Who or What is La Befana?

According to Italian traditions, the three wise men knocked on the door of an old witch-lady and asked her for directions to Bethlehem. They told her about the birth of baby Jesus, and asked her to go with them. She told them that she was too busy.

Later, some shepherds knocked her door and asked for directions. They also invited her to go with them, and again she said she was too busy. Later still, she saw a beautiful light in the sky and regretted not going with the wise men or shepherds. She decided to go after them, and so she packed up some presents that had belonged to her own baby who had died, and she went to find this special baby.

However, she lost her way and never did make it to Bethlehem to see Jesus. Italians say that she is still looking for him. On the 11th night (5th January) she flies around on her broomstick searching for baby Jesus. Every time she passes a house with children, she slides down the chimney and leaves presents in their stockings, just in case he is in that house.

la befana - an Italian witch on her broomstick

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How do they celebrate Christmas in Spain?

the three kingsChristmas lights start going up in towns from the end of November, or early December. Christmas trees are quite popular now, although the more traditional decoration is the nativity scene (known as a belén)  which can be found in churches, public places and homes all over the country.

Christmas celebrations start on December 24th (Nochebuena) when families go to midnight mass (La Misa de Gallo) and then have a meal together. The meal itself varies from region to region but dessert tends to be sweets made of marzipan or turrón (nougat).

December 25th (El día de Navidad) is a quiet day. Families get together again for a meal, and they may exchange small gifts, but the real day for giving presents is January 6th, the day the Three Kings (Los Reyes) saw baby Jesus.

On January 5th there are processions all over Spain to celebrate the arrival of the kings. Traditionally they came by horse, but these days they may arrive by car or even helicopter! You can see a video of the three kings arriving by helicopter here. On the night of the 5th, children leave their shoes out, filled with straw and carrots for the kings’ horses, and in return the kings leave presents.

On this day there is also a special cake, known as Roscón de los Reyes, which is shaped in a ring. Inside is hidden a small charm. Tradition says that whoever finds it will be lucky for the next year, and they are also crowned king or queen for the day. Sometimes there is also a bean hidden in the cake, and whoever finds this has to buy the cake the following year!

Happy Christmas in Spanish is Feliz Navidad and Father Christmas is Papá Noel.

If you want to learn Spanish and you are based in Birmingham, you can contact me via my website for private Spanish lessons.

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How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark?

presents under a Christmas treeThis is a guest post from Anne Christine Jensen of RS Globalization.

Some of the most typically Danish Christmas traditions in December are: almost all families have a decoration with a “kalenderlys” (calendar candle) on which we count the days until Christmas Eve.

It’s also a tradition that the families have an Advent decoration with four candles – one for each of the four Sundays until Christmas.

Each evening in December it’s also a tradition for the children (and even some adults) to watch “julekalender” (a special “made for Christmas” series) on the television. There are 24 episodes, one for each day until Christmas Eve.  Most years there is also a special made “julekalender” for adults.

In Denmark we celebrate Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. Often families meet in the afternoon and drink coffee together and  “hygger sig” (have fun together). In many families it’s a tradition to go to church to a worship in the afternoon too.

In the afternoon it’s also a tradition to see the “Disneys Juleshow: Fra Alle Os til Alle Jer“ (“The Disney Christmas Show: From All of Us to All of You”). The show always shows the same shorts and some clips from films and at the end of the show a sneak peak of new movies or recently released Disney movies are revealed.

In the evening the families eat the well-prepared Christmas dinner together. It’s different from family to family what the traditional Christmas dinner consists of, but some of the most common dinners include one of these meats:  “flæskesteg” (pork), duck, goose or turkey. With that we eat white potatoes, sugar glazed sweet potatoes, cabbage and gravy. For dessert the traditional dish is “ris à la mande”, which is cold rice porridge with whipped cream, chopped almonds and warm cherry sauce. One whole almond is put into the rice porridge on one of the plates and the person that gets this almond receives a “mandelgave” (= a present) –it’s often chocolate.

After the dinner and a little pause, the families get ready to dance around the tree. Everyone joins hands in a circle around the tree and while walking around the tree, we sing traditional Christmas songs. When we have finished with the dancing and singing, we start getting the presents. In families with small children “Santa Claus” comes with the presents, but when the children are a bit older, the present are normally just under the Christmas tree and are delegated by a person from the family.

Thanks again to Anne Christine for this post. Anne works at RS_Globalization Services, which provides multilingual translation and localization services to SMEs and corporate clients. RS_Globalization Services is EN15038 certified.

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How do they celebrate Christmas in France?

This is a guest post from Caroline Skudder who works as an English teacher at the Université Stendhal-Grenoble.

Christmas is a special and magical time of the year. Both adults and children look forward to it for different reasons: children for the tons of presents they get and adults for the fine food and chocolates they are going to eat. Both Christmas eve and Christmas day are celebrated. It is often the opportunity for couples and families to spend one of these days at one family’s and the other at the other family’s so everybody is happy. Father Christmas often comes two or three times: in the evening of Christmas eve (at one set of grandparents’) , in the morning of Christmas day (at home) and at lunch time of Christmas day (at the other set of grandparents’).

Christmas tree with star on topThe Christmas tree is often put up at the start of December and all the family set to work to decorate it. It often ends up being a little unbalanced but the children are proud of their work. Recently, there has been the fashion for outside electrical lights to decorate the house and neighbours often compete for the best decorated house.

Some families go to midnight mass and watch a nativity play played by children.

Tables are set up. Often several old tables are put next to each other to host everybody and we struggle to find a chair for everyone. We decorate them with Christmas table cloths and bits and pieces.

Christmas is about eating refined and delicious food you do not get to eat in the year. Several members of the family prepare a dish for the meal. The whole evening from 7 to past midnight is spent eating. There are several starters (there can be up to 3 or 4, for instance smoked salmon, prawns, snails or frog legs, foie gras), two main courses (for instance Turkey and Chestnuts or duck or poultry), the traditional cheeses and the Christmas logs. We often have enough food for the rest of the week!

Joyeux Noël (Happy Christmas)

If you want to learn French and you are based in Birmingham, you can contact me via my website for private French lessons.

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How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany?

advent wreath with holly leaves and 4 candles - 3 purple and one pink This is a guest post from Rainer Schlötterer of RS_Globalization Services.

In Germany almost all families decorate their homes with an “Adventskranz” (advent wreath). This is a wreath most often made from twigs (fir tree, spruces) with four candles and often also decorated. The candles are lit on every Sunday before Christmas starting with 1 candle in the first week up until all 4 candles are lit on the last Sunday before Christmas day (25 December).

In the weeks before Christmas most families bake a lot of Christmas cookies. The children may help in the kitchen and have a lot of fun cutting cookies in all sorts of different shapes or nibbling at the fresh pastry. All-time favourites are the vanilla crescents and the “Spitzbuben” (“rascal cookies”). If you are too lazy to bake them yourself you may also buy them on one of the numerous Christmas markets in every town and city where you can get all sorts of Christmas bits and pieces while enjoying a mug of mulled wine.

When finally the children have opened the last door of their advent calendar on 24 December, Christmas eve is only hours away. Families usually go to church in the afternoon to celebrate the “holy night” and then come back with the children to find that the “Christkind” (Christ child) was here and put presents under the Christmas tree. This is a magical moment for the children although usually they may be a bit disappointed to have missed the “Christkind” once again as in the years before.

Families then traditionally would play and sing Christmas songs and have a special Christmas eve dinner if the children are not too busy unwrapping presents and play with the new toys. There is no traditional dinner for Christmas eve. Some families have a fondue or raclette when the children are a bit older. But roast, trout, home-made pizza or any other special meal will also do.

On the first Christmas day (25 December) it is time for visits of relatives, grandparents, etc. Now the traditional Christmas meal is goose which is roasted and served with delicious dumplings, gravy and red cabbage. If you find goose a bit too much or if your family is smaller, then also duck will do.

Boxing day (26 December) is also celebrated and is another chance for visiting family and relatives. There is no special Christmas dinner for boxing day but why not have another roast in the oven.

Many thanks to Rainer for this guest post. Rainer is the owner of RS_Globalization Services, which provides multilingual translation and localization services to SMEs and corporate clients. RS_Globalization Services is EN15038 certified.

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