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Trolls, carps and defecating shepherds: How Europe toasts Christmas

The Winter Wonder and Christmas Market in Brussels, Belgium, Nov. 27, 2021.
The Winter Wonder and Christmas Market in Brussels, Belgium, Nov. 27, 2021. Copyright AP Photo/Olivier Matthys
Copyright AP Photo/Olivier Matthys
By Euronews
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We take a look at how Christmas is marked in Italy, Spain, Iceland and the Czech Republic. It's anything but universal!


Hundreds of millions of people across Europe will wake up on Christmas Day and rush to their tree to open the presents left for them.

But although that Christmas tradition is seemingly universal, others are very typical of just one country and range from the boisterous — rowdy carols — to the slightly inconvenient — keeping a carp in the bathtub.

Here's a round-up of how Europeans celebrate Christmas differently.

1. Iceland's festive traditions and why they've stood the test of time

AP Photo/Egill Bjarnason
A local actor playing "Candle-Stealer," one of Iceland's 13 mischievous troll brothers that have taken the role of Father Christmas by Lake Myvatn, Iceland, Dec. 8, 2018.AP Photo/Egill Bjarnason

Icelandic children start receiving their presents on December 11 — and no, it's not because of their proximity to the North Pole — but naughty ones get something unpleasant delivered in their footwear by a band of mischievous tricksters collectively known as the Yule Lads.

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2. Spain's festivities can be boisterous, banging and, at times, bizarre

AP Photo/Andres Kudacki
Geese with Christmas decorations are paraded through the streets in Madrid, Jan. 5, 2015.AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

While most countries decorate their cities with a depiction of Father Christmas or a nativity scene, in Spain, one of the ubiquitous sights adorning squares is that of a defecating shepherd. Santa is also not necessarily the gifter-in chief in some parts, but goal mongers by the names of Olentzero and Apalpador.

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3. What are Italy's festive traditions and are they under threat?

Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo
A view of the nativity scene and the Christmas tree that adorns St. Peter's square at the Vatican, during the lighting ceremony, Dec. 10, 2021.Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo

In such a land of food and with stark geographic and climatic differences between the north and south, there is no single Christmas menu. Northern Italians, who are more likely to huddle around a fireplace favour hearty, meaty meals while in the south, where Christmas dinner can be enjoyed al fresco, fish is more de rigueur.

In any case, pasta rules the table!

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4. Carp in your bathtub and other Czech traditions

AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Polar swimmers get out from the water after participating in a traditional Christmas swim in the Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic, Dec. 26, 2018.AP Photo/Petr David Josek

The Christmas meal features a carp and tradition dictate that you keep it in the bathtub until December 24. Nowadays, however, carp sellers lining the streets in the run-up to the holiday, prepare it for the more squeamish.

Gifts are not delivered by Santa or coal mongers but by Baby Jesus, as is the tree and any post-holiday stupor or food coma is swiftly dealt with a traditional dip in a river.

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