place January 6. Fortunes are predicted in a variety of ways (from interpreting newspaper ashes or burning threads).
In Austria and Germany, Krampus is a scary demon that is bound in chains with stag horns, matted fur, and eyes of flaming coals. On December 5, Krampusnacht, Krampus swats naughty boys and girls with birch branches. Pepperkakebyen in Bergen, Norway, is the largest gingerbread city in the world. Schoolchildren started this tradition of constructing gingerbread houses resembling city attractions in Bergen, which lasts from mid-November until December.
Check out the Library’s online catalog for genealogy-related books on ancestral customs and recipes. Don’t forget the periodical collection for articles on traditions in the U.S. and Europe.
What traditions for the holidays did your ancestors have? Let us know in the comments below.
Buone vacanze (happy holidays)!
Midwest Genealogy Center
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