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Neujahr (1 January), or the New Year, is a public holiday in Germany.

During the week before Catholic Lent, Carnival—called Fastnacht or Fasching—is celebrated in some regions, where people have fancy balls, parades, and other celebrations. In the Rhineland region of western Germany, the first of the five days of Carnival is Weiberfastnacht, or “Women’s Carnival.” The tradition is said to have started in the town of Beuel in the early 19th century, when the laundry women grew tired of watching their husbands celebrating Carnival without them—and, even worse, with the money they earned washing clothes. In protest the women themselves began to celebrate with song and dance. Now this celebration is known for its carefree nature and often bizarre events.

The week before Easter is known in Germany as Karwoche—“Still Week” or “Silent Week”—and Holy Thursday is called Green Thursday. This comes from the tradition of giving a green branch to penitents after they have finished their penance. Easter Sunday and Monday are both observed, with worship services on Sunday and family gatherings on Monday.

Walpurgisnacht (“Walpurgis Night”) is celebrated on 30 April. On this date in the 8th century, the remains of Saint Walburga were moved to Eichstatt. After that time, according to legend, oil was found on the rocks at Eichstatt that had the power to cure, so a shrine to Saint Walburga was established. She is revered as the saint who protects against magic. People once believed that on Walpurgisnacht, witches rode across the sky over the Harz Mountains of Germany. In an effort to ward off the witches, people banged pots and pans and lit torches. This day is still celebrated with bonfires and other activities.

Labor Day (1 May) is often celebrated by raising maypoles and participating in parades. The Day of German Unity is celebrated on 3 October. On 31 October, some Germans observe Reformation Day, which is also known as Luther’s Theses Day. On this date in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg. In his writings, he expressed his specific problems with the Roman Catholic Church. This event marked the start of the Protestant Reformation.




The Christmas season begins with Advent, which lasts from the Sunday closest to 30 November until 24 December. Christmas markets are held in towns, villages, and most large cities. Musical performances abound. Children put their shoes out the evening before Saint Nicholas's day (6 December) to receive small treats. Gifts are given on Heiliger Abend (Christmas Eve), and the family relaxes on Christmas Day (25 December). The following day is also a public holiday.

In the year 325, when Saint Sylvester was pope, the Emperor of Rome decreed that Christianity would be the official religion from that time forward. Saint Sylvester has since been associated with getting rid of paganism. Saint Sylvester’s Eve, or Silvesterabend, is celebrated on 31 December with parties and midnight fireworks. Touching a pig on Silvesterabend is thought to bring good luck; at home some people hang up a marzipan pig and touch it at midnight.

. The Swedes celebrate both New Year’s Eve (31 December) and New Year’s Day (1 January) as public holidays. The Epiphany, or the day the Three Wise Men are said to have come to the baby Jesus, is observed on January 6. Easter (Pask) is celebrated from Good Friday through Easter Monday. Children dress up like Easter witches, paint their faces, and collect candy from the homes of friends and neighbors. Walpurgis Night (30 April), now celebrated with bonfires and fireworks, is a festival dating from Viking times, celebrating the return of spring. Labor Day is observed on 1 May. Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, is said to be the day Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven. Whitsunday, 50 days after Easter, and Whitmonday, the day following Whitsunday, are both observed.

Sweden’s grandest festival, Midsommar (Midsummer) is celebrated on the weekend closest to June 21, which is Summer Solstice. This holiday also dates from Viking times, when it was a fertility rite meant to ensure a good harvest in the autumn. Nowadays, traditional songs are sung, and people dance around maypoles, which are decorated with birch leaves and flowers. The custom of wearing traditional regional dress to the celebration has regained popularity in recent years. Because the sun never sets in the northernmost part of Sweden on 21 June, it is known as “the day that never ends.”

All Saints’ Day is on 2 November. A particularly lovely holiday in Sweden is Lucia, on 13 December. Traditionally, on this day the oldest girl in each family would don a white dress, a crimson sash, and a crown of candles. She has become Saint Lucia, a fascinating saint closely associated with both light and seeing. The girl dressed as Lucia, followed by her sisters and brothers (called maidens and star-boys), who would be dressed in similarly magical white garments, served coffee and buns to members of the household early in the morning of 13 December. Nowadays, Lucias are also chosen in their schools or day-care centers, and they might visit hospitals, factories, and offices, serving coffee, lussekatt (saffron buns), glögg (hot spiced wine), and gingerbread cookies. In Stockholm a contest is held to choose the “Stockholm Lucia.”

Lucia begins the Jul (Christmas) season, which reaches its pinnacle on Christmas Eve with a smörgasbord and the exchange of gifts. The Jultomten (Swedish Santa Claus) was traditionally known as a kind of gnome who lived under the house and left gifts for the children at the door. Today, children eagerly await his knock at the door on Christmas Eve. Some families keep the old tradition of “dipping in the pot”—dunking slices of bread in the broth from a boiled ham. The Christmas tree, placed in the house a couple of days before Christmas Eve, is not taken down until Saint Knut’s Day on 13 January. On this day a party for children is held and the tree, having served its purpose, is tossed out an open window as the celebrants sing a song about the end of the Christmas holiday.


In addition to some national holidays, several religious holidays are celebrated in Luxembourg. National holidays include New Year’s Day, Labor Day (1 May), the Grand Duke’s Birthday—also called National Day (23 June)—and Fair Day (early September). Fair Day occurs during fair season in the capital city, where an ancient shepherd’s market serves as the fairground and many traditional displays and events focus on sheepherding.

Religious holidays include Shrove Tuesday (February), Easter (including Monday), Ascension, Whitmonday, Assumption (15 August), All Saints’ Day (1 November), All Souls’ Day (2 November), and Christmas (24-26 December). Christmas and Easter are the most important holidays.

At Easter, young children take part in a tradition called klibbere goen. According to legend, all church bells go to Rome three days before Easter for confession. The bells cannot ring because they are supposedly in Rome, so the boys use rattles to announce church services. When the bells return on the Saturday before Easter, the children collect money and colorful Easter eggs from each home in the neighborhood as their reward. Most families color Easter eggs during this season, and on Easter Sunday children receive the eggs and other gifts hidden in the garden.

Christmas celebrations begin weeks before the actual holiday. Some time before 6 December, small children place a shoe outside their bedroom before bedtime and expect to receive a piece of chocolate from Saint Nicholas (Kleeschen) if they have been good. Otherwise, they might receive a birch twig from his helper, Housecker. Then, on 6 December, Kleeschen visits “good” children and brings them gifts. Small parades are often held in various cities to celebrate the event. On Christmas Eve, families have a large meal, and Catholics go to Mass. Almost all families have a tree in the home, and many have a nativity scene. Christmas Day (25 December) is a family day.

Carnaval is celebrated in the spring in many cities. There are also wine fairs, arts festivals, and festivals to mark historical events


New Year’s Day in Poland is celebrated on 1 January. Easter, in early spring, is a major holiday in this predominantly Roman Catholic country. It has a number of traditions associated with it, including painting eggs and taking baskets full of food to churches to have the food blessed. Easter Monday is a public holiday. The morning of Easter Monday, children (and some adults) enjoy water fights—water symbolizes life, and it is a symbol of Easter, which honors the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Labor Day is observed on 1 May. Polish Constitution Day on 3 May commemorates the ratification of Poland’s first constitution in 1794, based upon ideas from the French Revolution.

Corpus Christi, in honor of the Eucharist, is observed on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday (which follows the Pentecost, 50 days after Easter). Assumption Day, when the Virgin Mary’s body was said to have been “assumed” into Heaven, is observed on 15 August. Polish Solidarity Day (31 August) marks the formation of Solidarity (Solidarnosc), the labor union that led to the downfall of the Polish Communists in 1989.

All Saints’ Day (1 November) honors all the saints in the Christian calendar. On this day, Poles visit the graves of relatives and friends, offering prayers and lighting candles. Independence Day, which commemorates the proclamation of an independent Poland at the end of World War I, is celebrated on 11 November.

Christmas is Poland’s most important holiday. On 6 December, children receive small gifts from Saint Nicholas, whose name day it is. On Christmas Eve, considered the heart of the holiday, families gather for a feast that features special foods and, according to Catholic tradition, excludes meat. Before dinner, celebrants exchange pieces of a holy wafer blessed by a priest, as well as greetings for Christmas and the new year. Traditionally an extra plate is set for unexpected guests, and people eat as many of 12 courses as possible for luck in the coming year. That evening, Catholics attend Midnight Mass and Saint Nicholas usually returns to leave gifts for the children. On 26 December, a public holiday, people visit and relax. Nativity scenes are seen everywhere, and caroling can be heard frequently throughout the Christmas season.

In Poland, people with the name of a saint celebrate his or her name day. Name days are considered more important than birthdays, and celebrants receive gifts and may celebrate with parties.




Italy celebrates the New Year on 1 January. The eve of the Epiphany—the visit of the Three Magi to the Baby Jesus—on 6 January is an official holiday and is marked by visits from Befana, the Christmas witch. Befana is traditionally a kindly old witch who missed her chance to accompany the Magi; she has been searching for the Baby Jesus ever since. On the night of 5 January she slides down chimneys on her broomstick and leaves toys and candy for the children who have been good, and a lump of coal for those who have not.

Carnevale, or Carnival, is celebrated with parades and costumed festivals in many parts of Italy during the period immediately preceding Lent. The Carnival festivities in Venice are particularly famous, and celebrants come from near and far to take part. Italians celebrate Easter Sunday and Monday.

Liberation Day on 25 April commemorates Italy’s liberation in World War II. Labor Day is observed on 1 May. The Assumption, when Mary’s body is said to have been “assumed” into Heaven, is celebrated on 15 August. By this date most Italians have left the cities for the seashore or the mountains. All Saints’ Day (1 November), when all of the Catholic saints are honored, is followed by All Souls’ Day (Il Giorno dei Morti) on 2 November. On this day there is a requiem for the dead at dawn, and church bells toll. Italians pay visits to cemeteries, where they drape the graves of their loved ones with flowers, particularly chrysanthemums, and candles. The Day of the Immaculate Conception (8 December) celebrates the Roman Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary’s soul was preserved free from original sin. Christmas is celebrated on 25 December. In addition to these holidays, each city has its own patron saint and celebrates the saint’s feast day.

The Irish celebrate New Year’s Day on 1 January. Saint Patrick’s Day on 17 March is a national holiday and is marked by parades, shamrock decorations, and sometimes the wearing of clothing that is green (the national color). Legend has it that resourceful Saint Patrick made use of the three-lobed shamrock as a diagram to explain the Holy Trinity to his uneducated congregation. However, the pre-Christian Irish had long associated the shamrock with Trefulngid Tre-eochair (“The Triple Bearer of the Triple Key”), the spring fertility god manifestation, whose symbol can be a shamrock or three legs spiraling together (as seen on the flag of the Isle of Man).

The Irish celebrate Easter, and Easter Monday is a public holiday. Christmas is celebrated on 25 December, but celebrations may last until New Year's Day. An old custom has boys blackening their faces, carrying paper wrens, and asking for spare change on Saint Stephen’s Day (26 December). This is called “hunting the wren,” and the boys are known as "wren boys." This tradition commemorates the old story of how the wily wren tricked the mighty eagle into giving up the title of King of All Birds. This custom is not very common today, particularly outside of rural areas.

“Bank holidays,” days when banks and other businesses close, occur on New Year’s Day, the first Mondays of May, June, and August, and the last Monday in October.

National holidays in Moldova are changing, as those of the Soviet period have been abolished and new holidays are being introduced. Furthermore, Christian holidays are being slowly resurrected after decades of suppression. One holiday officially on the books is Independence Day, celebrated on 27 August. Some confusion surrounds Christmas (7 January reckoned by the Julian calendar) and New Year’s Day (1 January), because many non-religious customs surrounding Christmas had been transferred to New Year’s Day by the Soviets. For instance, during New Year’s Day celebrations, known as Plugushor, trees were decorated with ornaments and children went to parties where Mos Craciun (Santa Claus) presided. While Moldovans are rediscovering old Christmas traditions such as caroling, folklore, and gifts, it is unclear how the two holidays will be celebrated in the future. Easter celebrations in the spring are also being revived.

Official holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January), Easter (Thursday through Monday), All Prayers' Day, Ascension, Whitmonday, Constitution Day (5 June), Christmas Day (25 December) and 26 December. Queen Margrethe’s birthday (16 April) is a day of special celebration. Christmas is celebrated over three days. On Christmas Eve, there is a tradition of singing songs while dancing in a circle around a lighted tree. Celebrants also exchange gifts and eat a special meal.

On New Year’s Eve, Denmark is filled with activity: there are parties, speeches by the Queen and prime minister, the ringing of cathedral bells, and a night sky illuminated by fireworks. In some villages, young people play pranks on this night.

The Monday before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) is called Fastelavn. Special buns called fastelavnsboller are baked. Children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door begging for buns, but are content with candy or coins. There is also a Fastelavn tradition of hanging up wooden barrels filled with candy, which children beat until the barrels come apart and spill the candy.

Instead of individually celebrating a number of holidays honoring various minor saints in the spring, Danes celebrate Store Bededag, or All Prayers' Day, on the fourth Friday after Easter. This public holiday was instituted by Count Johann Friedrich von Struensee in the 18th century. A special hot bread called varme hveder is eaten on Store Bededag.

The holidays celebrated have changed since 1990 as religious holidays regain their former popularity. The Serbian Orthodox Church reckons Christmas by the Julian calendar, so the holiday is celebrated on 7 January rather than 25 December, as the Gregorian (or Western) calendar dictates. Likewise, New Year’s Day is 14 January—although the Western New Year (1 January) is celebrated too.

Saint Sava’s Day, on 27 January, honors the archbishop of Serbia, a spiritual and cultural leader who founded the Serbian Orthodox Church in the 13th century. He is commemorated on the anniversary of his death with special church services, speeches, and singing. Schoolchildren, in particular, sing, dance, and recite poems in his honor.

International Women’s Day on 8 March was begun in the United States in 1910 and now honors worldwide the contribution of women in the home and at work. Easter is celebrated in the spring. Workers’ Day on 1 May is a major holiday for all people in this formerly Communist country. Vidovdan on 28 June commemorates the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.

A day to honor the dead, called Zadušnice, is observed at four different times throughout the year. One of the days is in early November, just after Catholics and Protestants honor the dead by visiting the graves of family and friends on 1 November.

The French ring in the New Year on 1 January. The Feast of the Epiphany, also called Le Jour des Rois (“The Day of the Kings”) is celebrated on 6 January. On this day, parties feature the traditional galette des rois (“cake of the kings”), in which a token has been baked; whoever finds the token in his or her slice of cake is crowned “king” or “queen” for the evening.

Easter Sunday is followed by the public holiday of Easter Monday. May Day (1 May) is marked by the wearing of lilies of the valley, small nosegays of which are sold on many street corners leading up to May Day. It is believed that those who make wishes while wearing the flowers on May Day will have their wishes granted. France’s Labor Day is also on 1 May. VE (Victory in Europe) Day on 8 May commemorates the unconditional surrender of the Germans to Allied forces in 1945.

Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, marks the day Jesus Christ is said to have ascended to Heaven. Whitsunday—or the Pentecost—50 days after Easter, is the day the Holy Spirit is said to have appeared to his disciples in the form of tongues of fire, and symbolizes the beginnings of the Christian church. The following day, Whitmonday, is a public holiday.

Perhaps the most colorful of French holidays is Bastille Day (La Fête Nationale) on 14 July. The Bastille, a Parisian prison that came to symbolize the monarchy, was stormed by angry citizens on 14 July 1789. This event set off the French Revolution. Now 14 July crackles with fireworks day and night; parades are held, and there is dancing in the streets.

Assumption Day, 15 August, commemorates the day Mary’s body is said to have been “assumed” into Heaven. All of the Christian saints are honored on the first day of November, La Toussaint, or All Saints’ Day. Armistice Day (11 November) marks the day in 1918 when the armistice was signed between the Allied and Central powers fighting World War I. Christmas is celebrated on 25 December.

Most employees have five weeks’ holiday a year, and some take as much as four weeks in summer. During August, the traditional holiday month, many factories and offices close, as do some restaurants in Paris. Traditionally, the French have taken their holidays in their own country, with many choosing to camp. An increasing number now venture farther afield. Several million people ski in the winter, most of them at resorts in the French Alps.

Under the Ceausescu regime, there were only three national holidays: New Year (1-;2 January), Labor Day (1-;2 May), and National Liberation Day (23-;24 August). Religious holidays were not officially recognized and could only be celebrated privately.

Now people may openly celebrate all religious holidays, and there are public holidays at Christmas and Easter. Romania’s National Day is honored on 1 December. It marks the day in 1918, after World War I, when Romania gained territory (which has since been lost) that more than doubled the size of the country. New Year and Labor Day are still public holidays.



Belgium

Official holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January), Labor Day (1 May), Independence Day (21 July), Assumption (15 August), All Saints’ Day (1 November), Armistice Day (11 November), Dynasty Day (15 November), and Christmas Day (25 December). Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Whitmonday are also observed. On Christmas Day, the crèche is traditionally rendered by shop owners in the material in which they do business—in dough at a bakery, for example, or in tools at a hardware store. Then the crèche is put in the window for all to admire.

Unofficial holidays include Sint Maartens Dag (“Saint Martin’s Day,” 11 November). It is especially appreciated by children, who are likely to receive gifts. A special treat consumed at this time is the gauffre, or Belgian waffle. In addition, Flanders has its own holiday on 11 July, and Wallonia has one on 27 September.

Festivals play an important part in Belgian life. One of the most famous is the three-day celebration of Carnival at Binche, near Mons, held just before Lent. Carnival has both medieval and ancient roots: The Roman Catholic Church claims it as the final celebration before Lent, while pre-Christian tradition claims it as a celebration to drive away the evil spirits of winter. During Carnival, noisemaking and dancing are led by Gilles, men dressed in high, plumed hats and bright costumes. The Carnival celebration in Aalst is also popular. Another famous pageant is the Procession of the Holy Blood, held in Bruges in May. Throughout the country there are many local cultural and folklore festivals, such as the annual Cat Festival in Ieper.

Greece’s New Year’s Day (1 January) is also the Feast of Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis). To honor this saint, a special cake called vassilopita (“Saint Basil’s Bread”) is baked with a coin in it. On New Year’s Day the cake is cut, and whoever finds the coin is said to have good luck in the coming year.

An interesting tradition surrounds Epiphany (6 January), also known as the Blessing of the Waters Day after the Orthodox belief that on this day Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River. In many port towns, divers go in after a cross the local priest has thrown into the water. The victorious diver is believed to be blessed with luck for the rest of the year.

Shrove Monday is the Monday before Ash Wednesday, and it is also called Clean Monday in Greece. On this day many Greeks have picnics, at which they eat Lenten foods.

Forty Martyrs’ Day on 9 March is celebrated in honor of 40 Roman soldiers who refused to make sacrifices to Roman gods on the grounds of their Christian faith. They were made to stand naked on an icy pond and perished in the night. The 40 soldiers are honored with special foods, including pastry with 40 layers and stew with 40 herbs.

An important day for Greeks is 25 March, which marks the date in 1821 when Greece began its revolution against 400 years of Ottoman rule. The Greeks finally achieved autonomy in 1829, after eight years of war. This Independence Day is now commemorated with speeches, parades, and skits by schoolchildren.

Greeks celebrate Good Friday, the Friday preceding Easter, through Easter Monday, the Monday following Easter. One Easter tradition is to dye hard-boiled eggs red. At a Saturday night feast, pairs crack their eggs together; the one who cracks the other’s egg is said to have good luck all year.

Labor Day is observed on 1 May. Later in the month, 26 May, is the Day of the Holy Spirit. Whitmonday is observed on the Monday after Whitsunday, which is 50 days after Easter. The Assumption, when the Virgin Mary’s body is said to have been “assumed” into Heaven, is celebrated on 15 August.

Ohi (“No”) Day (28 October) commemorates Greek resistance to Italian fascist invasion in World War II. On this day in 1940, the Italian ambassador to Greece demanded of Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas that Italian troops be allowed on Greek soil. Metaxas replied “Ohi!” This celebrated refusal is remembered with military parades.

Greeks celebrate Christmas on 25 and 26 December. New Year’s Day was traditionally a day of gift giving, but most people now exchange gifts on Christmas Day.

Most towns in Greece also celebrate their patron saint with a festival. For many holidays, a traditional greeting is Chronia polla (“Many years”).

Scotland’s national holidays are slightly different from those in England and Wales. They include New Year’s Day (1 January), Good Friday (the Friday preceding Easter), May Day (the first Monday in May), Spring Bank Holiday (the last Monday in May), August Bank Holiday (the first Monday in August), and Christmas Day (25 December). New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay) is when some of the year’s most lively celebrations take place.

Traditionally, on Hogmanay, children would go to the doors of their neighbors, and sing and cry out “Hogmanay!” to receive oatmeal cakes in return. Another tradition associated with New Year’s Eve is the “first-footer,” or the first person to cross the threshold of a home after midnight on New Year’s Eve. If the first-footer is a dark-haired man carrying presents, the family should have good luck for the rest of the year. The song “Auld Lang Syne,” by beloved Scottish poet Robert Burns, is sung on New Year’s Eve.

Many Scots honor Burns’s birthday (25 January) by celebrating his life and works at Burns Suppers, where haggis is served. Saint Andrew’s Day, on 30 November, honors the patron saint of Scotland. Some Scots wear a blue-and-white X on this day to symbolize the cross upon which Saint Andrew was crucified by the Romans. This X-shaped cross has become a patriotic symbol.

There has been a recent revival in the popularity of wearing kilts on special occasions. Men might wear them for events such as graduations, weddings, or Hogmanay.

Shrove Tuesday is known as Pancake Day in England. It was traditionally a day to make pancakes and use up all the butter and eggs that would not be allowed during Lent, which starts the following day, Ash Wednesday. Some families still make pancakes at home on Pancake Day. In an annual race held in Olney since 1945, women run carrying a pan and a pancake that must be flipped three times.

Mothering Sunday, traditionally the fourth Sunday in Lent, is a day to visit and bring gifts to one’s mother. On 1 April, April Fool’s tricks are played.

May Day is celebrated on the first Monday of May. On Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night (5 November), fireworks and bonfires on which effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned celebrate Fawkes's failure in his attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament on 4 November 1605.

On the second Sunday in November, Remembrance Day honors veterans. Red paper poppies are sold by the British Legion to raise money for veterans.

During Christmas dinner (25 December), the traditional “cracker” is supposed to be laid beside each plate. Those seated next to each other pull the ends of each other’s crackers, which make a loud bang! Inside there is a crepe-paper hat and a trinket. Boxing Day (26 December), so called for small earthenware boxes that tradespeople and civil servants traditionally carried around to collect tips, is now simply a leisure day and a very busy day in the sporting calendar. Many offices, but not shops, close for all of the Christmas-to-New Year period.

New Year’s Day (1 January), Good Friday (the Friday preceding Easter), and Easter Monday (the Monday following Easter) are three of England’s traditional “bank holidays,” on which banks and other businesses close. The other bank holidays include May Day, the spring and summer bank holidays (the last Monday in May and the last Monday in August, respectively), Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.

Most employees get four to five weeks’ annual vacation. Most people take their main two- or three-week vacation in July or August. A sizable minority also take a winter vacation, usually to go skiing or to somewhere warm and sunny. Short trips of two to five days to other parts of the country or to continental Europe have become increasingly popular.

Official holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January), Easter (Friday through Monday), Ascension, Whitsunday and Whitmonday, National Day (1 August), Federal Day of Prayers (a thanksgiving holiday in September), Christmas Day (25 December), and 26 December. In most parts of the country, Labor Day (1 May) is also a holiday, as are some other days during the Christmas-New Year period.

In Switzerland, the day of the Ascension is also Banntag, or Boundary Day, when, according to tradition, people would check the boundary markers of their property and have their fields blessed. In some villages the rite is still performed, and sometimes musicians accompany the walkers. Special church services or community meals follow the ritual in some areas.

Christmas is the biggest celebration of the year. On Christmas Eve, families gather for a large meal and exchange gifts. The family relaxes on Christmas Day and visits friends on 26 December. New Year’s Eve (31 December) is also Saint Sylvester’s Day, when the last person of the household to rise from bed is woken up with shouts of “Sylvester!” The last child who makes it to school is also dubbed Sylvester. In the evening, parties, fireworks, and church bells usher in the new year.

Public holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January), National Day of Freedom and Independence (3 March), Labor Days (1-2 May), the Day of Bulgarian Culture and Science (24 May), and Christmas Day (25 December). On 24 May, in addition to celebrating the country’s accomplishments in science and culture, Bulgarians honor Saints Cyril and Methodius for developing the Cyrillic alphabet. Name days (the feast days of the saint after whom one is named) are celebrated with a family meal.

It is traditional to eat fruits and vegetables rather than meat on Christmas Eve, in order to celebrate the harvest and ensure that the next one will be prosperous. On New Year’s Day, families enjoy a large meal and exchange presents. Children go door to door wishing good fortune to friends and relatives, carrying with them a survachka (a small, decorated stick), with which they touch the people they visit in exchange for candy and money.

At the beginning of March, Bulgarians traditionally exchange martenitsa, red-and-white yarn designs that symbolize luck and happiness. The martenitsa is worn on the clothing until a swallow is seen. It is then hung on a branch or hidden under a rock to welcome spring and to symbolize the hope that the evil spirits will go to sleep.

Official holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January), Epiphany (6 January), Easter (Friday through Monday), Labor and May Day (30 April and 1 May), Ascension, Whitsunday (Pentecost), Midsummer (two days around the June solstice), Independence Day (6 December), Christmas Eve (24 December), Christmas Day (25 December), and 26 December. The Finland Festivals (16 of them) are held between June and September around the country and include art, music, dance, opera, and theater events.

On Palm Sunday preceding Easter, children dress up as Easter witches and go from door to door reciting charms. They receive sweets or money for their verses. At Easter, families decorate eggs and grow grass on plates in the home. For both Labor and May days (Vappu), people enjoy street carnivals and other celebrations in honor of both laborers and springtime. Midsummer is celebrated with huge bonfires by a lake, and urban residents usually leave cities and towns to go to the countryside for the day. The blue-and-white Finnish flag is also prominent on Midsummer’s day. Christmas is a time of peace, family, and gifts. The main festive meal is eaten on Christmas Eve after a visit to family graves. Later, Father Christmas arrives with gifts for the children. Families in rural areas enjoy time in the sauna on Christmas Eve as well. Christmas Day and 26 December are days for visiting and relaxing.

The Spanish tend to take their main three- or four-week vacation in July or August. Official holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January), the Day of the Three Kings (6 January), Feast of San José (19 March), Good Friday, Labor Day (1 May), Corpus Christi, Santiago Day (25 July), National Day (12 October, the anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in America), All Saints’ Day (1 November), Constitution Day (6 December), Immaculate Conception (8 December), and Christmas Day (25 December). The Day of the Three Kings, or Magi, is the day on which the Spanish traditionally open Christmas gifts, commemorating the day that the Three Magi presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.

Fiestas, or festivals, are an outstanding feature of Spanish life. They usually begin with a High Mass followed by a solemn procession in which venerated images are carried on the shoulders of the participants. Music, dancing, poetry, and singing often enliven these colorful occasions. The feast of Corpus Christi in Toledo and Granada and the Holy Week observances in Andalucia (particularly in Seville), Cuenca, Valladolid, and Zamora are solemn affairs.

Another important festival is Fallas de San José (Bonfires of Saint Joseph), which takes place in Valencia in March. Enormous, elaborate papier-maché sculptures—satirical depictions of public figures and the year's events—are displayed. At the end of the week, all but the finest of the sculptures are burned in a ceremony accompanied by fireworks. The Feria de Abril in Seville is a particularly lively event in late April.

In May or June, hundreds of thousands of people ride on horseback or in colorful horse-drawn carriages to El Rocio during the Romeria del Rocio, a pilgrimage honoring the Virgin Mary. Flamenco dancing and other festivities ensue once the celebrants have reached El Rocio.

A pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela takes place in July, honoring the name day of Saint James (Santiago), the patron saint of Spain. Pilgrims from all over the world walk from the Pyrenees to Galicia in order to obtain indulgence from the Roman Catholic Church. July is also the month for the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, when bulls are run through the streets to the bullring.





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