Written by Maja Kušćer

Both Croatia and France are catholic countries. They celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. Families gather together to have a nice time, to eat tasty food and forget all past worries or misunderstandings. However, some traditions related to giving presents, ceremonies and Christmas meals differ among these two European countries.

In France, children are are excited to get presents from Santa Claus and they put their shoes next to the fireplace hoping to receive rewards for behaving themselves during the last 365 days.

Croatians have a similar tradition, but on a different date. Kids put their shoes at the window the evening before Saint Nicholas, who visits houses during the night of the 6th of December. Children should clean their shoes before putting them at the window and if the shoes are clean enough and they were behaving well during the year, they will receive a present. If not, Saint Nicholas won’t visit them. In his place will come Krampus, “half-goat, half-demon” who will put in their shoes a stick that represents punishment for being naughty. On Christmas day, Croatians receive gifts from Santa Claus below the Christmas tree. So, we receive gifts twice in December!

Both nations usually go to the midnight mass on Christmas Eve to greet the Christmas Day. They pray and sing Christmas carols.The only difference is that the French burn a log in their homes afterwards. Usually, they do this until New Year’s Day in order to summon good luck in case of bad or difficult times in the future.

The Christmas tradition which I like most is the Christmas lunch because all the family gathers and we eat food that we don’t eat the whole year. The lunch usually takes place from noon to 2pm on the 25th of December.

Croatians usually eat a turkey with potatoes and “mlinci”; a thin, dried flatbread – a famous dish in Croatia. As a nation, we eat a lot of meat and almost all our traditional dishes contain some kind of meat. However, on Christmas Eve, eating meat is forbidden. During the whole day Catholics can’t eat any dish that contains red meat. Therefore they usually eat fish, especially codling. The fact that on Christmas Day there will be meat makes them happy. For desserts, we serve Christmas cakes with chocolate or fruit. A very popular cake is the sweet Christmas bread which contains dried fruit. It is similar to the Italian cake Panettone which is also eaten during the Christmas time.

Unlike Croatians, the French eat before going to the midnight mass or right after coming back from the mass. The so-called “La Revellion” is a Christmas Eve Feast that gathers the family to eat goose, foie grass, lobster, roast turkey and, for dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a “bûche de Noël”.

France and Croatia are an interesting example of how two Catholic countries can have very different Christmas traditions. Some traditions, like burning log or putting shoes in front of the fireplace, surprised me as I arrived in Lille. I also realized that it doesn’t matter how you celebrate it, just that you are happy to do it.