6 Different Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Europe

In many European cities, Christmas isn’t just one day of festivities, but an entire month of celebrations. Most countries embark on the Christmas season with fervor. There are vibrant festivals, religious ceremonies, bustling night markets, and, in many cases, a healthy dose of revelry. Here are some traditions to look out for, so you can really experience Christmas in Europe.

6 ways to celebrate Christmas in Europe

1. Sinterklaas – The Netherlands

Most children (and indeed adults) in the Netherlands consider the 5th of December to be the most important day of the month. This is when Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, arrives with a sack full of presents. The day is also marked with a popular event whereby Sinterklaas leads a procession, culminating in a night of games and festivities for young and old.

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Celebrations and festivities take place throughout the country, but the most impressive display is in Amsterdam. Here, more than 400,000 spectators line the canals to watch Sinterklaas’s arrival in mid-November. Sinterklaas then hops off his boat and onto a white horse, from where he throws cookies to the thousands of excited onlookers as he rides through the streets of the capital.

2. 12 Pubs of Christmas – Ireland

Unsurprisingly, Ireland’s Christmas celebrations tend to focus on the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The popularity of the “12 Pubs of Christmas” seems to only be gaining momentum. The phenomenon entails groups of friends getting together in December to attempt to consume 12 different alcoholic drinks – usually pints – at 12 different venues, in a single night, and usually while wearing somewhat garish Christmas sweaters.

Friends and regions have their own rules and traditions, but it usually ends in a night of somewhat out-of-control revelry. And if you’re just traveling through and want to get in on the action? There’s a good chance you’ll find some type of Christmas drink celebration at a local pub.

3. Queen of Lights – Norway

Christmas in Norway is very much a festival of light. One of the most popular days of the season is the Queen of Lights, on the 13th of December. This tradition originated in Sweden. It centers around Santa Lucia, a 4th-century Sicilian saint. She wore a wreath of candles on her head to help guide persecuted Christians hiding in tunnels.

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Today the festival focuses on traditional events. This usually includes a procession of young girls carrying baskets of saffron buns, being led by one depicting Santa Lucia, who wears a robe and a crown of light.

4. Christmas Eve Feast – France

It may come as no surprise that French Christmas celebrations focus on a true culinary extravaganza. The Le Reveillon de Noël, or Christmas Eve Feast, may well be the foodie event of the year in France. This multi-course event can last several hours, involves large amounts of fine wine, and usually focuses on local dishes and top-quality ingredients.

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Many of these feasts are shared between friends and families behind closed doors. But several restaurants get in on the action too, at a cost – most meals at popular establishments cost between €70 and €150, and places fill up quickly.

5. Befana – Italy

According to Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve, the night of January 5th. It follows a similar tradition to that of Santa Claus and St Nicholas. Epiphany Eve usually involves countrywide festivities that are fascinating to witness as an outsider.

Although many consider her home to be Urbania, you’ll find celebrations in several cities, including the capital Rome. These festivities typically involve hundreds of women dressed up as Befana. They usually coincide with Christmas markets where you can purchase toys and candy.

6. Christmas Markets

If there’s one Christmas tradition that several European countries share, it’s that of Christmas markets. These annual events date back to the 13th century, and you’ll find them throughout the continent from mid-November to December. They’re the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit.

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You can expect a variety of activities and attractions, along with lots of Christmas shopping, local delicacies, mulled wines and plenty of candies and other sweet treats.

Although many rail travelers focus their trips around the summer months, December is a fantastic time to see Europe by rail. Aside from the dramatic snow-capped scenery you’ll witness from the comfort of your train carriage, you’re also in for a treat when you disembark. You’ll see a complete transformation when it’s Christmas in Europe, and the festive atmosphere throughout the continent is infectious.

For more articles related to Christmas in Europe:
Germany’s best Christmas markets by rail
Winter in Europe by train: the ultimate adventure [VIDEO]
6 European festivals to go to in your lifetime