Christmas is one of the major festivals in the entire region of South Eastern Europe, barring a few countries such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Festivities begin on December 6. However, the actual celebrations start on the Christmas Eve and continue for 2-3 days. In the recent times, Christmas tree has become an essential feature of Christmas in Eastern Europe. Exchange of presents, feasting and partying is also a part of the European way of celebrating the great festival. Read on to know more about Christmas celebrations and traditions in Southeastern Europe.
Christmas Celebrations In South Eastern Europe
In Austria, the Feast of St Nicholas or Heiliger Nikolaus, on December 6, marks the beginning of Christmas period. Children are asked about their good and bad deeds. Those who have behaved well get sweets, toys, apples and nuts. Gifts are placed under the tree and opened after the Christmas Eve dinner. Chorale music is played with musical instruments that are made of brass. Carol singers go door-to-door, with blazing torches and a manger. The traditional Christmas food in Austria features baked carp. Elaborately decorated Christmas trees are a common sight. Families light Christmas trees and sing carols, wishing each other 'Merry Christmas'.
Christmas is known as Koleda or Rozhdestvo Hristovo in Bulgaria, meaning "Nativity of Jesus". Dyado Koleda is the local name of Santa Claus. Christmas Eve is most important for Bulgarians and they celebrate the occasion enthusiastically. A lavish feast is prepared in households, on this occasion. The festive meal consists of 12 dishes, which are symbolic of the twelve months of the year. The dishes are meatless and different recipes like beans, different kinds of nuts, dried plums, cakes and a traditional cake called Banitza are prepared. In the past, the dinner was eaten sitting on the ground or straw. Extensive Christmas decorations are also seen in the Bulgarian households.
The Christmas holiday in Greece continues from December 25 to January 6. Presents are placed under the Christmas tree and they are opened only on the Christmas day. On the eve of Christmas, young boys go door-to-door and sing Christmas carols. They receive treats such as dried figs, almonds, walnuts, sweets or small gifts in return. Forty days of fasting is undertaken by Christians in Greece, which is followed by a lavish Christmas meal on the last day of fasting. Desserts such as such as kourabies and melomakarona are prepared in the households. Initially, the Christmas trees were not very popular, but in the past decade, their popularity has risen to quite an extent.
In Italy, Christmas is associated with family, food and fun. Although the festive Italian food varies from region to region, there are some dishes common to all households. Italians do not eat meat on Christmas Eve, like many other countries where the festive food is meatless. La Befana, a kind witch, brings gifts for children, rather than the traditional Santa Claus. The presents are to be opened on the morning of Christmas day or after lunch. Delicacies such as crostini with liver pâte or the classic tortellini in chicken stock, and brodo are on the Christmas menu. Lo zampone, a pig's foot filled with spiced mince meat, or il cotechino, a sausage made from pig's intestines containing a similar filling, are very popular Christmas dishes in Northern Italy.