hidden europe: From Cold Turkey to Father Frost
Brits are of course now labouring under a diet of cold turkey. Christmas generates its own extraordinary traditions across Europe, which differ greatly from country to country. There is no such thing as a standard-issue European Christmas. The English certainly like their turkey on the Christmas table, but elsewhere across the continent firm Christmas favourites include baked carp, goose, spicy hams, and roast lamb.
Christmas may have come and gone in western Europe, but we shouldn’t forget that as we move east across the continent, things change. The Orthodox Churches still organise their affairs according to the old Julian calendar, and Christmas is not celebrated in most of eastern Europe until early January. By the time Russians sit down to have their Christmas meal (on the evening of 6 January), most western and central European households have already taken down their Christmas decorations.
The festive season brings its own cast of secular characters. So in Russia and other eastern European countries, Ded Moroz, also known as Father Frost, rewards children with gifts. Ded Moroz lives in northern Russia (click here to read more), an unkempt spot on the Sukhona river that is attempting to cash in on Ded Moroz in much the same way that Rovaniemi in northern Finland has proclaimed its credentials as the unbelievably tacky and ultra-commercial hometown of Santa Claus. While Santa relies on a bunch of elves for assistance, Ded Moroz lucks out in having secured the services of the beautiful Snegurochka to help distribute gifts.
Globalisation may have inflected many aspects of our lives, but Christmas still throws up its own culturally-encoded customs and characters.