Unwrapping Europe’s Festive Traditions

Rocco Forte Hotels

Celebrated with time-honoured rituals, Christmas traditions vary across Europe. From Bavaria to Belgium, Rome to London, if you look beneath the mistletoe you’ll discover enchanting celebrations unique to each destination.

The devil is in the detail in Germany

As the kindly saint who evolved into Santa Claus and Father Christmas, St Nicholas is still celebrated in Germany today on St Nicholas' Day on 6th December, otherwise known as the Feast of St Nicholas when families come together and gifts are exchanged.

If you're in Germany the night before, on 5th December, make sure you're on your best behaviour. That’s when the horned Krampus – or a local dressed up as the devil – prowls the streets to ensure children remain nice, not naughty.

Another reminder of the holiday’s religious origins is the beautiful collection of nativity scenes in Bayerische Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Museum). Owned by Italian royalty and relocated from German monasteries, the scenes are just a 10-minute drive from The Charles Hotel.


Breaded baby Jesus in Belgium

A sweet dough in the shape of baby Jesus is one of the more unusual Christmas traditions you’ll find in Belgium. See if you can spot the baby-shaped brioche, called cougnou, in the windows of patisseries and present one to your offspring on Christmas Day along with a hot chocolate.

You can also sip a hot drink and keep warm in Brussels’ main square, the Grand-Place, moments from Hotel Amigo. Explore the square and you’ll be in for a sensory treat, as an awe-inspiring sound and light show entertains revellers every evening in the run up to the big day.

Eleven pipers piping in the piazzas of Italy

If you thought bagpipes were a Scottish tradition, the zampogna may make you think again. The folk instrument sounds strikingly similar to a bagpipe, and is one of the more evocative noises you’ll hear soaring over the streets of Italy during the festive season.

Listen out for the zampogna on your way to midnight mass attended by many thousands in the Vatican near Hotel de la Ville and Hotel de Russie. Pre-arranged by fax (yes, really), tickets are free and if you do make it inside, you can expect quite the spectacle with the Sistine Chapel choir performing under the glimmer of St Peter's Basilica gilt-embellished dome and an address by the Pope. Even if you can’t get in, the televised service in St Peter’s Square offers a wonderful celebratory atmosphere, where the glow of a nativity scene and a huge tree create a truly magical Christmas experience.


Kissing under the mistletoe in Britain

The custom to kiss beneath a sprig of mistletoe dates back to 18th century England, quite possibly invented by an especially amorous beau. Alongside holly, ivy and a tinsel-covered fir tree, greenery enlivens the homes and tables of England and nowhere is this more elegantly done than at Brown’s Hotel. Celebrate Christmas at our Mayfair hotel and you’ll witness a host of traditions that have been upheld for 120 years.


Exploring Europe’s festive heritage this Christmas, you’ll be treated to the best-loved traditions of Germany, Italy, Belgium and Britain when you stay at Rocco Forte Hotels

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