Christmas in Europe: When to Celebrate Christmas in Europe

Why Catholic Christmas is on December 25 and Orthodox Christmas on January 7?

Catholics and several local Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on December 25. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6. In addition to the Russian Orthodox Church, Orthodox from Jerusalem, Georgia, Serbia, and Poland, as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Old Believers celebrate Christmas on January 7.

Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany. Nineteenth-century lithograph. wikimedia

Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany. Nineteenth-century lithograph. wikimedia

Late Calendar.

When the Christian world had not yet had time to split, Christmas was celebrated on December 25. The first mention that this particular day was celebrated by the faithful dates back to the year 300. Back then, the whole world lived by the Julian calendar. It was better than the previous system of chronology, but still it was not entirely accurate.

Because of these inaccuracies every 128 years there was one unaccounted day. As the centuries passed, the difference between the calendar year and the astronomical year increased more and more. Easter began to be celebrated too early and fell on different days of the week. Looking at all this, Pope Gregory XIII decided it was time to change something.

Pope Gregory XIII. wikimedia

Pope Gregory XIII. wikimedia

In 1582, Europe switched to the Gregorian calendar. Since then, the Catholic Church has used the Gregorian calendar, and the Russian Orthodox Church has used the Julian calendar. Over time, other countries of the world also began to switch to the Gregorian calendar, including those in which part of the population belonged to Orthodoxy.

Russia held out to the last. Up until 1917, our country lived by the Julian calendar, and so we celebrated Christmas the same way the rest of the Christian world did – on 25 December. After the revolution, Russia switched to a “progressive” calendar. By that time the gap between calendars had already reached 13 days.

Russian Christmas card (early 20th century). wikimedia

Russian Christmas card (early 20th century). wikimedia

The Russian Orthodox Church refused to convert to the Gregorian calendar, despite enormous pressure from the secular world. And it was no longer a matter of astronomy. In Orthodoxy it is considered that the Gregorian calendar distorts the sequence of events described in the Bible, because of what Easter is celebrated not when it is necessary. Therefore, the Orthodox Church continued to live and date the holidays according to the Julian calendar. In Russia, which adopted the new calendar, Christmas was celebrated 13 days later than in most of the rest of the Christian world, on December 25 (old-style) but on January 7 (new-style).

History of the Schism

Despite a difference of nearly two weeks, both Catholics and Orthodox celebrate essentially the same holiday and believe, if you don’t go into detail, virtually the same thing. But there is no unity in the Christian world, and there hasn’t been for a very, very long time.

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Officially, 1054 is considered the date of the split of the Christian Church into the Catholic Church, centered in Rome, and the Orthodox Church, centered in Constantinople. But the roots of this event go even deeper.

The greatest religious dispute between representatives of the two opposing sides is the difference in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Western Church Fathers believe that the Holy Spirit comes from both the Father and the Son. The easterners believe that it comes only from the Father. Each, of course, believes that his or her point of view is absolutely correct and the opponent is mistaken.

Constantinople. wikimedia

Constantinople. wikimedia

But the schism had many other backgrounds, not all of which had to do with religion. There were political and cultural reasons as well. Rome and Constantinople lived too differently and had little interaction.

The cultural and mental differences between East and West, multiplied by a lack of dialogue, drove the two centers of Christendom farther and farther apart. Political disagreements and power struggles also added fuel to the fire. All this led to the fact that at the beginning of the second millennium, representatives of the two disputing sides quarreled definitively and anathematized each other. In 1054, no one could have imagined that it would drag on so long.

The difference in tradition

As the two Christian churches separated, differences and disagreements grew stronger and more numerous, turning the small rift between the western and eastern worlds into a huge chasm.

Christmas Mass in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, 1992. wikimedia

Christmas Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, 1992. wikimedia

In addition to the different approach to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Catholics and Orthodox argue about many other things. The pope is infallible and can never be wrong about anything; the patriarch in Orthodoxy has no such privileges. The Catholic Church believes that the conception of the Virgin Mary was immaculate, the Orthodox do not think so. Catholics have Purgatory, the Orthodox do not.

In the Catholic Church all clergy must be unmarried, the Orthodox have clergy monks, but there are also married ones. Catholics are strongly against all contraception, the Orthodox look at contraception less strictly. Catholics prohibit divorce; the Orthodox allow it under certain circumstances.

Over the centuries of schism, the different approaches to how to be baptized, pray, sit or stand in church, take communion, what to wear to church, and so on and so forth, have only further strengthened. So now, although the churches have taken a step toward reconciliation, the idea of a united Christian world does not seem real to many.

By the way : Catholics do not fast as strictly before Christmas as the Orthodox do. Catholic Christmas is more like New Year’s Eve in Russia: The whole family decorates a Christmas tree, gathers around a festive table and gives each other gifts. The main Christmas dish for many Catholics is a whole roasted turkey or goose.

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When and on what date Christmas is celebrated in Europe in 2022

The Christmas holidays in Europe begin two weeks earlier than for Orthodox Christians. This is due to the difference in dates between the Gregorian and Julian calendar. By reading our article you will know when Christmas is in Europe. In many countries, and there are more than 145 of them, Catholic Christmas is included in the list of public holidays. The celebration follows traditions and rituals that have developed over the centuries of the celebration’s existence.

When is Christmas 2022 in Europe – dates

The dates of Christmas do not coincide for Catholics and Orthodox: December 25 and January 7, respectively. The discrepancy is caused by the use of different chronological systems – the difference in dates is 13 days. Europeans switched to the new Gregorian calendar in 1852, and some states of the former Russian Empire in the twentieth century.

After the adoption of the new calendar in the West the Christmas date remained 25 December for the Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Orthodox Christians in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland. Supporters of the Armenian Apostolic Church have a different date – January 6; Orthodox Christians in Russia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Serbia and Poland – January 7; Greek Catholics in Ukraine – January 7.

In Argentina, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, Israel (depending on the denomination), Italy, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United States.

History of Catholic Christmas

There are no exact facts confirming the date of Christ’s birth, i.e., December 25. There is a version that it is not calculated from ancient books, but simply “appointed” to facilitate the formation of a new religion, that a new holiday appeared to replace the annual celebration dedicated to the birth of Mithras (the sun god) and the day of the winter solstice.

According to historical research, the date of December 25 is first mentioned in the 300s. Back then, mankind used the Julian calendar. Compared with the previous system of chronology, it was better, but for 128 years “ran up” one day, not counted anywhere. With every century the difference between the calendar year and the astronomical one became considerable, that’s why the Easter date fell on different days of the week.

Europe decided to switch to a new calendar, the Gregorian, and it happened in 1582. Despite the pressure, Russian Orthodox believers refused to use this calendar, believing that it incorrectly reflects the sequence of events that are mentioned in the Bible. Therefore, the date of Easter is “wrong.”

Traditions and customs of the holiday

The feast of Christmas gradually acquired traditions and rituals. Some of them remained in their former form, while others underwent changes. For example, the tradition of giving gifts did not exist before. It appeared in memory of the gifts of the Magi to the Infant Jesus – the Christmas gift was in this capacity. The tradition of decorating the Christmas tree is, as many researchers believe, an echo of ancient pagan rituals.

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Advent

The date of Christmas is preceded by a four-week period of preparation, Advent. This time is devoted to prayer, fasting, good deeds, and charity. Children are given a heart, a bundle of straw, for a good deed. Hearts are then decorated with a Christmas tree, and bundles are put into the specially arranged for the holiday nursery.

On Sundays, there are themed services, and homes and temples are decorated with Christmas wreaths with four candles symbolizing enlightenment. They are lit gradually, one each Sunday.

A nativity scene

The tradition of setting up a manger or nativity scene is not one hundred years old. The scene should remind of the first minutes of Christ’s birth. Wooden, clay, and wax figures were dressed in simple clothing and placed in an imitation cave next to the manger. Originally they were installed only in temples, but later they became an element of Christmas decoration of the home.

The modern outfits of the Magi are richer, the cave decorated with greenery. The bazaars offer ready-made nativity scenes, but most try to make their own, fulfilling their fantasies and ideas about the event.

About the beginning of the celebration

On Christmas Eve, December 24, believers come to church to undergo the rite of confession and communion, to receive a blessing. After visiting the church, they decorate the Christmas tree, the dwelling, set up a nativity scene (cave) or a manger, and prepare refreshments.

Lent is traditionally observed until the first star appears in the sky, so the pre-holiday dishes are Lenten. Slices of unleavened bread (clouds) take center stage on the table, which participants of a meal should pass to each other, wishing peace, kindness, God’s grace. If the meal is in the evening, then obligatory treat with porridge, sourdough, buns, cookies, fish.

One guest place is left empty – a symbol of willingness to feed and warm anyone who enters the house. Also, the empty place reminds of the relatives who left and those who could not come to the pre-holiday dinner.

How the feast is celebrated

The celebration begins at midnight with a Christmas Mass. Afterwards, everyone exchanges gifts prepared in advance and participates in festivities that last until January 1. Performances and skits about biblical events are staged in the streets. On Christmas night, children carol and sing theme songs, for which they are given a treat.

There is no communal feast on Christmas Eve. The main meal, where all relatives try to be present, is dinner on December 25.

How Christmas is celebrated in different countries

The national peculiarities, the culture of the state impose an imprint on the formation of Christmas traditions and customs. Over time, new ones appear, but people honor the memory of their ancestors and do not forget the moments that went down in history.

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Austria

Until the present time the tradition appeared in the Middle Ages is still alive – the holiday markets, bazaars, the indispensable attribute of which were brightly painted stalls with sweets in unusual shapes, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts. Another feature – the Christmas tree is decorated with marzipan products, chocolate. For the table necessarily cooked carp, baked pastries with spices.

Bulgaria

The celebration begins the day before, on the 24th, when carolers come into the houses to wish health, well-being, prosperity and a good harvest; they sing carols. It is customary to treat them, to give them money, and the carolers donate them to charity.

On Christmas Eve everyone who comes home is seated at the table and served with an odd number of Lenten dishes. Banitsa cake with nuts, coins, and wishes written on a small piece of paper is an obligatory meal.

Great Britain

An obligatory part of the festivities is the Queen’s speech, which she gives after the Christmas dinner. Prior to the family feast, the family gathers to attend themed services. Turkey with gooseberry sauce, pudding, brandy and fragrant English tea are placed on the table. Children tell Father Christmas about their dreams and wishes in a letter, then burn it in the fireplace – with the smoke the wishes fly away.

Germany

The Christmas season here is called the “fifth season,” and preparations begin at 11:11 a.m. local time on November 11. The faithful attend themed services, participate in the rite of penance and communion, and observe fasting. On the squares organize fairs, where they come to buy goods, meet friends, and have a glass of mulled wine. In Bavaria, the streets are full of masquerades with scary masks and faces smeared with soot.

Children are given a sweet calendar (Advent) – in the cells of the date put candy. Relatives and friends give each other a specially grown in a pot clover, a Christmas star plant, on which with proper care in December will appear reddish-red flower, resembling a star.

In residential and public rooms, a nativity scene is set up, and candles and characters from the Bible are placed on entrance doors. Relatives gather around the Christmas table to eat treats, share news, and exchange gifts.

Israel

Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and January 7, depending on denomination. The main event takes place in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where the service is conducted by the patriarch. Performing the rite, he places a sculpture of the infant on the previously prepared Bethlehem star, then both the star and the sculpture are transferred to the manger and kept there until the Epiphany.

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Italy

Great importance is attached to Christmas Mass and it is considered good luck to attend, as it is not easy to get tickets. Those who couldn’t get there watch the service from a screen in the square. An important Christmas character is the good witch La Befana. She is much loved by children because she delivers presents to them.

Iceland

On December 12, children’s shoes are placed on the windowsill or near the window, where Santa Claus puts presents. For two weeks, a surprise will appear there every night. Those who have behaved badly will put a potato, and those who have been just obnoxious – a three-eyed cat Grila with big teeth and warts.

Guests are treated to white partridge, thin leaf bread, and rice pudding with an almond kernel in the center. At night, a solemn mass is broadcast on the radio; television is off. We’ve figured out when it’s Christmas in Europe, now let’s move on to other countries.

The traditions of celebration were brought by immigrants from Europe. Here, too, they dress up a Christmas tree, sing the Christmas carol, cook turkey, alcoholic cocktail with the addition of eggs, cream (“egg-nog”). Bright lights, colorful decoration of streets, squares, houses, the wreath on the front door are obligatory attributes of the holiday.

Finland

On the morning of the day of celebration Finns decorate the Christmas tree, attend the service, before the festive feast go to the sauna to celebrate the holiday clean spiritually and physically. Among the treats are ham baked in a special way, rice and carrot porridge. If someone comes across a grain of almonds in the porridge, the coming year will be successful, prosperous.

France

Preparations include decorating a Christmas tree, setting up a nativity scene, and scenes of biblical content. But the French also have their own ritual: choose a log, walk with it, saying sentences around the table with food, then throw it into the fireplace. Today the log can be replaced by a roll, and instead of burning it treat guests.

Sweden

Celebration with the Swedes begins December 13 and lasts until January 13. Children and adults receive gifts handed out by the Christmas gnome, who lives in the basement of the house. The symbol of the celebration is a straw stuffed goat. The innovation was introduced in 1966 and is not to everyone’s liking.

Catholic or Orthodox Christmas is an occasion to meet with relatives, an opportunity to touch historical traditions. It is celebrated not only by believers, because it has long been a good family holiday.

I hold the position of article designer on the team of the site. From time to time I gather interesting recipes that can be used to quickly prepare a delicious lunch or dinner. I also share ideas for all kinds of crafts for any holiday.

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