To get you in the mood for Christmas, we’ve devised a fun quiz to test our readers’ knowledge of some of Europe’s lesser-known festive traditions, customs, and stories. Award yourself one point for each correct answer.
1. In which country did the Christmas tree tradition begin?
The Christmas tree tradition was started in Germany by the church reformer Martin Luther. Legend has it that upon returning home one winter night, he was so in awe of the stars twinkling in the sky through the branches of the trees that as soon as he got back, he cut down a small fir tree and decorated it with candles to demonstrate it to his family. This then spread throughout Germany and further afield through to America.
2. Which country practices predicting the future from molten metal at Christmas?
The ancient ritual of predicting the future from molten metal is practiced in Austria at Christmas time. This involves heating small tin or lead objects in a spoon (all available from the excellent Christmas markets), which are then dropped into a bowl of water. The resulting shape is then used to predict the future. For example, an eagle indicates career success, a fortress indicates the need for change while a tower means change is on its way.
3. Cutting an apple is usually regarded as a fairly harmless activity, but in which country can this tradition predict some macabre events?
What the Austrians do with tin and lead, the Slovaks like to do with an apple. No time-consuming metallurgy here — the head of the family cuts an apple crosswise; if the seeds show a star then a happy year is predicted for the recipient. However, if the seeds show a cross then expect quite the opposite. Recipients of the cross in the apple might want to make an appointment with the doctor and start to draw up that bucket list they’ve been planning for the last few years.
4. In which country can animals talk at Christmas?
Sharing the wafer around the family is an established tradition at Christmas in Poland. In some parts of the country, legend has it that any animals partaking in the tradition will be given the power of speech at midnight on Christmas Eve and will speak in human voices. However, there is a catch to this, as it’s said that only those pure of spirit will be able to hear the animals speak.
5. Which country does not have its nativity plays set in Bethlehem?
Nativity scenes are big in Slovenia but with a difference — rather than the traditional Bethlehem setting they take place in alpine pastures along with mountains and dairy cows. A particular specialty is the living nativity scene, such as that held each year at Postojna Cave, which can possibly lay claim to being the site of the world’s deepest underground nativity play.
6. In which country can you be a king or queen at yuletide?
a) The Netherlands
Although Lichtenstein is just sixteen miles long and four miles wide, it still has its own monarchy, which rules the kingdom from the fairytale Gothic Vaduz Castle set high on a hill. Epiphany (January 6) lets the citizens of Liechtenstein have the opportunity to join the aristocracy, if only for twenty-four hours. Rather than inherit the title, the next king (or queen) is whoever finds a strategically placed almond in the traditional Three Kings Cake, a type of sweet roll. The winner is duly crowned king (or queen) for the day.
7. Which country’s settlers introduced the story of Santa Claus to North America?
b) The Netherlands
Dutch settlers introduced the story of Santa Claus when they arrived on American shores in what was then known as New Amsterdam in the 1600s. However, German settlers can claim credit for the introduction of Christmas trees into this part of the world.
1 – 3
Oh dear, that’s almost Grinch-like. Not a fan of Christmas? You really need to get out more and explore some of the places mentioned in the article. Remember, travel really does broaden the mind.
4 – 5
Not bad. You clearly like Christmas but just need to get out a bit more rather than memorize Wikipedia articles.
6 – 7
Genius. Not just a great memory for trivia but a true Christmas aficionado. I bet you’ve already booked next year’s trip to the Christmas markets in Germany, haven’t you?