Special occasions

Christmas in Europe and at the end of the world …


Studies in positive psychology show that close relationships, socialising with people who we can trust and rely on, is one of the most important contributors to your happiness! Additionally, giving presents (even more than receiving them) also makes us more satisfied.

Today I’d like to tell you about my diverse family and about Christmas time in a few different parts of the world.


In Poland, which is mostly Catholic, on Christmas Eve in the afternoon children look through foggy windows into the sky and wait for the first star to appear. The first one is usually visible around 5pm and this is a sign that people can start their Christmas dinner.

The tradition says that we should keep one empty plate on our table for an extra meal in case someone who is homeless or poor, or perhaps a hungry traveller, knocks on our door. We then should invite him or her inside for a warm meal. Before we start to eat we share a special wafer exchanging Christmas wishes.

We have 12 dishes which include mainly varieties of fish but no red meat (the church made some changes with regard to that a few years ago and now we are allowed to have red meat on Christmas Eve too but my family likes to adhere to the tradition that we’ve had for years). The dishes include:

  • a soup (usually mushroom or borsch)
  • ravioli with cabbage and mushrooms
  • many different fish dishes (carp is the main food associated with Christmas in Poland)
  • some salads (e.g. cold cooked potato salad which is made of potatoes, carrots, eggs, pickled cucumbers, peas, onion, mustard and mayo; some variations are allowed in different families, e.g. some people would add some apple too)
  • cooked eggs cut in half and covered with mayo, and/or sprinkled with chives and red pepper powder
  • fried pancake rolls with cabbage and mushrooms

If you are not used to a Polish kitchen these ideas may sound weird but believe me, they are DELICIOUS!

Some families sing carols. Everyone ‘arranges’ Santa’s visit in a slightly different way. In my family my parents used to tell me and my sister that after the Christmas dinner we need to go and wash our hands. While we were doing this Santa usually popped in quickly to leave some pressies for us. For the rest of the evening we would enjoy the pressies, sweets and desserts, talk and watch some TV. Some families go to church for a mass at midnight. Over the next two days people visit family and friends, have guests or just get a bit lazy and relax 😉


Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world. My husband is Brazilian so we spent Christmas there once. One of the biggest differences is that Christmas dinner starts at midnight.

On 24th December no-one seemed to be bothered that we had no presents for everyone yet. We went to the beach to enjoy the sunshine. It was probably around 28+ degrees C. When we have winter in Europe there is the best of the summer in Brazil, and vice versa.

In the evening we went to the shops for a while to find some small presents for all the family members (and they like to have bigger family gatherings there). Then we were cooking and preparing meals until midnight. I remember that we had a turkey, salads (i.e. similar to Polish cold potato salad but with olives and raisins), rice (fried with garlic), farofa (fried cassava with some mixed pieces of bacon) and fruits, After the dinner there was time to open presents, chat with the other guests and then go to bed.


I’ve been living in England for over a decade and although no-one in my family is British I’ve learnt that the English don’t have any Christmas dinner on 24th December at all, but they meet up and enjoy time spent with family and friends during a special Christmas lunch on 25th December. Then they eat turkey, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, cranberry sauce, Brussel sprouts, and gravy. And of course for dessert, among other options, Christmas pudding! The English wait to open their presents on 25th December while Polish and Brazilians already have this part behind them.

What’s interesting, according to a recent BBC article, is that the UK is the country most obsessed with Christmas! The most Christmas-related searches in Google are done in November by UK Internet users! And the country has been the highest ranking for the last four years. Surveys say that over 50% of people living in the UK do most of their Christmas shopping in November. To tell the truth, when I go to a shop a few days before Christmas many shelves are already empty and it’s difficult to find things such as nice decorations, etc.

UK customers are the most active online shoppers among all European countries and spend 142% more on gifts and 207% more on food and drink online than the average European person! The first interest from the British in Christmas is shown as early as 1st July! That’s why many shops prepare their seasonal decorations earlier and earlier each year.

This year my Christmas will be extra special. My parents live abroad and I don’t manage to spend every Christmas with my sister even though we live quite near each other. I think the last time I was with my sister and parents sharing a special wafer and eating Christmas dinner together was around …18 years ago?! This time we’ll have my sister’s family with us and my husband and daughter too (+ my little one who will be born in March!). I’m really excited and can’t wait! Still so much cleaning, organising to do but soon I’m putting my feet up and enjoying these magical days … J

How are your preparations coming along?