When I was a child I thought that Christmas is celebrated the same way all over the world. After living in three different European countries so far I know that that’s not the case.
Until I was about ten we used the old tradition where I come from, where children place a shoe in a window before they go to bed the 5th of December, and then there would be some chocolate or candy in the shoe the next morning on the 6th, which is Saint Nicholas day.
A boot filled with sweets
As a child I never made the connection between Saint Nicholas, which is the same as the English and American Santa Claus, and the guy who delivers the Christmas presents, who in Germany is called Weihnachtsmann
When I was about ten, we got chocolate calendars for the 24 days up till Christmas evening instead of only on the 6th.
In Germany Christmas traditionally is celebrated the 24th of December, where the whole day leads up to an orgy of presents and food in the evening.
This is how a Christmas tree can look in Germany. Not so much decoration, there is still plenty of green
The 25th is a quiet day, where some go to church and everybody is together with their family. The 26th is a day where especially the young people can go out and maybe have a little party or dance.
When I moved to Denmark in the seventieth, I met the tradition of having a Christmas calendar on television, which is a pretty big thing in families with children. Every day from the 1rst till the 24th of December at the same time early in the evening ( 6 pm and 6.30 pm) two of the Danish channels show a kind of soap opera for children that lasts exactly 24 days, and each chapter lasts maybe 15 or 20 minutes.
Most children also get a calendar with chocolates or candy or small gifts in December, and again Christmas traditionally is the 24th of December in the evening.
The traditional Danish Christmas tree is decorated with the Danish flag, which is called Dannebrog, and many Danes still dance around the Christmas tree on Christmas evening while they sing songs. You can even buy small books or leaflets with the appropriate songs in case you forget them from year to year.
In Denmark December is filled with little people in red and grey clothes. We call them “nisser”, and they help the guy, who delivers the Christmas presents in Denmark and is called: Julemand.
Our julemand lives in the city Nuuk in Greenland.
The Danish “Julemand” in Nuuk in front of his mailbox.
When I moved to the Netherlands, I was surprised to learn that the tradition with candy on the 6th of December probably was a reminder from the time when my hometown was Dutch, because the Dutch children get their gifts from Sinterklaas and his helper zwarte Piet in the evening of the fifth of December, which is a normal working day.
In the evening of the 24th many Dutch go out to eat at restaurants, which is a total no-no in both Germany and in Denmark. Especially in Denmark everybody stays at home and the streets are totally empty.
Here is a link to a short video from an exhibition about Christmas in a museum here in town. It’s with a traditional Danish Christmas song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp05c_YQ_60