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EU Christmas

Weird yuletide traditions

Most Irish people like to be at home for Christmas. So, they know relatively little about Christmas traditions elsewhere.

This Christmas, lots of Irish people working in places like the EU institutions will not be returning home.

In the festive spirit, I thought I would go through some of the weird and wonderful ways that other Europeans celebrate their Christmas. In Ireland, we are great for the 12 pubs, racing on the 26th, midnight mass, dips in the sea on Christmas morning, the GOAL mile and, depending on where you are in the country, the wren boys - not to mention the great kick-off event, the toy show.

Santa Claus, as most of you know, will be able to move freely around Ireland, according to the CMO Tony Holohan. The Dutch Santa comes from Spain on a white horse (presumably to give the reindeer a rest - EU working time directive applies). Apart from that, the order in which Santa visits countries is a well-kept secret.

Santa is known as the Christmas Goat in Finland so people wear goat masks to deliver presents.

As you may know, lots of Europeans celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve or on January 6th, the epiphany. Good news for kids in Poland is that they sometimes get presents as early as December 6th. The torture of waiting till the 25th and watching the presents pile higher around the Christmas tree is a mainly Irish form of cruelty to children. In the Netherlands too, the kids get presents on the 5th of December.

We aren’t that cruel in the end. Some countries have real baddies that hang around at Christmas. In Italy La Befana will leave coal for children who haven’t been good. As an insurance policy, you can leave out a bit of food for her if you’re anxious that your behaviour has fallen short of the mark.

In Germany, Santa’s helper, Knecht Ruprecht will leave you a bunch of twigs if you have gone astray too often. There doesn’t seem to be any safety net there. In the Netherlands, Santa will take you back to Spain if you’ve been naughty. But that’s ok because most Dutch people go to Spain anyway after Christmas.

In Iceland, you’re likely to be eaten by a giant Christmas cat called Gryla if you haven’t received a new piece of clothing before Christmas; the kind of thing that would never be tolerated in the EU.

Then again, it’s hard to fully justify the Austrian Krampus, a horned demonic creature who is also given to a bit of child abduction. ‘Krampus runs’ scare the living daylights out of Austrian children on December 5th.

However the prize for the all-time favourite weird Christmas tradition must go to our friends in Catalonia. The Tio de Nadal is a log that poops. On December 8th the log is brought in from the forest and covered in a blanket to keep him warm. He is given dried fruit and nuts to eat; so much of it that he poops just before Christmas.

To help Tio move things along, as it were, kids gather round and sing a song while hitting him with sticks. To their amazement, Tio poops out sweets. Despite the unorthodox production method, Catalan children still finds the sweets appetizing.

There is also a great variety of Christmas fare from the Irish Turkey tradition to Carp being the main feature in a Polish 12 course meal. In Finland, rice porridge and plum fruit juice is the traditional breakfast and finding almonds in your porridge will bring you luck for the year.

There are no traditions associated with an EU Christmas or yEUletide as we might call it.

I imagine there would have to be three EU Santas with equal power to decide who gets presents but the main Santa decides what everyone gets. EU Santa does not appear to have a naughty list although Parliamentary EU Santa has been trying to introduce a naughty list for bad guys who don’t really believe in the EU. If you don’t believe, you don’t receive, as they say - a warning for Viktor Orban & co.

Finally, my thoughts this year are with Irish people abroad who won’t be able to make it home because of the pandemic. But at least they will have great stories of the weird and wonderful ways that our European cousins celebrate Christmas.

Best wishes to you all for Christmas.

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