I’m European, so by birth; half Austrian half Italian but I feel pretty mixed up so let’s just say European. And we celebrate Christmas a little differently than all y’all of English speaking backgrounds. My (half) sister has just moved to Sydney and we are going to celebrate a European style christmas with a mix of traditions from both our backgrounds (Australian = her, Austrian = both of us + Italian = me). We have been coming up with some pretty extravagant plans and heated discussions on how this may play out but it has finally been decided that I am hosting our dinner since I live closest to the Christmas Eve going-out madness and I will be serving: a green salad with mixed leaves, avocado and persian feta, Austrian Bratwurst with Süßer Senf and Italian hazelnut macaroons filled with hazelnut creme ganache and dipped in dark chocolate. (Normally there would DEFINITELY be a potato dish accompanying….. but not at my house.) So I thought I’d share with you a little insight on the traditions for Christmas that I know from childhood.
For a start, Christmas in both Italy and Austria is much less commercialised than in the UK, Australia and the USA. It’s much more about family and food. (Very much about food if you’re Italian!!!) For instance, instead of writing letters to Santa Claus with a list of what we want, children normally write letters to their parents telling them how much they love them and thanking them for looking after them, which are placed under the plate of the family head (usually the father) and read out aloud after dinner. Secondly, we celebrate on Christmas eve not on Christmas day.
On Christmas eve only do you put up an evergreen tree and all the family get together to decorate the tree in the afternoon. Often a lot of the decorations have been hand made by the younger ones in the weeks coming up to Christmas and the tree is always finished off with candles to add ambience and increase that delicious pine smell. I remember baking traditional Christmas gingerbread cookies in the shape of pine trees, stars, hearts and angels and tying them on to the tree with ribbon. To this day I have no idea how those candles stayed balanced on the the pine needle-tips of the tree. A magical sight from a child’s eyes! Clearly it’s winter in Europe so it’s fitting…..Australia is in constant fire danger so I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t go over to well here.
Family love generally revolves around the kitchen where an enormous feast is prepared and everyone helps and sings and tells each other stories until it’s time to sit down and enjoy the meal. This is followed by the traditional gift-giving however Santa also doesn’t come sliding down some chimney but the “Cristkindl” I suppose the most direct translation would be the “Christ Child” magically makes the gifts appear under the tree while everyone is out of the room eating dinner. Some of my favourite memories of those times are laughing so hard we can’t eat or finish our sentences, that general sense of belonging to a group of people that cherish and adore you and eating all those delightful treats that we weren’t allowed normally….
Clearly all of this takes hours and hours and desert of cookies and strong liquors and hot chocolate is served until everyone layers up to go to the midnight mass. It’s all about celebrating togetherness, joy and love and perhaps not that steeped in religion for some of us, but also quite separate to that commercial sense of impertinence that  people are often pressured into elsewhere.
And that, my little friends, is a European Christmas!
Merry Christmas everyone! I wish you all the love and happiness and peace imaginable this festive season and hopefully your days are filled with friends, joy and laughter!!
Image source.

Pin It on Pinterest