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Fröhliche Weihnachten, Buon Natale, Joyeux Noël, and Merry Christmas!

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Have you ever had the feeling that you belong in a certain place? Well, for me that place is definitely Italy. More specifically, Florence; It is my favorite place on the planet! I dream of Italy and would love to go there for Christmas one day. I imagine it being magical! I picture an old villa with a roaring fire to read, relax, and play games in front of. We would eat hearty Italian meals and drink delicious wines while the kids drink hot chocolate. Well, I can do this all here! I'm just missing the sounds and scenery of the cypress trees, ancient buildings and vibrant Italians! I am lucky that my husband feels the same way about Italy. Home is where you make it but perhaps someday our home might be where we want it, in Italy. Christmas for our family is at our home. What fun it is to pull in other cultures and customs during the Christmas season. For families all over the world Christmas is the chance to get together, eat wonderful food and exchange presents as a sign of love. For me Christmas is not complete without my mom's crown roast, Christmas cookies, a real tree, and Christmas mass (it was midnight mass before we had children). We have adopted many European foods over the years: France's bouche de Noelle, Austria's Krampus pastry, and Italy's panettone.

We are all great teachers when we are teaching our children something we ourselves are passionate about. What better time to teach children about cultures and customs during the holidays. Children's little minds are open to the world and exposing them to culture gives them a new way of seeing things. As a bonus, I get to learn with them along the way.
Being a xenophile I am interested in all things European. Travel with me while you read this and let's have Christmas in Italy, Austria, France, Germany and England.

Photo: Ashley's daughter Zooey eating Krampus!
As in America, it is common in Europe that people stay close in their family circle during the holidays. Many Europeans, being Catholic, attend mass; even more popular is midnight mass. It seems mistletoe, garlands, and trees are something we have in common with the Europeans. It is likely that most traditions were adopted here in America (the melting pot) from Europe!
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Photo: Christmas market in front of the town hall in Vienna, Austria
Merry Christmas in German is, Fröhliche Weihnachten. Christmas trees originated in Germany as well as many popular Christmas songs like, Oh Tannenbaum. Another favorite, Silent Night by Franz Gruber comes from Austria. In some German speaking areas of Europe, Santa is replaced by Christkind (Christ child). He brings presents Christmas Eve and rings a bell just before he leaves to let children know that the presents are ready. Also celebrated in German speaking regions is Saint Nicholas' Day on December 6th. He puts goodies in well behaved children's shoes and a servant named Krampus (a little devil) accompanies Saint Nicholas to make sure the children are polite and well behaved. My friend from Austria makes a Krampus Milchstritzl pastry for her children to eat. The tradition in Austria is if the children eat the little devil up, he won't come to visit them! Krampus carries a wooden stick or switches to threaten children who misbehave. St. Nicholas never lets Krampus harm anyone because he is so kind.

Photo: Christmas in Florence, Italy
Merry Christmas in Italian is, Buon Natale. Christmas Eve dinner traditionally consists of seafood, with the feast of the seven fishes. Dinner is followed by Italian Christmas sweets like: pandoro, panettone, torrone, panforte, struffoli, and more. Every year my second graders learn how the holidays are celebrated around the world. I love when we get to Italy and so do the children because they are so curious about La Befana! She is a kindly old witch who brings sweets and gifts to good children and charcoal or bags of ashes to naughty children on January 6th, Epiphany. This is the day to remember the Magi's visit to the Bambino (Christ child). In Italy Christmas is celebrated from December 24th to January 6th. This includes Christmas Eve, Christmas, Saint Stephen (December 26th), and Epiphany (January 6th).
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Photo: Christmas in Paris, France
In France you say Joyeux Noël. French children put their shoes by the fireplace so Père Noël (Father Christmas or Santa) can give those gifts. La bûche de Noël (Yule log) is a popular dessert cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. The essential French Christmas decoration is the crèche, or nativity scene, which is found in churches and homes. In Provence, crèches are often a mix of religion and everyday life, showing not only the birth of Christ, but also the village and way of life, with farms, stores, and everyday people from the region.
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Photo: Christmas in Great Britain
In Great Britain caroling is popular and so are Christmas cards. A traditional Christmas meal in Great Britain might include turkey or roast followed by Christmas pudding and during the meal Christmas crackers are pulled containing toys, jokes and a paper hat. Unique to England is Boxing Day, which sounds very Zen to me! It is traditionally a day for giving to the less fortunate and getting rid of the things you don't need or use anymore.

You can probably get a sense of where some of your traditions originate from. Or maybe you read about some you'd like to try this year. However you celebrate, do it with an open heart and love the home you've created for your family. Fröhliche Weihnachten, Buon Natale, Joyeux Noël, and Merry Christmas!

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