Christmas is a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians all over the world celebrate it in different ways. In December 2016, the association Danube-Networkers started a small project with the purpose to find out how people from the Danube countries celebrate Christmas and also to bring these people together. The project called Christmas packages along the Danube consisted of mutual sending of small packages containing a small description of how Christmas is celebrating in the specific country, as well as Christmas sweets, pieces of decoration and Christmas greetings. The descriptions sent were published on the project’s website (https://bread-wine-herbs.tastes-of-danube.eu/christmas)and were used to analyse the common points of these countries regarding Christmas celebrations. During this action, 156 packages from 56 civic organisations from 11 Danube countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia, Slovakia, Croatia, Germany, Slovenia, Serbia, Ukraine, Hungary and Moldova) were shared.
The results don’t give a representative overview on the Christmas customs in these different countries but they allow to gain insight into the specific traditions as they are lived by the respective sender. One can notice that there are many common grounds in the Danube area despite regional and surely personal differences.
In Germany, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th December while in Serbia and Moldova it is celebrated on 7th January.
Food has a vital role in all countries. Germans and Slovakians begin the Christmas feast on 24th December, the so-called Holy Night, with a solemn meal together with their families, whilst in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary people have their feast with their families on 25th December. Tradition says that in Bulgaria there ought to be an odd number of dishes and people at the dining table. Salt, pepper or sugar are considered dishes.
In all Danube countries (except Germany), pork is the main Christmas dish. Women cook different dishes with pork such as stuffed cabbage, roulades, sausages, whereas in Germany, people usually eat duck, goose or turkey with red cabbage and potato dumplings.
Also, the custom of a Christmas tree and Christmas presents is widely spread. In every Danube country (except Serbia and Moldova), there is a Christmas tree in every Christian house. Usually, the Christmas tree is a fir tree and the children decorate it with glitter balls. Families come together, sing Christmas songs and share their presents which lay underneath the Christmas tree. In Serbia, people do not share the presents during Christmas but on the three Sundays before it. They are called Detinjci, Materice and Oci. On Detinjci, the children give their parents their presents, on Materice the married women share the presents and on Oci it’s the married men’s turn.
The period before Christmas is called “Advent time”. In Germany, it lasts four weeks and during this time, every Sunday is marked by lighting a candle. The four candles for the four Sundays form an Advent wreath which is placed on the dinner table.
In Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, the Advent time begins six weeks before Christmas and is called fasting period. During this period, people adopt a vegan diet.
In Serbia and Bulgaria, people bake a special bread and hide a coin in it. On the first day of Christmas, the bread is shared with all people living in the same house. The tradition says that the person who gets the piece of bread with the coin in it will be very lucky in the following year. People put a little straw under the dining table as a symbol for the stable Jesus was born in.
All Danube countries celebrate Christmas as a family feast characterised by peace and love. Family members gather, sing Christmas songs, go to church and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a time of peace, love and recognition.
Read more about this action here: https://bread-wine-herbs.tastes-of-danube.eu/christmas-packages-along-the-danube/