On the night of Dec. 6, children in Germany place a shoe or boot by the fireplace or front door. While the children are sleeping, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, is said to visit each house carrying a book filled with all of the misdeeds of the children. If a child has been good, he fills the shoe with delicious holiday treats. If the child has been bad, he fills the shoe with twigs.
France: “Joyeux Noëll”
In 1605, the fir tree was presented as the holy tree of Christmas in the city of Strasbourg, France. It was decorated with artificial colored roses, apples, sugar and painted hosts and was intended to symbolize the tree in the Garden of Eden.
Quiet traditions take place in the countryside on Dec. 24 in Austria. Farmers chalk the initials of the Three Wise Men on the archway of their stable doors to protect their herds from sickness in the coming year. Christmas trees are lit and in many villages “shelter seekers” plod through the deep, winter snow from farm to farm reenacting the plight of Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter on the eve of Christ’s birth.
Italy: “Buon Natale”
The tradition of burning of the Yule log, which must stay lit until New Year’s Day, is a tradition in Italy that is said to be a blending of pagan and Christian beliefs. With the purifying and revitalizing power of the fire (the burning log) the old year and its evils are destroyed, according to pagan beliefs. Christian legend tells how the Virgin Mary enters the homes of the humble attending midnight Mass and warms her newborn child before the blazing log.
Also, in Italy on Christmas Eve, the children set out their shoes for La Befana, the female Santa Claus. If the children were good, they will find their shoes filled with all kinds of toys, candy and fruit on Christmas morning. If the children were bad, she fills their shoes with coal.
According to several Web sources, La Benfana is the best known legend in Italy.
With the majority of the population being Roman Catholic in Luxembourg, most people celebrate Christmas Eve with family and friends.
Many attend Midnight Mass and then gather with their families to enjoy a typical winter Luxembourgish meal of black pudding (blood pudding) with mashed potatoes and apple sauce.
Spain: “Feliz Navidad”
In Spain on Dec. 22, two important events take place. All students are released from school for their winter break and the winning number of the famous Christmas Lottery is announced. This is the biggest lottery in Spain and dates back to 1763, when Carlos III first began it. Since then, not one Christmas has passed without it and it is now considered the symbolic moment with which Spaniards begin to celebrate the Christmas holiday season.