WEA-Summer online courses

The WEA has lunched a series of summer online training including courses to develop English language and functional skills.

In addition, there’s an online Level 1 Community Interpreting Initial Assessment. The online Initial Assessment for the Community Interpreting course is on the 19/4 at 10:00.

Students will be required to accept their course in Canvas (the WEA learning platform) when they receive the link. They also be need to watch a brief video (in Canvas) which explains how to do the initial assessment tasks. The tasks have to be completed before students attend the initial assessment on 19/4.

click here for flyer and brochure

Hungary – A European Christmas Story

In Hungary, Christmas Eve is very important and is called ‘Szent-este’ which means Holy Evening. People spend the evening with their family and decorate the Christmas Tree. Sometimes only the adults decorate the tree (without the children there), so when children come in and see the tree, it’s a great surprise and they are told that angels brought the tree for them!

Christmas markets are a highlight of the holiday season in Budapest – and the most celebrated is at Vörösmarty Square. Named one of the best Christmas markets in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler, this world-renowned holiday market features over 100 wooden stalls selling traditional Hungarian handicrafts. Folk music and the scent of mulled wine fill the air, while open kitchens serve holiday comfort food like nokedli dumplings, lángos and chimney cakes. It’s no surprise that the Vörösmarty Square Christmas Fair, attracts thousands of visitors every holiday season.

Much like North American caroling, regölés or “singing good wishes” is a Hungarian holiday tradition. From December 26th until New Year’s Day, singers called ‘regősök’ travel from house to house singing songs of good wishes to their neighbors. Historically, this was “a custom of singing about the magic of nature, greetings, wishing for abundance, drawing couples together and collecting donations.” These Hungarian carols can still be heard throughout the holiday season.

The Midnight Mass service is very popular in Hungary. Most people go to Church after their Christmas meal.

On Christmas Eve children also hope that they will be left some presents under the Christmas Tree. They’re told that the presents are brought by Jesus, he’s often called “Jézuska”, a nickname or cuter version for “Jézus”. Children wait outside the room where the tree is and when they hear bells ringing, they can enter and the presents await them under the Christmas tree.

On Christmas Day people visit their families.

St. Nicholas also visits Hungary on the 6th December. In Hungary he is known as ‘Mikulás’. Children leave out shoes or boots on a windowsill- to be filled with goodies! Presents might also be brought by Télapó (Old Man Winter).

In Hungarian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Boldog karácsonyt’ (Happy Christmas) or ‘Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket’ (pleasant Christmas holidays).

A personal story:

By Melinda Stefanovics

I am from Hungary and I completed my high school there. Then I was studying to become a hairdresser . When I was eighteen years old I moved to England with my family- for a better future. I started studying English, then I did some courses like interpreting and sewing. I worked in care homes, factories and offices.

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Traditional Christmas dinner is fisherman’s soup; stuffed cabbage, turkey, broth etc. Then we have lots of cakes and sweets like poppy seed roll, Gerbaud cake, coconut ball. There are many more dishes and different menus, in Hungarian houses.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Memories off Christmas it’s about the family together dressing the Christmas tree Altogether on the 24th evening mum cooking baking all day and when everything done The family sit down eat together and at midnight everyone from the community goes to Church to remembering Jesus on his birthday

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Presents can be anything from chocolates to clothes to pictures and money. Whatever the next person give, we will take it, because a gift is a gift and it comes with love!

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Netherlands – A European Christmas Story

In The Netherlands, the most important day for children is the 5th of December which is St. Nicholas’ Eve or ‘Pakjesavond’ means ‘present evening’ when St. Nicholas delivers presents. Children will leave a shoe out by the fireplace or on a windowsill and sing St Nicholas songs. Most of the songs date from the 19th and early 20th century. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for St Nicholas’s horse, they will be left some sweets or small presents.

‘Pepernoot’ are sweet biscuits that are eaten at ‘Sinterklaas’ parties, which are made with cinnamon and spices in the biscuit mix. Christmas celebrations in The Netherlands are separate from the visit of Sinterklaas.

Christmas Day in The Netherlands is traditionally a quiet day with a church service and a family meal. Sometimes there is a special Christmas Day ‘Sunday School’ in the afternoon at the church, where the Christmas Story and other traditional stories are told.

On Christmas Eve night, Dutch children believe that Santa Claus, who is also called ‘Christmas man’ / ‘Kerstman’ to avoid confusion with Sinterklaas, comes from Lapland in Finland to deliver more presents. Christmas Day is known as ‘Eerste Kerstdag’ (first Christmas day) and the day after Christmas is called ‘Tweede Kerstdag’ (second Christmas day). On Tweede Kerstdag, people often visit their families and larger shops are often open. The traditional way to eat with the family is called ‘gourmetten’, which is a little stove that is put on the table and where everyone prepares their own meal while seated.

Many people in The Netherlands also have a Christmas tree in their house. The Christmas tree is called the paradise tree. One can buy artificial trees or real pine trees. Some people build wooden Christmas pyramids and decorate them with evergreens and candles. In Dutch Happy/Merry Christmas can be said as ‘Prettige Kerst’ (Happy Christmas), ‘Zalig Kerstfeest’ or ‘Zalig Kerstmis’ (both mean Merry Christmas) or ‘Vrolijk Kerstfeest’ (Cheerful Christmas).

A personal story:

By Annelieke McGillivary

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

At Christmas time in the Netherlands ‘gourmetten’ is a popular and traditional way to eat. It involves putting a hot plate / grill in the middle of the table with some small pans underneath. You cook mini pieces of meat, seafood and vegetables yourself and you can also make mini omelettes in the small pans.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Spending time with family and loved ones! Especially this year I’ve learned not to take family time for granted. We also traditionally go for a nice long family walk.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

It’s only in recent years the Dutch give presents to each other at Christmas. We have another celebration, mainly for children, on the 5th of December (‘Sinterklaas’) which involves giving presents so most families with children don’t do many presents at Christmas. When I grew up we got 1 present each at Christmas whilst celebrating Sinterklaas with more presents. The type of presents are similar to the presents given here; toys, perfume, books, board games etc.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Slovakia – A European Christmas Story

In Slovakia many people are Roman Catholic, so they start off the Christmas period by celebrating advent from four Sundays before Christmas Day. It is common during advent to have an advent wreathe and to light a candle for each of the four Sundays up to Christmas. Each candle has a different meaning with the first two candles and the last candle being a purple colour and the third Sunday having a pink coloured candle. Typically the first candle represents hope, the second represents love, the third candle represents joy and the fourth and final candle represents peace.

There is often Christmas markets across the country to celebrate the Christmas period during December. The Christmas markets are usually lit up and sell Christmas gifts, traditional Slovakian food as well as beer and wine.

On 6th December it is common for people to celebrate St Nicholas’ Day which is when St Nicholas, or Mikuláš as he is known in Slovakia, delivers presents to well behaved children. 

Usually people in Slovakia put their Christmas tree up on 23rd December in time for Christmas Eve on December 24th. Traditionally Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve, which is also known as Štedrý večer, is a big celebration in Slovakia with many people attending midnight mass. For the children it is believed that baby Jesus delivers the Christmas gifts rather than Santa Claus and it is traditional to open presents whilst eating Dinner on Christmas Eve.

In Slovakia it is traditional to eat Carp for Christmas which is a type of fish and some families will leave a spare plate out for loved ones who are no longer with them as a way to remember them.

After Christmas Day on December 26th people in Slovakia celebrate St Stephens day. St Stephen was martyred for his belief in Jesus and Christianity and he was the first Martyr in the Christian faith.

A personal story:

By Nicki Hlousek

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

The traditional Christmas dinner as well as the main celebrations including exchanging of presents happen evening of 24th December. The most traditional Christmas dinner would consist of sauerkraut soup (this sounds dreadful but is actually rather tasty), fried carp (many people now replace that with chicken or turkey schnitzel) served with a delicious potato salad. Sometimes we make schnitzel with potato salad and have this on Christmas eve still but we tend to find it is quite a lot of food with all the chocolate and sweets normally consumed in our house over Christmas and have opted out of this tradition entirely last two years. But because my boyfriend loves the dish so much it keeps returning and might be on the menu again this year.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

I always love when I can spend Christmas along with both my brother and my mom and my partner. This does not happen that often as we try to take turns around where we celebrate Christmas. Since we got our two cats two years ago it is becoming more difficult for us to travel to Slovakia during Christmas period too. The best memories of Christmas are the ones where we spent some time together with the wider family like cousins, uncles and so – I very much prefer when there is more of us together.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

In Slovakia it is not traditional to gift sweets or chocolates or stockings at all. We normally make the effort and buy ‘cool’ presents. One of the rules in our house is to try and avoid gifting useful things as much as possible and try to go over the top with things that aren’t going to be something you would buy for yourself but would still very much rather have if that makes sense. Now I am not sure if that is keeping up with either traditions.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Portugal – A European Christmas Story

I was born in the Northern Portuguese City of Porto. 

In Portugal food is a big part of the culture and family life. On Christmas Day, we eat polvo (octopus) for lunch and have cabrito, which is roasted goat kid, for our evening meal.

During Christmas time, I remember my (Avo) grandmother preparing a dish called Bacalhau: dried salted cod fish soaked overnight; this is a traditional dish eaten at Christmas Eve.  We would also have other dishes including rabanadas that is thick bread soaked in wine, milk, cinnamon and then this would be fried. 

Christmas Eve was the time when gifts would be exchanged between family and friends.  We exchange gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve. I am 18 now and don’t remember if they used to say that Father Christmas had brought presents when I was younger. Every year, my mum would create a Christmas Day at my home in the UK before I flew to Portugal and I would open my presents from ‘Santa’ on our pretend Christmas morning (even though it might be December 21st or 22nd!).

In Portugal, my family have a Christmas tree decorated in the same style as in the UK and the towns have Christmas lights just the same as here. Of course, Portugal is a Catholic country so this is central to the festive celebrations and my grandparents will go to a missa (service) at their local igreja (church) on Christmas morning.

I love spending Christmas in Portugal with my family as each year I won’t have seen them since the summer holidays so it is a very special time.  And because I also have a pretend Christmas Day at home with my mum and family in the UK, I have the best of both worlds!!

A personal story:

By Eduardo Ferreira 

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

The traditional meal at Christmas in Portugal is Bacalhau that is known as dried salted cod fish that is Eaten on Christmas Eve.  We also eat polvo (Octopus) on Christmas Day for lunch and roasted Goat for our evening meal.   For dessert, we would have Bolo Rei which is a sweet bread with dried fruits and nuts, topped with candied fruit and powdered sugar.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Spending Christmas in Portugal with family each year is a very special time for me with family and seeing my grandmother preparing traditional food: Bacalhau.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Various gifts are exchanged at Christmas time between families.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Latvia – A European Christmas Story

Latvia claims to be the home of the first Christmas Tree. The first documented use of an evergreen tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is in town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the year 1510. Lots of people think the Christmas Tree first came from Germany, but the first recorded one is in Latvia.

Christmas Markets in Latvia attract many tourists and people loved to shop gifts for their loved ones from here. The streets of the market are beautifully decorated; you will also get to taste some of the finest samples of good food at the Riga Christmas Market.

Christmas in some areas of Latvia is celebrated traditionally, whereas some areas know how to balance tradition and craze at the same time.  The people of Latvia do lots of preparations to welcome the festival of Christmas. They decorate their houses with evergreen Christmas trees and use various glittery small items and hang them on the trees.

Children in Latvia believe that Santa Claus (also known as Ziemassvētku vecītis – brings their presents. The present are usually put under the Christmas tree. The presents are opened on during the Evening of Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day.

Often the presents are secretly put under the tree, when people are not around. Sometimes to get a present- you have to recite a short poem, while standing next to the Christmas Tree. Before Christmas, children learn to say poems by heart. You might also get a present by singing, playing a musical instrument or doing a dance.

A personal story:

By Inta Gulbe

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

The special Latvian Christmas Day meal is cooked brown or grey peas with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage & sausage, bacon rolls and gingerbread.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Christmas has always been a very important holiday for my family, which we all welcomed together. And needed a good reason not to participate.  We lived in Riga, but when we had the opportunity, we drove to wait for Christmas at my cousin’s country house surrounded by forest with three beautiful Christmas trees in the middle of the yard, which were decorated … and Santa Claus always came out of the forest with a gift bag on a sled. 

The children’s excitement was unique, and we adults did not remain indifferent either.  Christmas was unimaginable without the smell of gingerbread at home, the dinner table had to have various pies, pork roast with oven-baked sauerkraut and various other delicacies.  If there was an opportunity and there was no deep snow, then in the evening we went to church.  Of course, everyone likes gifts, especially children, but my best gift was the opportunity to be with my loved ones. 

At Christmas, all the cities were decorated and there are markets.  Latvians are great knitters and can buy very beautiful and original gifts. 

I have lived in Huddersfield for 7 years, I really like it here, but my family is divided, and we have not been able to get everyone together again … it is sad!

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Children in Latvia believe that Santa Claus (also known as Ziemassvētku vecītis – brings their presents. The present are usually put under the Christmas tree. The presents are opened on during the Evening of Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day.

Often the presents are secretly put under the tree when people are not around. Sometimes to get a present you have to recite a short poem while standing next to the Christmas Tree. Before Christmas children learn to say poems by heart. You might also get a present by singing, playing a musical instrument or doing a dance.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Wales – A European Christmas Story

Christmas time in Wales is quite similar to Christmas in the rest of the UK. In Wales it is traditional for people to decorate their homes with mistletoe which protects people from evil and holly which symbolises eternal life.

In Wale Christmas is called Y NADOLIG and Boxing Day is called GWYL SAN STEFFAN. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was traditional in certain places of Wales to attend Mass on Christmas Day between 3am and 6am and this was known as Plygain. It was also traditional to make toffee on Christmas Eve whilst telling stories and playing games. In some places these traditions continue.

For over 50 years there has been a tradition in Wales of a Christmas Day swim where people brace the cold and swim outdoors in particularly at Tenby’s North Beach and Cefn Sidan in Pembrey. 

Another tradition in Wales is that children will hand out Calenigg when they are carol singing in return for money or sweets. Calenigg is an apple with almonds stuck on with sticks and it is supposed to bring the person receiving it good luck. 

Like the rest of the UK people in Wales celebrate with Christmas decorations and will put up Christmas Trees during December. People will also hang up Christmas stockings that are left out on Christmas Eve in hope that Santa Claus will fill them with presents.

A personal story:

By Michael Evers

I am 50 years old. I live in Mirfield nowadays and I work as an ESOL tutor for Kirklees College (Dewsbury).  I grew up in Wales and I’m going to write about my memories of Christmas in  the Cynon Valley.  I lived in a village called Cwmbach, which is near the town of Aberdare. Christmas in Welsh is called Nadolig.

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas dinner in Wales is more or less the same as that in England.  The main meal is usually roast turkey, which may be accompanied by other meats such as roast beef.  The meal also includes pigs in blankets, which are sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffing, roast potatoes and parsnips, carrots, peas, broccoli, and other vegetables too! In Wales traditional roast goose is sometimes served instead of turkey.

For dessert we usually have a Christmas pudding, which is made with treacle, suet, spices and sultanas. It’s very sweet and rich.  There are usually other desserts available if a person prefers to eat something else. Or maybe eat it as well as the pudding! The whole meal is a huge feast and people are expected to overload on calories and fill their tummies.

My family usually sits down for the dinner at about 2.00pm.  Like elsewhere in the UK, we pull crackers, wear the paper crowns from the crackers and tell each other the awful jokes inside. Adults usually drink sparkling wine or other tipples of choice during the meal. Some family members might choose to watch the Queen’s Speech at 3.00pm.  When I was a boy, my dad nearly always fell asleep on his chair later in the afternoon.

Boxing Day (St Stephen’s Day) is also an important day. For my family, like many others around the UK, it’s a time to visit other family members. I have lots of happy memories of my extended family coming round, eating more Christmas food, drinking their favourite drinks and playing party games.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

I lived in Wales during the late 1970s and most of the 1980s.  When I was 8 years old I received a Scalextric set (electric model racing cars).  It came in a huge box and I was so excited when I opened it and played it with Dad.

Welsh people love singing, and Wales is known as the land of song. Unsurprisingly, carol singing is very popular and I remember going round people’s houses in my neighbourhood and singing outside their doors.  If they liked our singing, they usually gave us some money or a gift.  Or maybe they just gave us money to stop us singing!  It was usually cold, so we were wrapped up in warm clothes and usually carried a candle in a jar.

My mum comes from a town called Mountain Ash, which is about 4 miles from Cwmbach.  New Year’s Eve (Nos Galan) in Mountain Ash is quite special.  An annual running race takes place to celebrate the memory of a famous Welsh runner called Guto Nyth Bran, who lived about 300 years ago. The race starts on the mountain at Llanwynno church, where Guto is buried, and continues in the town centre. It is a well-known event in Wales and is sometimes shown on the TV.  My aunty lives nearby and I quite often spent Nos Galan in Mountain Ash.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Unlike when I was a boy, I would say that I am not easy to buy presents for nowadays.  I often receive things like clothes and books. My wife might buy me something electronic like a mobile phone or camera. My mum still sees me as her little boy and buys me things like chocolate and funny knick-knacks.

That’s about it. Thanks for reading.

Nadolig Llawen!


Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Republic of Ireland – A European Christmas Story

“Nollaig Shona Duit” is Merry Christmas in Irish with Christmas celebrations running from Christmas Eve until the Epiphany on the sixth of January: also known as “Little Christmas”.  At this time trees are taken down to end the festive celebrations.

Around Christmas time in Ireland it is a tradition for people to head to the sea and take a swim in the cold water and celebrate the festive celebrations.  It is also tradition for people to make a ring of holly that they can hang on their doors.  This can be done at many of the Christmas fairs and markets around Ireland. 

Winter warmers including hot Irish Whiskey punch that is made from whiskey, lemon and cloves and a touch of brown sugar are drank throughout Christmas.

Little Christmas is also a tradition that takes place on the nearest Sunday to Epiphany where women come together to have conversations and tea and cakes.  It is also an opportunity to relax and enjoy the day with people within the community.

Traditional Christmas food includes turkey dinner with vegetables, pickled onions and sauces.  The cooking of spiced beef is also a tradition where it is spiced over several days cooked then eaten. 

Christmas pudding is a traditional desert that has rich fruit in covered in marzipan and decorated in icing.  A round cake is also made full of caraway seeds one is usually made for each member of the household to celebrate Christmas.

An anonymous personal story:

The Irish Christmas is pretty much the same as the English CHRISTMAS, as IRELAND was part of the UK up until about 100 years ago or so. I suppose the only real difference would be that IRELAND is pretty much ROMAN CATHOLIC with very little religious diversity up until about 30 years ago, so CHRISTMAS may have been pretty much religious orientated  as oppose to “ retail orientated’ up until then.  Christmas time is also about celebrating the birth of Christ. 

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

DINNER- As per English dinner roast turkey with Vegetables very much like an English roast dinner.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Probably waiting to hear Santa’s sleigh bells above the roof, or awakening on Christmas day morning to find presents at the foot of the bed…As a teenager it was good to go to midnight mass and catch up with the kids outside the church after and roll on to parties…

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

During Christmas we would get records, books, games, sports kit, electrical items from friends and family.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Poland – A European Christmas Story

In Poland, Christmas Eve dinner (called Wigilia) is the one of most important celebrations of the year. Although this meal is reserved for the closest family, it’s customary to set an extra plate and seat for an unexpected guest, or even a vagrant. Most of the dishes served are cooked specifically for this special day.

Christmas Eve dinner starts when the first star appears in the sky. Nothing is to be eaten until all members of the family have broken the Christmas wafers (opłatek) together and exchanged wishes for good health and prosperity. During the meal, all of the guests should taste a bit of everything.

The supper, which traditionally includes 12 dishes and desserts, may last for a couple of hours. According to tradition, bits of hay are spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger.The meal is followed by an exchange of gifts. Tradition calls for 12 traditional courses to be served during the Wigilia. Meat is not allowed. This number is a symbol of wealth, the 12 Apostles and a representation of the 12 months of the year.

 A personal story

By: Mateusz Szydelko

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Wigilia’s 12 traditional courses

  1. Christmas Eve red barszcz with porcini raviolis (uszka)
  2.  Christmas Eve mushroom soup
  3.  Christmas Eve carp (currently other Fish is served too)
  4.  Pierogi (stuffed with potato, cottage cheese)
  5.  Pierogi (stuffed with sauerkraut and mushroom)
  6. Braised sauerkraut
  7. Cabbage rolls (gołąbki- the stuffing is vegetarian and contains grains buckwheat, pearl barley or rice and dried forest mushrooms).
  8.  Herring.
  9. Greek fish (breaded fish fillets covered in a thick sauce made of fried leek and onion, as well as stewed grated carrots, celery roots and parsley root).
  10. Kutia (ancient dessert with origins in Eastern Europe made exclusively for Christmas Eve dinner).
  11. Old Polish piernik (gingerbread).
  12. Poppy seed cake (makowiec).

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

The best memory is when I was given a puppy, it was the best present ever.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

It depends really, kids are getting really expensive presents like: game consoles, cell phones and so on. Most of the presents are for them. I think the older we get the more symbolic presents we give/get.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Italy – A European Christmas Story

Christmas is considered a major holiday in Italy. Across Italy, Christmas is a family-centred holiday, it’s a time to stay at home to eat and drink with loved ones.

Christmas season for Italians starts on the Day of the Immaculate Conception, which is December 8. This is when the decorations go up; both on the streets and inside Italian homes. Also, this is the traditional time, when some Christmas markets will start to open. Decorations and huge Christmas trees-can be found in all main piazzas. Traditionally, a large tree will be displayed in front of the Colosseum.

A meal is served on Christmas eve, this is a meat free and sometimes dairy free meal. It’s known as The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Esta dei Sette Pesci). Although the idea is to eat lean, most indulge on multiple courses of fish… sometimes as many as seven! Common types of fish eaten in the feast include Baccala (salted Cod), Clams, Calamari, Sardines and Eel. There are different theories as to why there are seven fish dishes eaten. Some think that seven represents the seven days of creation in the Bible, other say it represents the seven holy sacraments of the Catholic Church. After the family dinner, many Italians head to midnight Mass at their local church to celebrate.

Christmas Day many Italians invite their family and friends for a large lunch that usually goes on all day. Many save up to have the most lavish celebration as possible, serving up traditional dishes like pasta in brodo (pasta in broth), roasts and traditional desserts like panettone. Gifts are commonly exchanged on Christmas Day after lunch.

Celebrations often extend into December 26 with the national holiday of Santo Stefano and again families will come together and eat leftover Christmas dishes and sweets.

The official end of the Christmas season is January 6, the Day of the Epiphany, and the twelfth day of Christmas. On the eve of the Epiphany, families usually prepare a large dinner to mark the end of the holiday season; children are given candy or coal (usually made of black sugar), depending on if they were naughty or nice. Some families may even wait to exchange presents on this day as some believe Epiphany is when la befana, a kind of “good witch” who is believed to have followed the wise men but got lost—drops off presents. On this day Christmas markets will close, and decorations are taken down.

An anonymous personal story:

Christmas (Natale) is a major holiday in Italy. It’s a family-centric holiday, a time to stay at home with loved ones and eat! It’s always about food with Italians. The feast lasts 3 consecutive days.

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

24th Dec, Christmas Eve (la Vigilia):

Catholic tradition prohibits the consumption of meat in the evening before religious holidays. Most Italians, therefore, eat a fishy feast on Christmas Eve. Depending on which region you are from the variety of fish might change, but the emphasis is always on the freshness of seafood type and innovative cooking methods. Frittura di pesce (fried fish), which could include calamari, baby octopus or a paranza (mixed tiny fish) is very common. In the north of Italy, you’ll definitely find baccalà (salt cod), and further south, capitone (eel). Then, of course, there’s pasta. Linguine with lobster, spaghetti with clams, paccheri ai frutti di mare (short pasta with mixed seafood and many others. Whole roasted fish with potatoes as a secondo, and then Christmas cookies before the midnight mass.

25th Dec, Christmas Day (Natale):

On Christmas Day, Italians organise a large lunch that usually goes on all day, serving up traditional dishes. The antipasti (starters) almost always include cured meats and cheeses. More elaborate dishes are also common, like vitello tonnato (cold roast veal with a tuna-spiked mayonnaise sauce), or infinite variations on frittata. Then, pasta, often several courses of it. Christmas pasta almost always has some sort of meat in it. Throughout Italy, but especially in Emilia-Romagna, the most famous one is the incomparable tortellini in brodo—meat-stuffed circles in a golden broth of beef and capon. In the south of Italy, there’s pasta al forno, or baked pasta. After there’s usually succulent boiled meat, called bollito, traditionally served with salsa verde (piquant green sauce) or mostarda (candied fruit in spiced syrup). Some type of roast is very common, like roast baby lamb in Rome, or a baroque faraona ripena (guinea fowl stuffed with ground meat and spices). We’re not finished…of course, there are desserts.  The two most common are panettone and pandoro. Both are sweet, bread-like cakes. Panettone is from Milan, it resembles a fluffy cake, shaped a bit like an oversized muffin, dotted with dried fruit and raisins. Pandoro is from Verona, star-shaped, with a moister, denser texture, usually served with powdered sugar, mascarpone cheese and nutella. After all this food, Italians usually drink coffee and amari, herbal liqueurs that are commonly consumed as an after-dinner digestif.

26th Boxing Day (Santo Stefano):

Saint Stephen’s Day often involves another family lunch. Many Italians eat avanzi, the leftovers from the previous day. The remaining food from Christmas lunch is reworked, repurposed and re-enriched. Leftover pasta will get mixed with eggs and cheese to make a frittata di pasta. Boiled meat will be shredded and stewed with tomatoes and vegetables. The leftover cured meats and desserts from the previous day will be put out to round the meal, because more than enough will have been bought for Christmas. 

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

My fondest memories of Christmas are related to the after lunch. In my family, after finishing the big feast it was games time. Italians love to play Tombola or traditional cards games during the Christmas holidays. Tombola is similar to bingo. Modern tombola cards are in plastic and have on the numbers small plastic slots that can be closed down when the number is called, but during my childhood, we used to cover the numbers with beans (fagioli) or with pieces of orange peel. There are five prizes (usually money or sweets), from lowest to highest, with tombola being the jackpot:

the “ambo”, two numbers on the same row
the “terno”, three numbers on the same row
the “quaterna”, four numbers on the same row
the “cinquina”, five numbers on the same row
the “tombola”, all numbers on the card

I am the youngest of my family. Thus, I was in charge of taking the numbers out of the sack, one at a time, calling them loudly. Each number has a nickname, either local or from the “Smorfia” napoletana” (i.e. number 77 is related to women legs). 

Another memory is the decoration of the Christmas tree. In Italy, you decorate the tree on the 8th of December, the Day of the Immaculate Conception which is a bank holiday and you remove them on the 6th of January, the Epiphany Day, another bank holiday. I used to create colourful Christmas ball with paper and fabrics at kindergarten and primary school. My mum used to be very proud of my artistic vain. Haha. 

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Presents…well, presents depend on the age of the receiver. When I was little, books, pyjamas, clothes were the most common one. My parents didn’t like to give me toys (they are old fashioned…I’m currently almost 30 years old, please consider that it was another generation, no cell phones, no gaming, no computer…. everything arrived later on when I was around 13-14 years of age). One year I received one of the best presents of my entire life. After stressing my dad for months (bless him) I got my first dog. It was a small puppy curled in a brown ball and for that reason, I’ve called her “Pallina” (little ball). Another very appreciated present that I vividly remember is one of the fewest toys I ever received. My grandpa gave me a stuffed husky because during that period I was really into the Disney cartoon “Balto”.  Growing up, since high school, the typical gift is an envelope with money inside. Between friends, presents are small, especially when you are still a student. Big gifts are typical of birthdays. 

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Scotland – A European Christmas Story

In Scotland, Christmas is known as Nollaig Bheag, which means “Little Christmas” and, unusually, has a substantial gap of several hundred years in its celebration. Prior to the mid-16th century Scotland had  a rich tradition of marking Christmas, with a legacy of celebrations and traditions that dated back into its pre-Christian Celtic past. These included bringing evergreen boughs into the house during Winter and burning a “yule log”; The ashes from his yule log would be scattered around the house after Christmas in order to provide it with magical protection throughout the year. Even in Christian times many of these celebrations were carried over. As in modern times the preparation of mince pies was an important feature. They were very different from the modern fruit and spice pies. The traditional Scottish ones contained meat, fruit, spices, and anything else that came to hand. This would be baked up in a huge wheel shape and shared with neighbours and visitors.

All this changed in 1580 though when the Presbyterian church, under its puritanical leader John Know, banned the celebration of Christmas. The law and was strictly enforced; On 27 December 1583, five people in Glasgow were brought before the kirk session and sternly ordered to make public repentance for ‘keeping Yule’. In the same year the Scottish Church banned bakers from preparing the aforementioned mincemeat pies. Anyone found baking them would be punished or, in order to escape prosecution, bakers were asked to inform on the customers who ordered them. In order to escape the watchful and eye of the Church, mincemeat pies became smaller and easier to hide.

This state of affairs persisted until 1958 when Christmas was again recognised as public holiday. Up until this date Scots had continued to work on Christmas and Boxing Day as if it was any other day.

The reason for this persecution of this seemingly (to us) harmless celebration of joy and life in the depths of Winter, lay in Knox’s and the church’s view of Christmas. They saw the holiday (including St. Nicholas, Santa, himself!) as too close to Catholic doctrine, and instead favoured the celebration of Hogmanay (New Year) as a more fitting celebration, hence the importance given to this in Scotland until present times.

A personal story:

By Sally

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas dinner is usually the same as in England. We did have plum pudding which we set fire to, and haggis can be used as a stuffing for the turkey. We always had a traditional dinner at home with sprouts, cabbage, mash, roast potatoes, carrots, peas, broccoli, pigs in blankets etc. My mum always bread sauce and Yorkshire puddings. (My parents were English so we preferred more on the English side!) We always sat down to eat at 2:00pm promptly at the table in the living room, as opposed to sitting in the kitchen!

One thing I remember is being told that Scots prefer roast potatoes to mashed potatoes.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Fondest memories of Christmas include: The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals, which we always received. Having unlimited sweets. I loved the film The Great Escape so was really excited to get the video of it from my brother! One year I received a bottle of French Almond perfume from my mum, and to this day I can still conjure the smell. If I ever smell it out and about- I am instantly transported back to Christmas. Also having my big sister home- as she went to university and then got married, so spending time with her was wonderful. I loved the run up to Christmas. Also, as my mum was very, very creative we spent a lot of time making Christmas decorations from junk, and in particular egg boxes. They all ended up on the tree.

Also particulary fond memories of putting out a carrot, whiskey and a mince pie for Santa and Rudolf.

First footing usually associated with Hogmanay- involved visiting someone’s house with a gift of coal, whiskey, bread or salt.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Some presents I received included: a bike, a dolls pram, dressing gown and slippers and a pyjama case in the shape of a teddy bear I called it BOO! Also, LPs and a record player which was the best thing ever!

Growing up on the island meant I didn’t have access to the big shops so we had to make do with buying gifts from the chemist or Woolworths. So my gifts to others would be perfume, books or book tokens, chocolate, biscuits or other food items and things we had made at school!

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Northern Ireland – A European Christmas Story

Christmas in Northern Ireland is celebrated very much like in the rest of the UK. To share a Christmas wish is ‘Nollaig Shona Duit’ which translated roughly is ‘happy Christmas to you’. In Ulster Scots, or Ullans, the words are “Ablythe Yuletide”.

According to the ancient Celts, mistletoe is for more than just stealing a kiss, it’s said to possess magnificent healing powers although it was banned for a period of time as it was seen as a symbol of paganism. Mistletoe is now hung in doorways to symbolise peace and goodwill.

In Northern Ireland, as is in the Republic of Ireland too, 26th December is celebrated as a public holiday. However, in Northern Ireland the date is known as Boxing Day, while in the Republic of Ireland it is referred to as St Stephen’s Day.

Placing a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve is still practiced in Ireland today. Primarily, it was a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter. Another Irish custom is placing of a ring of holly on doors. This originated in Ireland as holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and so the poor could use it to decorate their homes too. The decorations are taken down on Little Christmas on 6th January and considered bad luck to take them down sooner.

Belfast is known as a place for foodies to visit and during the Christmas season it builds on its reputation by holding festive food stalls. Christmas markets take place at the city’s hall and specialises in delicacies like Yellow man toffee, crisp shortbread and mulled drinks. In St George’s Market 248 stalls are said to hold festive food and a Christmas Continental market replicates Germany’s Christkindlemarkt.

Through the period of advent and during the run up to Christmas ‘Carols at Candlelight normally take place on a Sunday evening. This is when the church is decorated with lighting and candles and the church choir perform Christmas carols to the congregation and anyone who wishes to join. Mince pies and refreshments are served to keep people warm. It’s also a time when organisations like the Girls Brigade and Scouts groups organise bake sales and charity drives.

A personal story:

By Nial Sherrard

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas dinner in Northern Ireland is very traditional. My mother likes to cook a goose with all the trimmings.

As a child my mum would take us to the farm and we would select our goose and pay for it weeks before Christmas. The Goose would be collected a few days before Christmas and my Mum would pluck and draw the bird while I watched standing on a chair and when older I helped. Christmas dinner was always a four-course meal with a soup starter, fish, Main meal and pudding / cheese board. A very special occasion and very traditional.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

My fondest memories of Christmas are from growing up in Londonderry. My Granny and Grandad lived in the Fountain in a small terrace house but every Christmas morning the whole family would descend on my granny’s house for breakfast. This was a tradition and my granny would cook a full Ulster fry with an added addition of fried Christmas pudding which was delicious. I can still taste it now thinking about it. There were that many people in the house my granny would have to have 3 or 4 sittings at the table. It was always nice to see aunties, uncles and cousins having a great time together.  Being Irish the adults would have a couple of drinks and neighbours would drop in to say hello and join in the craic.

At lunchtime everyone would head home to have Christmas dinner in their own house. My father always brought some beers for the Soldiers occupying the checkpoints on the Bridge between the waterside and the Derryside. Found memories of family, laughter and a cracking breakfast.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Our presents were very typical of the rest of the UK. We would get one main present which we would have asked Santa for by writing a note and placing it up the chimney and then several smaller presents as surprises.

I have very fond memories of Christmas in Northern Ireland and still enjoy going back with my family today at Christmas and the new year. 

Below, is a photograph of me , my mum and Santa- in Londonderry 1970. 

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Luxembourg – A European Christmas Story

From the start of December, streets and shop windows across Luxembourg are illuminated and decorated, with Christmas trees in public squares and outdoor Christmas markets. Christmas goods are on sale from wooden huts: locally produced candles, tree decorations, cribs, etc. Food and drink includes hot spiced wine served in mugs and various soups which are sometimes served with Mettwurscht (a local sausage specialty). Traditional foods include Stollen and Bûche de Noël, an ice cream cake confection covered with dark chocolate to resemble the appearance of a Yule Log.

There is no Santa Claus in Luxembourg; however, St Nicolas Day is celebrated on December 6th. Children put their slippers in front of their bedroom doors to be filled with a small gift by St Nicolas during the night. On that evening, children put a plate on the kitchen or dining-room table which St Nicolas fills with sweets and gifts. St. Nicolas also visits schools.

‘’Kleeschen’’ can be seen in various locations in Luxembourg as he comes to the shops and receives the children for photo sessions. “Kleeschen” is another name for St. Nicholas who comes from the heavens to reward children who have been good.

Music is everywhere; Christmas Market concerts are presented in bandstands and on special stages set up for the occasion. Local bands, brass quartets, string trios, choirs and soloists all contribute to the Christmas atmosphere. Clubs and associations often organize Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities. Some cities produce Nativity plays and others give concerts in the afternoon of December 25th. Concerts are often followed by a Christmas tree charity auction.

Most people in Luxembourg celebrate Christmas Eve with family and friends. Many attend Midnight Mass, after which the family gathers for a supper of a typical Luxembourg winter menu: black-pudding with mashed potatoes and apple sauce. On Christmas Day the traditional dinner often features black pudding or civet of hare, sometimes venison or turkey. After the meal the family may go for a walk which is particularly fun if there’s snow. Boxing Day is a day for visiting with friends and relatives whilst eating vast quantities of holiday food.

‘’Schéi Chrëschtdeeg’’ is the standard Christmas greeting in Luxembourg which translates into have nice Christmas days.

A personal story:

By Ulf Eriksson

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas dinner is always with a black pudding and a hare steak.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Christmas Eve in Luxembourg is only celebrated with the family and eating, drinking and stories are important.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

In Luxembourg children receive the gifts early December at St Nicholas Day and adults gets everything from socks to ties.

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Croatia – A European Christmas Story

In Croatia, preparations for Christmas start on 25th November which is St Catherine’s day. People also celebrate Advent. Over 85% of people in Croatia are Catholics so Advent is an important time for them.

It’s traditional to have an Advent wreath made of straw or evergreen twigs which has four candles. The wreath symbolizes endlessness and the four candles symbolize different parts of history and life:

First Candle (purple): creation – hope;

Second Candle (purple): embodiment – peace;

Third Candle (pink): redemption – joy;

Fourth Candle (purple): ending – love;

A fifth candle is sometimes added in the centre which is lit on Christmas Day!

In Croatian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Sretan Božić’

In the village in Dalmatia where my family is from, Christmas is above all things a community celebration. People do not stay in their respective homes, but rather visit each other in large groups and spend time singing together.

Christmas Eve starts with the closer family – which often includes three generations in one household – wishing each other a “welcome Christmas Eve” and putting straw on the floor of their living rooms. This is to symbolise the stable in which Jesus was born. The children of the house usually bring in the sack of straw, as well as some firewood, by knocking on the door and then being welcomed into the living area with a traditional greeting. After Christmas Mass in the local village church, while the bells are ringing out, the celebration begins by the entire community going from house to house, where they are welcomed with some snacks and – most importantly – homemade spirits.

In each house, people toast each other and sing Christmas Carols until deep into the night. On the morning of Christmas Day, the men of the village would gather at a main square and once again start singing. The festive spirit continued throughout the day, during which also gifts were opened and a large celebratory lunch was served.

On Christmas Eve: Straw on the living room floor, pieces of firewood, candles, a Christmas tree with decorations and a crib underneath the tree, with figures depicting the holy family, angels, and animals. Croatian society is more centred around faith, and more Catholic traditions are observed.

A personal story:

By Magdalena Males

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

The meal on Christmas Eve is traditionally a “fasting” meal without meat, so often fish and white wine are served. On Christmas Day, the 25th, several courses are served during the large family lunch, including sauerkraut rolls with meat and rice filling (sarma), as well as often grilled lamb and a side dish that consists of thin sheets of baked dough that are then soaked in broth or gravy (mlinci).

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Lighting a big bonfire in the snow on Boxing Day.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Presents are normally exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Many people like to go to a Midnight Mass service.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Romania – A European Christmas Story

In Romania, Christmas and mid-winter celebrations last from 20th December to 7th January. The 20th is called ‘Ziua de Ignat’ or simply ‘Ignat Day’. It is traditional that if the family keep pigs, one is killed on this day by the head of the household. The meat from the pig is used in the Christmas meals. After the pig is killed, the family members share a dish called ‘Pomana Porcului’ (Pork’s Charity) which is traditionally cooked in a cauldron and consists of a variety of pork bits (pork belly, shoulder, liver, kidneys, etc.) in a garlic sauce and served with polenta. The name ‘Ignat Day’ comes from the 20th is also the saint day of ‘Saint Ignatius of Antioch’ and also ‘Saint Ignatius, Archimandrite of the Kiev Caves’ in some churches.

Sfantul Nicolae’s Day (St Nicholas) is celebrated on the 6th December. On the evening of the 5th December children clean their shoes or boots and leave them by the door and hope that Sfantul Nicolae will leave them some small presents! Sfantul Nicolae might also be called ‘Moş Nicolae’ (Old Man Nicholas) and although he is celebrated in December, it’s not part of the Christmas celebrations! A tradition says that if it snows on December 6th, Sfantul Nicolae has shaken his beard so that winter can begin.

The Christmas celebrations really begin on Christmas Eve, 24th, when it’s time to decorate the Christmas Tree. This is done in the evening of Christmas Eve. In Romanian, Christmas Eve is called ‘Ajunul Craciunului’.

Carol singing (known as ‘Colindatul’) is also a very popular part of Christmas in Romania. On Christmas Eve, children go out carol singing from house to house performing to the adults in the houses. They normally dance as well. The children get sweets, fruit, traditional cakes called ‘cozonaci’ and sometimes money for singing well. Adults go carol singing on Christmas Day evening and night.

A traditional Romanian Carol is the ‘Star Carol’. The star, made of coloured paper and often decorated with tinsel, silver foil and sometimes bells, is put on a pole. In the middle of the star is a picture of baby Jesus or a nativity scene. Carol singers take the star with them when they go carol singing.

A personal story:

By Bogdan Băcilă

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

In Romania the traditional Christmas food is usually pork, prepared in different ways. From roasts to sausages, ham and bacon. It is usually accompanied by vegetables and wine.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

For me the fondest memories of Christmas, is going from house to house with the friends and family, carolling. This is similar to trick-or-treating, where people go each other’s houses and sing Christmas carols. The guest usually treats everybody with homemade sweets, cakes, fruits and wine.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

The presents we receive from family and friends are usually small things representative of Christmas, but also things that are known to be useful to the person receiving it.

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Lithuania – A European Christmas Story

Christmas in Lithuania is treated more like a religious holiday, as well as a holiday where the whole family gets together. The 24th (Christmas Eve or in Lithuanian – Kūčios) is a day of being serious, calm and peaceful. This day, everyone must clean their house, so it’s spotless for the evening, some people go to church, everyone is getting ready for the big Christmas Eve dinner. In the evening, the whole family gets together near a big table. The table must have 12 dishes (not more or less). There should be no meat on the table, but fish is allowed. The whole family also share a Christmas wafer (Kalėdaitis in Lithuanian) which you can get from a church.  A photo of it is below.

The oldest person by the table starts sharing it and they need to say a nice compliment, wish for a person sitting next to them and pass it on until everyone in the family gets a piece. They even give a little piece to pets. Also, it is a tradition to leave an empty seat and plate for a member of the family that has passed away. Then, the whole family eats and plays some games. One game is that you put hay under the tablecloth and everyone needs to draw a strand of hay from underneath the tablecloth. If it is a long strand, it means the person will have a long life, if it’s shorter and poor, then the person will have a rough, short life. It is just a game, fortune-telling that nobody believes but does for fun.

The big cities also have Christmas markets that people can visit from the beginning of December to beginning of January. They do not have staple Christmas music, usually listen to Christmas songs by International, as well as some Lithuanian artists, but nothing specific.

On the 25th – Christmas day (Kalėdos) all family gets together again. They share gifts, talk, drink and eat. The table is usually full of different foods, meat is allowed. The Christmas day is more fun and every family celebrates is differently, while the Christmas Eve has a set celebration that usually most families follow.

A personal story:

By Elze Demereckaite

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas Eve:

Cold herring (with different sauces for example: porcini, carrot, beetroot sauces) – this dish is a must. Dark rye bread, carrot salad, beetroot salad, Olive salad, meat jelly, tangerines, nuts, potatoes with butter and ground hemp seeds, sweet, savoury pastries. 

Christmas day: 

Appetiser: leftover salads from Christmas Eve, as well as freshly made salads. 

Main: Usually a big piece of meat (chicken, turkey, ham) with different sides like roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes and appetiser salads. 

Dessert: a cake (depends on the family what cake they make)

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

My aunt makes an amazing white bean, fried bread and onion salad that I adore. Every Christmas I look forward to seeing her, she always makes me a massive bowl of the salad. As I am a vegetarian, it is quite hard to find foods I want to eat on the table, so I pretty much only eat that salad (and a few other salads). I really appreciate her making this dish for me and it is extremely delicious. 

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

For closer family members, they usually ask what would you like for Christmas. If relatives that you are not very close with do not know what to get you, they get very simple, universal gifts for example chocolates, sweets, wine, snacks. 

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Greece – A European Christmas Story

Christmas traditions in Greece honoured today- go back generations ago from islands, villages and cities.  Christougena, is Christmas in Greek and Greece has its own version of Santa Claus called: Saint Vasilis. Christmas starts on Christmas Day and ends on the sixth January.

Kalanda is the word for Christmas folk songs and carols are sung by children and adults about the birth of baby Jesus. In modern times children now ring doorbells and ask “Na Ta Poume” Shall we sing to bless households with Christmas spirit and good fortune.  Children and young people play drums and triangles as they visit homes where they live.

The preparing of Christmas bread: Christopsomo is made and in the olden days was made by housewives.  This was made with special yeast and dried basil; rosewater was also used in different parts of the country.  A separate piece of dough is made for the cross.  At Christmas Eve family gather around the bread and exchange wishes.  

The boat is also a symbol for Christmas in Greece and many people used to decorate their boats with Christmas decorations because it represents travelling into a new direction blessed by the birth of Christ. However, this tradition has been replaced by the Christmas tree over the past fifty years.

Many years ago pork was the prominent ingredient in the Greek Christmas feast , however, over the last fifty years turkey with stuffing has been implemented. Other foods including cabbage, dolmades made with rice, mince and egg lemon (Avgolemono). Vegetables, pies and pork are baked on the fire with leeks.

Many different types of pastry are eaten at Christmas including Theeples (Kind of fried pastry) and Paklaua (Sweet pastry).  Cheese pie and salad is also eaten.

Epiphany is celebrated on the sixth January around Jesus’s Baptisim and is known as “The Blessing of the Waters”.

A personal story:

By Dimitra Nicolaides

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas Biscuits:  Melomakarona these are like little honey biscuits and Kourabiedes – almond biscuits covered in icing sugar.  On Christmas Day we would have Turkey or Pork, along with vegetables and salad.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

My fondest memory of Christmas was a nativity scene in central Athens, which along with the usual plaster models contained a live donkey.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Gifts are exchanged on New Year’s Eve or New Years’ Day – they are usually small wrapped gifts.

Decorating boats at Christmas is an old tradition, as Greece is a seafaring Country and represents traveling in a new direction.

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England- A European Christmas Story

The Christmas season in England would begin around the second week of December, leading up to Christmas Day. The day before is known as Christmas Eve and the day after is called Boxing Day. Most houses would have a Christmas tree (either a real or artificial one) which is the main Christmas decoration of the house. People in England decorate their tree in different styles from colourful and children orientated through to theme styles. Most people in England put their presents under their Christmas tree. 

Most towns have a big ‘Switch on’ of their Christmas outdoor lights which decorate the town/village centre. Most infant and junior schools would have a nativity play and schools and churches would have Carol service attended by families and it is usually a very special service by Candlelight. The most famous Carol service is from Kings College Cambridge. Outside of church, children and choirs often go door to door singing Carols such as O a little town of Bethlehem, While shepherds watched and Silent night. Sometimes non-religious songs might be sung for example ‘White Christmas’. Handel’s Messiah is a regular feature of Christmas and Huddersfield Choral Society is world renowned for its performances.

Father Christmas or Santa Claus is an important figure of Christmas who delivers presents to the children all around the world on his sleigh which is driven by 9 reindeer. Children leave out Cherry and mince pies for Santa and a carrot for Rodolph. People in England tend to send dozens of Christmas card to friends, family and work colleagues with greetings including Happy Christmas, Merry Christmas and Season’s greetings. Friends and family will often exchange presents wrapped in bright Christmas paper whereas workplaces will sometimes have a secret Santa were everyone will receive a gift. Christmas jumpers are worn occasionally in the office and other places. 

On Christmas day, people in England will often visit a family member for a traditional Christmas dinner which is mostly a roast Turkey, potatoes and vegetables including the famous Brussel sprouts. Many families will pause at 3 pm to watch the Queen’s Speech. Traditional desserts include Christmas pudding with Brandy sauce, Christmas cake and sherry trifle. The dinner table is often decorated with a Christmas cracker for each person and contains novelty gifts, jokes and party hats. 

Christmas day is often rounded off with the family sitting around watching Christmas films and overindulging with Chocolate.

A personal story:

By Alan R Eastwood 

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas dinner has to commence with Champagne and canopies whilst watching the Queens speech. At 1600 hours, candles lit and all sit down normally about 10 to 12 people. The meal consists of a light soup e.g. lettuce. Followed by smoked salmon, capers and anchovies. Main course: – turkey, sage and onion, apple sauce, roast potatoes, boiled new potatoes, sprouts, carrots, parsnips and gravy. Dessert choice of Christmas pudding with brandy sauce or hazelnut meringues with coffee cream. All accompanied by appropriate wines. Finally, coffee and chocolates.  Very unusual if we are not still sat at the table until 2200 to 2300 hours. 

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

My fondest memories are of Christmas 2009 when all the family came. It snowed heavily on Christmas day and many people had stay over because the roads were impassable. That meant that Boxing Day (we normally have a party for friends) was made up of all the neighbours and their family and friends who were all snowed in. 

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

We ordinarily restrict presents to something funny and not to spend more than £10 per person. We often ask that people buy charity presents to help the less fortunate. 

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Cyprus – A European Christmas Story

At the beginning of December the Christmas tree is decorated, which has become one of the most beloved and well-known holiday symbols. They also hang Christmas stockings for Santa Claus to put some sweets in them!

For many Cypriots the holiday is preceded by a time of fasting. For Cyprus, the season is full swing by December 6th, the Feast of St. Nicholas, and will last through January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany.

One of the most important ways Cyprus celebrates Christmas is through food. An enormous amount of cooking and hard work starts to prepare the food for Christmas.

Some popular foods at Christmas in Cyprus are stuffed turkey which has become more popular in recent years or the traditional Souvla made with lamb or pork cooked on the traditional Cypriot BBQ over charcoals. For sweets there are the delicious Kourabiedes – small almond cakes coated in icing sugar, melomakarona – honey cakes and Finikia – walnut cakes.

Over the Christmas period pomegranates are eaten and used for decoration.  Pomegranates symbolise joyous times, good fortune, fertility and prosperity.

Christmas in Cyprus are pretty much like any other country. In the past years, there have been a few Christmas traditions such as girls sitting in front of the fireplace and throwing in the fire an olive branch to see if there loved one loved them back, and if the branch got turned it meant that he loved them back.

Many of the children go from house to house singing seasonal carols.

Traditional Christmas songs that are played worldwide are translated in Greek. They usually play them when decorating the Christmas tree or when they have gatherings.

The last 12 days before Christmas are considered to be the most dangerous, and so to protect the home the hostess will hang over the door an Olive or Basil branch which has been wrapped around the cross and sprinkled with holy water, to scare off evil spirits.

There are a lot of Christmas markets held in the most crowded places like shopping malls and main roads where people can buy stuff, listen to music and have a few drinks and food. A basic Christmas snack includes chestnuts baked on the fireplace which are essentials on a cozy night.

A personal story:

By Andrea Philippou

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

On Christmas Day most people go to church and the the night before Christmas we have Cypriot barbecue and a ton of friends and family over. We play board games all night accompanied with sometime of alcoholic drink but always within limits. Christmas day there is the Christmas lunch where we have our traditional sweets, Melomakarona and Kourambiedes.

Q2. What is your fondest memory of Christmas?

My fondest memory of Christmas is not even on Christmas Day it is on New Year’s. It was a few years ago when we woke up to fully snowed country and it was like a dream.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

In Cyprus, most people don’t get their presents until the New Years because that’s when Santa Claus is believed to come. We would always be at someone else’s house on New Year’s Eve and by the time the new year came we would come home and open our gifts before going to bed. We would usually get things we wanted mostly games or electronic consoles. On the day of New Year’s, we cut the Vasilopitta a cake specified on Santa Claus where we cut pieces from the older member of the family to the youngest. In vasilopitta there is a hidden coin which whoever is lucky to get means that he will be lucky for the entire year. My favourite gift ever was when I got my first piano.  

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Denmark – A European Christmas Story

Some people in Denmark give and receive Advent presents on the four Sundays of Advent. Most people have a Kalenderlys (an Advent calendar-candle) or a Pakkekalender (gift calendar), which contains 24 small gifts for the children, one for each day until Christmas Eve.

Julekalender (christmas calendar) is a television series with 24 episodes, one shown each day until Christmas Eve. The first Julekalender was shown in 1962. The theme of the Julekalender typically involves someone trying to ruin Christmas and the main characters saving it.

Every year a set of Christmas stamps/stickers/seals called julemærket are sold in December to help raise money for charity. A normal postage stamp is used as well but the julemærket stickers make the post look Christmassy.

Christmas parties are held from 1st November to 24th December. Making cakes and biscuits is popular in the time before Christmas. Gingerbread or vanilla cookies are popular.

Most people go to church on Christmas Eve at about 4pm to hear the Christmas sermon. It is also a tradition to give animals a treat on Christmas Eve, so people go for a walk in the park or woods and give food to the animals and birds.

The main Christmas meal is eaten between 6pm and 8pm and includes roast duck, goose or pork, served with boiled and sweet potatoes, red cabbage, beetroot and cranberry jam/sauce. Most families have a ‘ris á la mande’ (a type of rice pudding made with milk, rice, vanilla, almonds and whipped cream) for dessert. All but one of the almonds are chopped into pieces. The person who finds the whole almond gets a present called a Mandelgave (almond present). Traditionally the little present was a marzipan pig but today is often sweets or a toy.

After the meal the lights on the Christmas tree are lit, people might dance around the tree and sing carols and open their presents.

In Denmark, children believe that their presents are brought by the ‘Julemanden’ (which means ‘Christmas Man’ or ‘Yule Man’). He looks similar to Santa Claus and travels with a sleigh and reindeer. He lives in Greenland, likes rice pudding and is helped by ‘nisser’ which are like elves.

In Danish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Glædelig Jul’. 

A personal story:

By Jamil Ilyas

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Christmas eve we normally have an open market in the centre with large Christmas tree and we go there as a family and then go home late ready for Christmas day where we make roast lamb legs, roast chicken, chips for the kids. Grilled and roasted vegetables and potatoes and lots of Danish sweets and we just eat all day. People of different faith would have roasted pork, roasted duck, and mulled wine as part of their Christmas dinner.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Christmas day is a time for family as everyone is off work. We do lunch with the family and then do a nice long walk with the whole family (generally it is snowing so we have a snowball fight and I love that time of the year)

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

For presents we normally give more to the children which is generally toys, books, and Danish Sweets.

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Germany – A European Christmas Story

In German Happy Christmas is ‘Frohe Weihnachten’; Christmas Day is called ‘Erste Feiertag which translates to the first celebration and the 26th December is known as ‘Zweite Feiertag’ the second celebration.

Christmas eve is the main time for families to exchange presents, der Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus) brings the main presents but some traditions say they may also be brought by Christkind.

Das Christkind translates as the Christ Child but this isn’t a reflection of the baby Jesus as you would imagine, the Christ Child is often described as a young girl with Christ like qualities. Often a young girl is chosen to play the part of the Christ Child and they will appear on TV and participate in parades through the town. She wears a long white dress and has long blonde curly hair, she wears a gold crown and sometimes will have wings like an angel.

In some parts of Germany children will write letters to Das Christkind or Weihnachtsmann asking for presents. The letters are decorated with sugar glued to the envelopes to make them sparkly, children will leave these letters on their windowsill at the beginning of advent.

Children in Germany also hope that der Nikolaus will bring small gifts such as sweets or chocolate on the 6th December (St Nicholas’s day). It is believed that der Nikolaus comes in the night between the 5th and 6th December and puts the small gifts inside the shoes of children. Children will place their shoes in doorways in preparation. Although der Nikolaus visits in December he is not officially part of Christmas.

Another tradition in Germany is the Sternsinger or star singers, they go from house to house singing and collecting money for charity. The singers are normally children with four of them dressing up like the wise men, one carries a star on a stick as a symbol of the star of Bethlehem. After they have sung their song the group will write a signature with chalk on the door of the house. It is considered bad luck if you wash away the sign, it must fade by itself. This tradition normally takes place on the 6th January (Epiphany).

A personal story:

Christmas celebrations start in Germany on Christmas Eve, that’s when Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann) comes. Most people go to Church about 4 Pm, afterwards all the family get together at home

When I’ve lit all the candles and put the church bells CD on, everybody’s allowed to go into the room where the Christmas Tree is, it’s always exciting because Father Christmas has been while we were all in the Church and put all the presents under the Tree. 

The fondest memories are when the kiddies were smaller and really believed that Father Christmas had put all the presents under the Tree. 

The kiddies get the most presents, like this year my granddaughter (13) wished for Roller-skates, a helmet, Monopoly and a few other things. I got a photobook from both my granddaughters last year from when we were in England, otherwise presents are like the ones you receive in England – Perfume, Concert Tickets, Books, Games and Jewellery. We don’t give presents among friends much, usually a self-made Liquor or a bottle of Wine or Prosecco. 

After everybody’s opened their presents we have our meal. We always have Raclette, that usually takes about 1, 1/2 hours.

After we’ve eaten we sing Christmas carols or when my granddaughters were smaller they used to say short Christmas porös.

Christmas Day, everybody gets together again, there’s usually 10 of us altogether, we always go to my daughters house because it’s my younger granddaughter’s birthday as well. 

For dinner we have, Turkey or Goose with red cabbage and bread dumplings (Semmel Knödel), they’re recipes from Bavaria, (South Germany) where my husband’s parents came from. 

Goose or Turkey is what most people have. 

Our Christmas celebrations in Germany are more or less the same all over except for the food. 

A lot of people used to eat Sausages and Potato Salad at Christmas Eve because they’d been busy all day.  They didn’t put their Christmas Tree up till Christmas Eve.  Some still do.  In Bavaria they say the Christkind (Christchild) brings the presents and not Father Christmas. (Weihnachtsmann).  

The writing stays on the wall, like ours is from January 2020. The 20 is for the year, C for Casper, M for Melchior, B for Balthasar then 20 again. On the other side of the doorway they renewed the writing, that’s from 2004. When they come next year they’ll just change the 20 to 21.

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Czech Republic Story 2 – A European Christmas Story

Wishing someone a merry or happy Christmas in the Czech language is ‘Veselé Vánoce’ and like other European countries in the region, celebrations start early in December. St. Nicholas Eve is marked in the Czech Republic as the evening of 5th December when children eagerly wait with excitement for Svatý Mikuláš (St. Nicholas) to arrive. He is said to normally arrive with one or more angels and one or more devils and asks the children if they’ve been good all year. He also asks the children to read a poem or sing a song before bestowing on them a present of a basket, usually containing fruit and chocolate. However, if you’ve been naughty, the devil will give you a lump of coal instead. St. Nicholas Eve, although falls in the run-up to Christmas, the two festive days are considered as separate holidays

The actual Christmas celebrations in the Czech Republic, start on Christmas Eve and is called Štědrý den or ‘Generous Day’. Traditional Czech Christmas ornaments will decorate the Christmas tree and preparations are made for a festive dinner, one that fills the table.

Some people will fast for the day with a hope to see a vision of ‘the golden piglet’ or zlaté prasátko on the wall before dinner. If it is seen it is said this is a sign of good luck.

During the Christmas Eve dinner- the children have their dinner in a separate room to where the Christmas tree is and in excitement wait to hear the bell on the tree ring. This sound means Ježíšek ‘Little Jesus’ (the Czech version of Christkindl) has brought the Christmas presents and placed them under the tree. As you would expect, the presents are opened after the dinner on Christmas Eve.

Christian services also take place in the Czech Republic and people go to the church either at midnight or on Christmas Day. Families will also engage in singing carols by the Christmas tree, in celebrating the festivity.

A tale, related to those that are single, goes if you throw a shoe over your shoulder on Christmas day and the toe of the shoe points towards the door then you will be married soon.

A personal story:

By Dena & Frank Grombir

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

As soon as the first star appears on the sky on Christmas Eve we start the dinner by saying grace and remembering that Jesus was born as a vulnerable child in complete poverty.

The table is laid with evergreens (symbolising life and hope), chocolate gold coins (prosperity), candles (light). We break Christmas wafers and share them with each other.

Then the broth-based soup is served of which there are many regional varieties, including fish, mushroom and vegetable and even sweet plum butter one. We follow Dena’s family tradition which is a thick white bean soup with egg noodles and root vegetables. For the main course, we have potatoe salad with breaded fish. The salad contains things such as carrots, parsnips, onions, pickled gherkins, salami, eggs and mayonnaise but each family have their own unique recipe. Many Czechs prepare carp or any other pond fish (obtained from the Christmas market and put in a bath tub for a few days before Christmas). In Huddersfield, carp can be ordered from any Polish shop but we have always eaten sea fish fillets in our house.

For those with a sweet tooth, there are always plenty of Christmas cookies at the end. These are baked during Advent and my mother-in-law makes as many as thirty different varieties!

The dinner is concluded by the singing of traditional Christmas carols. Their words and melody always provide a vivid reminder of our Moravian Czech heritage.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

The memories of Christmas overlap over the years but there is always a special Christmas sensation that survives in our hearts thanks to the traditions we keep alive. Most years, we travel to Czechia to spend Christmas with our extended family.

Our Christmas is enveloped in the smell of evergreen branches, lebkuchen spices, cinnamon apple strudel, sparklers and when we are lucky, we spend some time outdoors sledging.

When a member of the family fasts all day up until the Christmas Eve dinner, there is a chance that a golden piglet might appear to him on the wall. It usually comes in the form of reflected light on the wall coming from a mirror hidden in the hands of an adult under the table. Children chase the light and always fail to see where it is coming from. It is great fun for adults to watch.

Children are always full of excitement and hope that their behaviour was good enough to be rewarded with presents brought by baby Jesus. When he comes, he rings his little bell and the whole family sing Christmas carols to celebrate his symbolic arrival. Everyone then goes to the room with the Christmas tree to unwrap their presents.

The fondest memory – Life stopped and roads disappeared under an unusually thick layer of snow on the 24th December. Everything was peaceful and quiet in our little Moravian village. There was no need to clear the roads. Everyone was stocked up for Christmas and adults relished the prospect of having a few days off work. We enjoyed the fresh air, climbed on the first White Carpathian hill close to our house and sledged until we realised that we should save some energy for the evening festivities. Later that night, we climbed the hill again to attend midnight mass in the chapel that stands there.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

We have recently adopted the four things rule– something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. This seems sensible in times when so much goes to waste and yet, ironically, there are so many others with little to eat and no money to spend on presents for their children. Christmas therefore gives us an opportunity to help out those in need.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Czech Republic Story 1 – A European Christmas Story

Wishing someone a merry or happy Christmas in the Czech language is ‘Veselé Vánoce’ and like other European countries in the region, celebrations start early in December. St. Nicholas Eve is marked in the Czech Republic as the evening of 5th December when children eagerly wait with excitement for Svatý Mikuláš (St. Nicholas) to arrive. He is said to normally arrive with one or more angels and one or more devils and asks the children if they’ve been good all year. He also asks the children to read a poem or sing a song before bestowing on them a present of a basket, usually containing fruit and chocolate. However, if you’ve been naughty, the devil will give you a lump of coal instead. St. Nicholas Eve, although falls in the run-up to Christmas, the two festive days are considered as separate holidays

The actual Christmas celebrations in the Czech Republic, start on Christmas Eve and is called Štědrý den or ‘Generous Day’. Traditional Czech Christmas ornaments will decorate the Christmas tree and preparations are made for a festive dinner, one that fills the table.

Some people will fast for the day with a hope to see a vision of ‘the golden piglet’ or zlaté prasátko on the wall before dinner. If it is seen it is said this is a sign of good luck.

During the Christmas Eve dinner- the children have their dinner in a separate room to where the Christmas tree is and in excitement wait to hear the bell on the tree ring. This sound means Ježíšek ‘Little Jesus’ (the Czech version of Christkindl) has brought the Christmas presents and placed them under the tree. As you would expect, the presents are opened after the dinner on Christmas Eve.

Christian services also take place in the Czech Republic and people go to the church either at midnight or on Christmas Day. Families will also engage in singing carols by the Christmas tree, in celebrating the festivity.

A tale, related to those that are single, goes if you throw a shoe over your shoulder on Christmas day and the toe of the shoe points towards the door then you will be married soon.

A personal story:

By Veronika Susedkova

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Traditional Czech Christmas dinner happens on the 24th December and has 2 courses – fish soup and then fish – carp – and potato salad. That is all one can claim really, because the way the fish is prepared, what goes in the soup and what is supposed to be in the potato salad is all a matter of where you are and who’s at the table with you. Every region, village and family has their favourites! Some fish soups are with bread croutons some without; some carps are baked, some roasted, some fried and sometimes there is actually a chicken fillet instead of a fish- for those who don’t fancy the tiny bones. Oh and what about potato salad? With carrot, with salami, with mayo, with yoghurt, or without.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

It’s said that little baby Jesus delivers the presents on the evening of the 24th December – he’s supposed to ring a bell when he arrives and drops the presents off by the Christmas tree. These days I wonder how he would do all this on the day he was born. But, I have a memory of there being that little bit of magic, when we were ALL sat at the table and a bell rang from the sitting room, and when we went there after dinner; the presents were underneath the tree. We were pretty sure as kids- nothing was there before we went to eat.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

The presents you get vary really – from the soft one no-one really wants when they are a child, and then really values as they grow older (like socks or woolly hats); to really great and surprising stuff. Under the family Christmas tree, there have always been some nicely smelling and pampering gifts, handmade things (especially when I was a kid and when I was really skint as a student) as well as practical upgrades for our home.

The photo is a small pre-Christmas celebration because my mum and my grandma have birthdays on 22nd December – we would usually find time to have some canapes/nibbles together, toast and cut a birthday cake which would be made by someone with great patisserie skills locally – always fantastic!

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Finland – A European Christmas Story

The Christmas Season in Finland starts on the first Sunday in December, known as the First Advent. As in the UK children use advent calendars to count down the remaining days to Christmas Eve. These come in many forms –  from a simple paper calendar with flaps covering each of the days to painted wooden boxes with cubby holes for small items.

A key date in the celebrations is December 13, St. Lucia Day, or the Feast of Saint Lucy. Saint Lucia was a 3rd-century martyr who brought food to Christians hiding from the Pagan rulers of Finland at that time. She wore a candle-lit wreath on her head to light her way, leaving her hands free to carry as much food as possible. In Finland, the day is celebrated with lots of candles and formal celebrations. Traditionally, the eldest girl in the family dresses as St. Lucia, with a white robe and a crown of candles. She serves her parents buns, cookies, coffee, or mulled wine.

Traditions on Christmas Eve in Finland include going to a Christmas mass if you are Catholic and even relaxing in a Finnish sauna! Some Finnish families visit cemeteries to remember lost loved ones. Some people have a special porridge for lunch with a hidden almond in it. The person who gets the almond has to sing a song and is brought good luck.

Christmas dinner is served in Finland on Christmas Eve. The meal traditionally consists of oven-baked ham, rutabaga (a type of root vegetable) casserole, beetroot salad, and other foods common in Nordic countries.

Santa Claus, called Joulupukki in Finnish, generally visits most houses on Christmas Eve to give presents to children who have been good. People in Finland believe that Santa lives in the north part of Finland, called Korvatunturi or “Lapland”, north of the Arctic Circle. Children from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland.

Christmas in Finland does not officially end until 13 days after Christmas Day. This means that Finns start wishing each other Hyvää Joulua, or “Merry Christmas,” weeks before Christmas day and continue to do so for nearly two weeks afterwards!

A personal story:

By Jenna Koskivuori

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Rice porridge is a common Christmas breakfast or dessert, we don’t have it sweet like rice pudding – milk, pudding rice and salt, when cooked we hide a whole peeled almond, the one who finds it is seen to bring good luck. I love rice porridge with sprinkles of cinnamon and sugar, a knob of butter and milk. A dried fruit soup is a traditional accompaniment. Mixed dried fruit cooked in a mix of juice and water, sugar and cinnamon and add a bit of potato starch to make it less liquid and it’s ready for the porridge.

Christmas dinner in Finland is a mustard and breadcrumb coated overnight baked ham, more modernly also turkey or seitan may be at the table. Karelian hot pot is a chunky meat stew that is traditional also at Christmas. Fish dishes, herring in different marinades, cured white fish, smoked or cured salmon, roasted salmon, roe/caviar. Other dishes include boiled potatoes, meatballs, peas, malted christmas bread, chopped beetroot salad called rosolli. A selection of oven baked dishes/casseroles or bakes differentiate the meal from any other. These are: carrot and rice, swede, sweetened mashed potato and liver. 

Cheese boards are popular and plenty of Finnish Fazer and Panda confectionery along with Glogi, a hot mulled drink with or without alcohol and Piparkakut – Christmas biscuits with warming spices. Red apples are traditional and satsumas pricked with cloves, pinwheels with prune jam is a quick treat to accompany Glogi or a dark Christmas beer. Christmas biscuit houses are decorated in the run up to Chrstmas and displayed at home, decorated with sweets and eaten at Christmas. 

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Snowy Christmas is always special even in Finland – in southern Finland snow isn’t guaranteed anymore.

As an adult my best memory must be taking my partner and daughter home to my parents house for the first time during Christmas. In Finland, Santa visits every home and if you are lucky enough you have a chance to meet him when he delivers your presents. My old school friend with a talent for acting visited us that year and it was wonderful, we sang a song together, often kids sing to Santa, and he shared the presents and then our daughter got to take photos with him. Needless to say our daughter was impressed.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Present wise very similar to here (toys, sweets, games, games consoles, clothing, electronics, pampering treats or event tickets, charity donations in their name etc) although usually less presents but things that are  needed or good quality. Hand made products are also popular like self- knitted warm socks etc. 

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Bulgaria – A European Christmas Story

Christmas is celebrated on 25th December in Bulgaria in line with the Gregorian Calendar, whilst many countries in Eastern Europe celebrate it on January 7th using the old Julian Calendar.

The 20th is also the traditional ‘new year’ in Bulgarian culture. It’s traditional to eat a special ring shaped caked called ‘kolaks’ on this day. A legend in Bulgaria is that Mary began labour on December 20th or ‘Ignazhden’, (Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s Day) and gave birth on Christmas Eve with the birth of Jesus announced on Christmas Day. Preparations for Christmas start on November 15th with Advent which lasts 40 days.

‘Budni Vecher’ (Christmas Eve) is celebrated with the main Christmas meal. Traditionally the meal should have an odd number of dishes, usually 7, 9 or 11.

Straw is often put under the tablecloth and a wooden plough brought into the house for good crops during the next year.

After the Christmas Eve meal, some will go to the Midnight Mass service and you may hear Koledari (carol singers),which are normally young men in traditional clothing who go carol singing. Their singing can only start after midnight and the singers are often found singing all night, so that the sun never catches them. Having the Koledari visit your home is meant to be good luck.

Christmas Trees are now popular in Bulgaria and towns are decorated with Christmas lights. Some will still have a traditional Yule Log, usually from an oak, elm or pear tree, known as a ‘badnik’ or ‘budnik’ which is brought into the house on Christmas Eve. Santa in Bulgarian is called ‘Dyado Koleda’ which means Grandfather Christmas and Merry Christmas is ‘Vesela Koleda’.

A personal story:

By Yoana Krista

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Usually we celebrate on Christmas eve on the 24th and have an odd number of dishes. Normally we have stuffed peppers or cabbage filled with rice, a ‘soup’ of dried apricots and prunes, pita bread, beans soup and we always leave a side plate with a bit of all the dishes so that Virgin Marie comes during the night in Krder to have a bit of everything.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Every time of Christmas is very special because we spend more quality with my family, watch movies, and talk more. Also we light up the fire place and warm up like this. Maybe the best Christmas was when we celebrated with part of my family in 2009 and we had a great time together

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family? We can get everything from jewellery, clothes, books etc

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France – A European Christmas Story

Merry Christmas in French is known as Joyeux Noël

In many parts of eastern and northern France the Christmas festivities start on December the 6th this is known as St Nicholas day.

On the eve of December 5th children place their shoes at the entrance of their house, they also leave carrots and sugar lumps for St Nicholas donkey. It is hoped that St Nicholas will bring treats during the night and fill their shoes.

The story goes that once upon a time, three children got lost in the woods and were kidnapped by a wicker butcher. The children were rescued by St Nicholas and returned to their parents and so was known as the protector of children. Another name for him is Santa Claus.

There is also a scary character called le Père Fouettard. He is the wicked butcher who kidnapped the children. Often people will play out these stories, with the wicked butcher dressed in black, carrying a whip and looking menacing. St Nicholas wears the traditional long red coat often associated with Santa Claus. The children will sing traditional songs of the three children’s adventures and eat gingerbread characters of St Nicholas.

On the 8th December many parts of France will celebrate with a light festival known as la Fête des Lumières this means the festival of lights. This is a four-day festival to celebrate the Virgin Mary. During this time there are amazing light shows throughout the town with many of these light shows illuminating local buildings. 

In France, it is the tradition to eat a special dinner late at night on Christmas Eve.  However, in the region of Provence, it is referred to as the big supper, it is eaten before going to midnight mass.

After the main meal it is tradition to serve thirteen desserts on Christmas eve. The number 13 represents Jesus and his disciples. These desserts will stay on the table for three days for people to enjoy.

Two of the thirteen dishes are a type of flat bread with olive oil and flavoured with aniseed, orange or lemon.

Another dessert is a nougatwhich is served in two colours:white and black.

Other items that are traditionally included are: apples, pears, green melon, grapes, dates, candied fruit, fruit pastilles, diamond-shaped sweets, foil-wrapped chocolates and mulled wine.  

A personal story:

by Marie.

Christmas Past

I was born in France to French parents and lived in France till around the age of six. As a child I remember my upbringing and the Christmas’s spent in France being a very important festival. My parents moved to an island in the British Isles and our Christmas’s continued very much the same. I recall my sister and I attending midnight mass at the French church with our mother as she was a devout Catholic. Christmas eve was always a late affair and we would go after our Christmas Eve dinner which is called ‘le réveillon de Noël’. This was normally a beautiful meal and well prepared as my father had been a chef.

My parents were migrants who were good people who worked very hard but we were not very well off so there was no money to buy lavish things. I remember we did not have running water in the house and having to use a tap in the hall outside. At Christmas I recall goose or roast beef other, fish and scallops which are coquilles saint Jacques, beautiful creamy rice pudding and cakes. I remember my dad would often prepare a pineapple with spun sugar too. The food was always good.

I remember my sister and I receiving gifts such as a clementine and chocolate. But one year both my sister and I received a red radio each, we were so excited.

I also recall a purchase of dried raisins that were in a triangle wooden box with images of sun and vines on the packaging, an image that has always remained with me. We didn’t have much but as sisters we were lucky we had each other.

Christmas day was a family day normally my mum, dad and sister. We had an aunt, uncle and a couple of cousins who we saw over the coming days.

At Christmas our father would sing us a song called ‘Petit Papa Noel’ https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WQushjP2Wqk which translates as ‘little Father Christmas’, I can still get quite emotional now thinking about that song. ( I’ve added the lyrics at the end) We would also visit the manger in the square, it was a time to remember loved ones.

Christmas trees and mistletoe are very popular in France and I remember poinsettia plants everywhere. Mistletoe is considered to bring hope for the coming year. In France it was not the custom to send Christmas cards, but New Year cards were sent instead as a symbol of hope for the coming year.

I still remember the local postman would sell calendars that were published by the post office. These calendars were for the coming year and I have fond memories of my grandmother buying “l’Almanach du facteur”. Something that still happens today.

 ‘Petit Papa Noel’ by Tina Rossi from 1946 (original) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WQushjP2Wqk

Petit Papa Noël – French Lyrics and English Translation

Chorus / Refrain

Petit papa Noël
Quand tu descendras du ciel
Avec des jouets par milliers
N’oublie pas mon petit soulier.
Mais avant de partir
Il faudra bien te couvrir
Dehors tu vas avoir si froid
C’est un peu à cause de moi.

Little Santa Claus
When you come down from the sky
With thousands of toys
Don’t forget my little stocking.
But before you leave
You should dress well
Outside you will be so cold
And it’s kind of my fault.


C’est la belle nuit de Noel
La neige étend son manteau blanc
Et les yeux levés vers le ciel
A genoux, les petits enfants
Avant de fermer les paupières
Font une dernière prière.

It’s the beautiful Christmas night
The snow spreads its white coat
And their eyes raised towards the sky
On their knees, the little children
Before closing their eyelids
Address a last prayer


Le marchand de sable est passéLes enfants vont faire dodoEt tu vas pouvoir commencerAvec ta hotte sur le dosAu son des cloches des églisesTa distribution de surprises.

The sandman has passed
The children are going to sleep
And you will be able to begin,
With your sack on your back,
To the sound of church bells,
Your distribution of surprises.


Il me tarde que le jour se lève
Pour voir si tu m’as apporté
Tous les beaux joujoux que je vois en rêve
Et que je t’ai commandés. 

I can’t wait for sunrise
To see if you brought me
All the lovely toys that I see in my dreams

And that I ordered from you.


Et quand tu seras sur ton beau nuage
Viens d’abord sur notre maison
Je n’ai pas été tous les jours très sage
Mais j’en demande pardon.

And when you are on your beautiful cloud
Come first to our house
I wasn’t always very good
But I ask for your forgiveness.


Memories of childhood with my parents and sister.

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Spain – A European Christmas Story

Christmas holidays are longer Spain.  They run from the 25th December until 6th January that is called the epiphany.  Presents are brought by the three wise men of Gold, Frankincense and Mur who are known as the three kings and children and young people when writing their list of presents would write to the three kings.

Christmas in Spain is about the importance of the nativity scene and people would have a typical stable in their homes including angels, donkey, cow and hay.  This very much highlights the importance of Spain being catholic in faith. Christmas is called “Navidad” and is a very important time of the year.   Most homes in Spain also have a Christmas tree with an angel on the top and Christmas decorations that brings in the festive cheer.

Many Christmas carols are sung in Church including silent night and midnight mass is very important where families attend church after having a big family dinner on Christmas Eve.  Singing Christmas carols takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  The Spanish word for Christmas carols is: “Villancicos”

During Christmas families meet up and neighbours go round to their homes to wish them a Merry Christmas.  Families also go out to Christmas markets to buy presents for all of the family, however, these markets sell items that include arts and crafts and presents to give to all the children and all the family.  The specific markets don’t sell food compared to other countries. 

Faith is very important in Spain and the family will gather around to have a big family dinner on Christmas Eve where all the family can celebrate Christmas together and also sing Christmas carols.  It is also an opportunity to attend Midnight Mass and celebrate Christmas with family and friends. 

At Christmas the people of Spain eat a wide variety of Foods including, various meats, for example, beef, pork and cured meats.  Seafood is also very important and is eaten at Christmas.  Various cakes are eaten and drinks throughout the festive period.

A personal story:

By Javier Santana Acosta

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Growing up in Spain my memories of a typical Christmas dinner would consist of beef, pork, lamb and a wide variety of vegetables.  Seafood is also important at Christmas time and includes, prawns and lobster.  We also have sweets including cakes and a sweet called “Turron” that is a nougat some are chocolate and almonds

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

My fondest memories of Christmas were and still are memories of my mum making cakes and the smell of cinnamon it really is a magical time of the year.  Also all my family being together: brothers and sisters

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Typical Christmas presents I would give and receive from family would include, clothes and items for home.  Also bottles of drink or even a watch.  I also ask my family what they would like also.

Image shows picture of Joseph holding baby Jesus while Mary sleeps.  This image is done in sand.

Are you affected by the EU Settlement Scheme? Click here to find out more. Deadline for applications is June 2021

Support changes in Kirklees for asylum seekers and refugees – COVID19

Dear partners/colleagues,

We hope everyone is doing ok under the circumstances

In the light of the current situation of Coronavirus (COVID-19), certain events, and group sessions have been cancelled, postponed or are changing how they deliver provison.

Kirklees Council events postponed:
1. Kirklees Welcomes Briefing sessions:
20 March 2020 – Dewsbury library – Dewsbury
23 April 2020 – The Mission – Huddersfield
2. Introduction to Migration:
26 March 2020 – Howlands Centre – Dewsbury
30 April 2020 – The Mission – Huddersfield

Kirklees College has been closed.

In addition, some of the drop-in session of the voluntary sector organisation have been cancelled as well for now such as: 611, Reach and Connecting Opportunities.

However, there is a level of support available support locally specifically for asylum seekers and as this change we will keep you updated as this will change over time:

Service: Case work only and essential referrals to the Welcome Centre.
(Unfortunately, no food parcel, no donations and no volunteers.)

Where: Paddock Village Hall, HD1 4TX
When: Thursday 10:00 – 13:30

Where: 30 New North Road, HD1 5JY
When: Tuesday 09:30 – 12:30

Service: Customers advised not to attend face to face appointments for 3 months on the DWP twitter account.

Volunteers Together
Where: St Thomas’s Church, Manchester Road, Huddersfield, HD1 3HU
When: Wednesday 11:00 – 17:00

Womens Centre:
Service: Over the phone only 0148 450866
When: Calls from 9 until 3 or 4 depending on staff capacity.
Emotional support and not crisis support for existing clients. Unfortunately they will not be accepting any new clients.

Cases by phone only: 03448487970

Welcome Mentors
Welcome Mentor referrals will continue to be accepted and Mentors will be assigned/matched. However, in the current position the vast majority of support will be provided via the telephone.

Meet try and learn
Final session will be delivered on Thursday 19th March.
The project will return when social distancing measures are removed.

This Way 4 English 
The sessions will continue to be provided, however the support will be more generic to advise migrants who seek support during the COVID outbreak.
The sessions maybe effected by library closure.

International New Arrival Team:
Service: Business as usual
Contact details: Referrals – education.safeguardingservice@kirklees.gov.uk
Tel: If you do not have access to secure email, please call us on 01484 221919

Post Decision Team:
Service: Business as usual.
You can contact the team on 01484 221000 asking for any of the officers below or call in to Customer Service Centres in Huddersfield of Dewsbury

Please don’t panic and stay safe.

Updates will be shared as soon as we have them

If you have any enquiries, please contact us on: MigrationAndResettlement@kirklees.gov.uk