We spoke with our team in Milan about Christmas traditions in Italy.

There are Christmas traditions in Italy that are widespread practically everywhere in the country, such as the Christmas tree and the nativity scene. To be fair, however, the Christmas tree is much more common in the north of Italy, while the nativity scene in more common in the centre and south.

In some areas of northern Italy, it is not Santa Claus who brings the gifts, but Saint Lucia. This tradition persists, for example, in the provinces of Cremona but also Brescia, Bergamo and Verona. In particular, the tradition of Santa Lucia is very much felt in Lombardy and Veneto: in Verona it is said that during the holidays of 1200 in the city an epidemic spread that affected the sight of children and that, to avert it, the mothers decided to make their little ones go on a pilgrimage asking for the grace of Saint Lucia, protector of the blind. To persuade the children, they promised that the Saint would have them find gifts on their return. From that moment, on the night between 12 and 13 December, Veronese children, like the Lombards, are waiting for Saint Lucia to carry the gifts on the back of her donkey.

A typical custom of Trentino Alto Adige  is that of the Advent Wreath. Each family makes a wreath with fir branches and intertwined red silk ribbons, inserting 4 candles on this wreath. Every Sunday before Christmas day, families gather to light one, waiting together for December 25th.

In the centre of Italy there is another widespread custom, that of bagpipers - that is, musicians who roam the streets of the villages playing typically Christmas songs with their bagpipes. Sometimes they even knock on doors, cheering with their music in exchange for an offering.

When it comes to Christmas traditions regarding food, while in some regions there is a tendency to celebrate in style during the Christmas lunch, in others the most noteworthy event is that of the Christmas Eve dinner on December 24th. Just think, for example, of the Christmas traditions in Sicily: in some mountain villages, on the night of the 24th, bonfires are lit to warm the Child Jesus. Furthermore, many families, after the usual dinner, tell tales and legends to each other, to entertain the children waiting for Santa Claus.

Of course, these are just some of the Christmas traditions scattered around Italy. While not covering all regions, however, they represent an excellent starting point for a symbolic journey which, we hope, can help to put our international Friisberg family into a merry Christmas mood.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

We spoke with Floriana, from our office in Romania, about her plans for the holidays.

Christmas holidays have always been a reason for joy, for children or adults, even if during Communist times the religious meaning of it was not significant.

Communists believed there is no God, therefore the Son of God did not exist and was not born. But they could not erase completely Christmas Holidays and the joy they brought, so they tried to erase the religious meaning of it.

Therefore, they renamed “Old Father Christmas” and he became “Old Man Frost”, St. Nicholas became “Old Man Nicholas” (most of us still refer to him as this).

For us, Christmas Holidays start at the evening of December 5th, when the tradition says that good children will receive small gifts from St. Nicholas in their boots (some good adults get gifts too), but only if they have been good, otherwise they will get a stick instead!

In Romania we have many traditions that we practise in the hope of wealth, prosperity and luck with their origins going back to medieval times.

My personal favourite is Santa's Eve Caroling, but there is also Goat Walking, Capra, - a custom that usually lasts from Christmas to the New Year, it is the name given to a traditional Romanian dance, usually performed by a young man disguised as a goat, with a fur on his back. The goat and her companions go from house to house, dancing at everyone’s door, on New Year’s Eve;

Little Plough, Pluguşorul, is a poem which is performed by boys who visit the community with a little plough made of wood, bells and a whip in their hands and it describes the myth of the nation's creation;

Sorcova where a stick or twig decorated with artificial flowers of different colours, which children use to gently hit their parents or acquaintances in the morning of New Year, wishing them, in special verses, health and luck.

Usually at Christmas, families have lunch or dinner together, mostly eating traditional food like Piftie or Sarmale.

2021 was in many ways a good year for us, but more than anything I wish 2022 will take us back to normality. What I miss the most is the connection between people and the time we spend together.

We spoke with Andrea, one of the Partners from our office in Prague, to ask her how she spends the holidays.

Unlike many other countries, our main Christmas celebration is on Christmas Eve  and it is called Generous Day (Štědrý den). A Christmas dinner is served just after the sunset and as everyone dines, Baby Jesus (Ježíšek) brings presents and leaves them under the Christmas Tree coming through the open window.

The tree is in a different room from the dining table and when children hear the bell ring, it means Ježíšek has been there. After the dinner, we gather around the Christmas tree to sing carols and open the presents. Dec 26th and 27th are days of visiting extended family and friends, or just relaxing.

Is it true that Czechs place fish scales under their plates for the Christmas dinner? Why?

Yes, it is believed that having a Carp scale under your plate, and keeping it later in your wallet, will ensure good fortune.

Czechs have some pretty unusual traditions connected with this fish.

Fried carp and potato salat is a typical Czech Christmas dinner and, in the week leading up to Christmas, there are massive tanks full of carp in front of supermarkets. Customers choose one of the fish, and it is killed in front of them and packaged to take home, or they can buy a live fish and take it home. Traditionally, families bought their carp a week before Christmas and let it live in the bath. It was to keep the fish fresh and to clean the carp and get rid of the slightly muddy taste it gets from the pond.

While many families including my own happily abandoned this tradition years ago  - and I try to avoid mere sight of the tanks - still many people like it and it can be a source of shock for foreigners witnessing the carp sale in the streets.

What’s your favourite holiday tradition?

It is not a particular tradition, it is the Christmas atmosphere I love. Prague is especially charming after Dec 24, when the shopping and all Christmas preparations are over (and the carp tanks disappear!). People slow down, we all try to be kinder, reflective and that makes it “the most magical time of the year”.

Looking back on 2021, was it a good year?

It was definitely challenging, but it brought many new opportunities and turned out to be a really good year work wise. There was a surge of innovations and high demand for new leadership among technology-driven companies and I am very happy there was a strong shift in priorities of our clients towards sustainability, purpose and social responsibility.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

Every little joy it brings - ideally without a need to keep a distance and wear a mask.

We spoke with Gadea Zumarraga to ask about her holiday plans…

In Spain, we have some interesting holiday traditions! For example, it is customary to wear red underwear on New Year's Eve to ensure you will be lucky the following year. Also, eating one grape every second in the last 12 seconds of the year, and wishing everybody around you a happy new year while you involuntarily spit some pieces, means you will have a good year!

What’s your favourite holiday tradition?

On the 24th of December, after dinner with the family we all open presents that the Infant Jesus brings. I still believe, as I did as a child, only for that day!

How do you usually spend the holidays?  

We love spending our Christmas with our family and friends, so eating, drinking and talking takes up most part of our holidays mainly from the 24th until the 1st of January. We celebrate 24th December at dinner, 25th at  lunch, the 31st at dinner and we party until late into the night. On the 1st of January we have a big lunch, and then finally the on the day of the Three Kings day  we have breakfast with our closest family and lunch with the rest. So we end up putting on an average extyra weight of over 3 or 4 kilos each holiday season!

Also, people love mountains and sports, mainly skiing, and we have nearly 40 ski resorts in our country. Many people spend the first week of January skiing in Spain or France on the beautiful Alps!

Looking back on 2021, was it a good year? 

2021 was exciting but exhausting. We have had a booming year regarding business - our clients have been really active after a “paralyzed” 2020

We have worked in so many different industries, which means that the economy is growing and there are many opportunities in Retail, Pharma, Real Estate, Financial Services, Industry, Professional Services, Entertainment…I could go on!

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?  

Consolidating new businesses including our HR consulting and AI tools to help our clients make the best decisions for all people related matters.

Mary Keane and Lorri Lowe, two of our Partners, both grew up in Ireland. We spoke with them about their memories of Nollaig (Christmas).

Lorri grew up speaking Irish Gaeilge and spent several very happy years in a small village close to Dublin. She remembers most villages, towns, and cities decorating the streets with holy symbols, lights and a large Christmas trees:

"Most, if not all, Irish families decorate their homes with lights, tinsel, and baubles. Holly and ivy were also used to decorate our home and my father always said the more berries on the holly, the better the luck in the new year.

"Our Christmas tree was usually put up on the first day of the holy advent calendar. My mhamó (grandma) always said that putting up Christmas decorations before December 8th would bring bad luck! She looked forward to Nollaig na mBean, or Women's Christmas, on January 6th -  this was when, traditionally, the women got the day off and the men did the housework and cooking. The women all met in each other's homes to sew and chat. I like that idea - of all the local women getting together, but not the fact that the men didn't generally do their share of household tasks!"

On the 12 days of Christmas Mary always had lighted candles on each window,  "It was a magical view to see the candles in contrast with a star-lit sky and the freezing cold of a winter evening. Symbolically the candle represented a welcome to Joseph and Mary as they wandered in search of lodgings and it indicated to strangers, and especially to the poor, that there may be an offering of food in the house within."

The centre-piece of the Christmas holiday in Ireland is the Christmas Dinner with family and friends - also ensuring those close to us, if alone, are invited. Traditionally a round cake, full of caraway seeds, is made for each person in the house.

Mary enjoys the tradition of 'Hunting the Wren' on St Stephen’s Day which is when we celebrate our music and culture while raising money for charities.  Another of her favourite holiday traditions is: "Definitely writing and receiving Christmas cards - I know it’s an outdated tradition but I still love it!"

Lorri's enjoys leaving a mince pie and a bottle of Guinness out on Christmas Eve for Daidí na Nollag (Father Christmas) and seeing what presents he has left for her on the morning of the 25th!

A Christmas Day swim is still practised in certain parts of Ireland, "but only by those with grit" says Mary, with perhaps the most famous being at the 'Forty Foot' tiny beach in South Dublin. Lorri has participated in the Looney Dook on New Year's Day, but on reflection definitely prefers warm water swimming in Irish summers!

Nollaig Shona Duit!

We spoke with Benedikte and Hild, from our office in Norway, as they prepare to celebrate Christmas.

In Norway the Christmas season, Julebord, begins slowly on November 28th,  the first of the four Sundays in Advent, when we light a candle. Families celebrate Little Christmas on Dec. 23, and have their own ritual for the day that may include decorating the tree, making a gingerbread house- or preparing risengrynsgrøt (hot rice pudding) for Santa. On Christmas morning, there are always stockings for the children (up to 25 years old) which are filled with sweets and hung by the fireplace - and of course we all watch Donald Duck with friends  at 2 o'clock.

Benedikte says that she hates baking Christmas cakes, but loves chocolate, so together with a group of friends they meet on the second Sunday in December, usually after a late night at julebord, to make candied chocolate covered orange peel. A lot of waiting, and minimal effort, gives them time to recover from yesterday's party – we all love that!

Everyone hopes for a white Christmas, and luckily that is not so rare in Norway!

"I think the most important thing is to make sure that no one is alone over the holidays" said Benedikte, "This year we will go to our cottage in the mountains to celebrate. On 23 December we find our tree close by and decorate it indoors. The Norwegian tradition is either pork- or lamb ribs for dinner on 24 December, which is fairly heavy. We love to go skiing to have room for more Christmas food! In our family we have an old tradition of eating shellfish on 25 December– that is my favourite! Traditions are very important. Every year we meet with friends on the fourth day of Christmas to play a game of GinRummy - the Christmas version! And - there is always lobster pasta and blue Stilton with Port on the menu."

Hild says that 2021 has been a good year, "Business is recovering and in fine shape. We Norwegians tend to focus on the weather and staying at home, due to Covid restrictions, meant we all enjoyed a lovely hot summer. However, we all  look forward to 2022 when we can again start travelling abroad again!"

We spoke with our team in Germany to ask how they are planning to spend the holidays.

St Nicholas Day, 6th December, is a favourite holiday with German children.

On the evening of the 5th of December, children leave one shoe outside a door before going to sleep so that Santa Claus can put some small gifts in it. They must leave only one shoe and the shoes must be polished. Next morning, (if they have been good!) 'Santa Claus' puts some nuts, oranges and chocolates together with a small gift in it. In the morning, children run to the front-door to check that Santa has been.

In Germany we visit our families, celebrate Christmas Eve with them, some of us go to church, we all eat lots of cakes and other delicious food like roast meats and fish. Before Covid restrictions, many Germans chose to travel to sunny places, or to the mountains for skiing.

2021 has been a challenging year for so many from a personal perspective, but from a business perspective it has been the best year for us all.  We learned that working from home is easy, but staying truly connected with colleagues is much harder, so leadership is getting more important in our industry as well.

We all hope that we manage the Covid-pandemic through a high-rate of vaccination and look forward to when traveling, meeting friends and going out becomes become normal again.

We spoke with our Chair, Zoltan Petho, about how he celebrates the holiday season in Hungary.

Our main day of celebrating Christmas is the evening of the 24th that we call The Holy Evening, Szent-este.

We decorate the Christmas tree, together with the children, a few days before Christmas which we all love.

On Christmas Eve we dress up and, when everyone is ready, we play or we read Christmas stories together. We always sing songs while walking around the Christmas tree.

From this point in time, everyone’s priorities are different– I can’t wait for the supper while the children can’t wait to open their presents. Of course they win! So after opening every present, we sit around the table for the supper.

Our main Christmas meal is usually duck which might not be very traditional in Hungary as it is normally fish soup and fish.

Dessert – above all – is Bejgli. If I want to describe what bejgli is, I would say it’s a traditional pastry roll filled with poppy seeds or walnuts. But if I want you to fully understand what bejgli actually is, I have to say that it’s the essence of Christmas!

A little fun fact about our Hungarian traditional Christmas menu: according to tradition fish is believed to bring money, poppy seeds bring good luck and walnuts bring wisdom.

After dinner we spend the rest of the night playing, talking, enjoying nice wine and of course snacking on gingerbreads and bejgli.

How do Hungarians usually spend the holidays?

Hungarians start the countdown four weeks before Christmas which is marked by Advent wreaths. They feature four candles, representing Faith, Hope, Joy and Love, nestled in a bed of pine branches with ribbons. A candle is lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas.

We usually start to decorate our homes at the beginning of Advent. Our decoration probably looks familiar to anyone. One special addition is common throughout most households: scattering szaloncukor around, even across the Christmas tree. Szaloncukor is a typical festive sweet which is flavoured fondant dipped in chocolate. In our country it is a true art to eat these chocolates from the tree, and then fold the packaging back in a way that no one can notice that it’s empty afterwards. I can proudly say that I have elevated this art to a masterful level.

In Hungary angels (or maybe baby Jesus) bring the gifts and the tree, not Santa. We don’t pin all the hard work on an elderly man! For us, Santa is a red-robed, bishop-looking figure who we call Saint Nicholas and he visits our homes on the 6th of December. On this evening children put their newly polished shoes or boots on their windowsill to be filled with small presents or sweets. So it is a separate, but smaller, holiday.

As I said, the main celebratory day of Christmas is the evening of the 24th. The parents only decorate the tree the night before, when children are already in bed so that the end result is a surprise for them on the Holy Evening. For religious families, Midnight Mass is an integral part of the celebration, but most people go to church after the Christmas supper.

On the 25th and 26th everyone gathers with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends to celebrate to repeat the overload of food…

Other than this, Hungarians spend this holiday just like any other: eating good foods, drinking good wines and having good laughs with their loved ones.

What’s your favourite holiday tradition?

My favourite tradition is actually not Hungarian, but one from my Danish wife.  When its dessert time at the Christmas supper, we put small present in the centre of the table. We prepare a rice pudding-like dessert, Ris a l’Amande, and we hide whole blanched almonds in it. Whoever finds an almond while eating, can open a present.

My other favourite is the morning of the 25th. It is when we finally don’t have to worry about anything – like whether we closed the year well in business, whether we forgot to arrange something in the office before the break, whether we bought a gift for every family member, whether we sent greeting cards for every distant aunt and uncle, whether we’ve got everything for the Christmas menu, whether we would find a big enough tree, whether we would burn that tray of cookies that we wanted to make for our guests… All of these, all the stress and excitement is already behind us.

On that morning we don’t have to go anywhere, no phone rings, no hurry. - it is just us.

We cozy up, prepare a brunch together,  have long talks about life, or maybe watch a Christmas movie. For me it is maybe the most special, most genuine, part of the Holiday.

Zoltan Petho
Chair, Hungary

We spoke with Laurence Pinget about Christmas in her home town of Strasbourg.

In the Rhenish Tradition, Christmas is one of the loveliest times of the year

The oldest Christmas market is known all over the world and we are happy and proud to have it back again this year! For four hundred years this famous market has been working its magic in the European capital, Strasbourg.

The festivities begin on Friday 26th of November with the illumination of the majestic Great Christmas Tree, with its kilometres of fairy lights, and the opening of the emblematic Christkindelsmärkt.

It is a festivity that delights children, and of course adults, every year.

This year I noticed over 300 wooden chalets, spread around different squares in the city - it really is a fairy-tale atmosphere - and during the next month I will enjoy strolling through the streets, or just enjoying a glass of mulled wine, vin chaud and some Christmas biscuits called breddle with my family and friends.

I can't really adequately describe the warm, cosy atmosphere, with the delicate aromas of cinnamon and spices, truly sublime decorations and illuminations that come together to create this special atmosphere that takes over not only in Strasbourg but overall in Alsace!

Perhaps we should have a Friisberg Conference here one year!

Laurence Pinget
Paris, France

We spoke with our Polish team about their holiday plans.

On Christmas Eve in Poland, many families share oplatek (an unleavened religious wafer), each person breaking off a piece as they wish each other Merry Christmas.

Similarly, at Easter we share boiled eggs that are sprinkled with holy water by the priest.

It used to be that Wigilia (Christmas Eve) dinner could not begin until the first star appeared in the night sky, but now in many in cities we can't see many stars! Traditionally, an extra setting is still left at the table - just in case someone shows up uninvited.

There is also a tradition to put a handful of hay under the tablecloth to commemorate the fact that Jesus was born in a stable.

How do people in Poland usually spend the holidays? 

Many people visit their families. We Poles ski a lot, so many people go skiing during the Christmas holidays in Poland, but also in the Alps.

What’s your favourite holiday tradition? 

Well, most kids (and some adults!) would say getting presents! There is a lovely tradition of organising kolędowanie (singing carols). Many families throw a big party just for singing carols all evening (if you don’t sing, you don’t get a dessert!). In Poland, people spend Christmas holidays with their family, but our kolędowanie tradition enables us to also celebrate Christmas with friends.

Looking back on 2021, was it a good year?

Our unemployment rate is the lowest in the past 30 years. The mean salary also increased in 2021. For the 2020/2021 academic year there are 1.2 million students in Poland - so it seems that, against all odds, 2021 was a good year!

What are you most looking forward to in 2022? 

That the pandemic will stop and everything will go back to normal.

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