O come, all ye festive words

It’s been a little while since we dug out our warm winter coats and cosy jumpers. The flowery summery dresses are hidden away at the bottom of the wardrobe again for now. In much the same way that our summer clothes have vanished from our lives, our summer vocabulary becomes a distant memory at this time of year: words like ice cream, sun lotion, lido and mosquito net have been replaced with the likes of frost, mulled wine, ice skating and blanket. It makes perfect sense, after all, the language we use reflects the reality we’re living in the moment. And right now we’re all about baking gingerbread, making sense of wishlists and decorating trees. Christmas is the theme of the winter words everyone is using right now – and we don’t just mean ourselves here in Switzerland. We’ve put together a whole list of interesting Christmas words from different countries that shed light on some of the loveliest festive traditions around the world.

illustration window

Christmas tradition in the Netherlands: Decemberzegels

Calling all stamp collectors! Love is in the air in the Netherlands, and if you’ve been keeping in touch with someone who lives there this year, you might be lucky enough to have some come through your letterbox this Christmas. The beautiful designs of Dutch Decemberzegels, or December stamps, mean that what’s inside the envelope might even be of less interest than what’s stuck on the outside. These special stamps, also known as Kerstzegels in the Netherlands, can only be used between 4 November and 3 January. One stamp covers the cost of sending a Christmas card weighing up to 50 grams by domestic mail, and you only need two to spread Christmas cheer all around the world. These special-edition stamps inspire lots of people in the Netherlands to put pen to paper and write physical cards by hand. Isn’t it much nicer to receive a card in the post than just opening e-card after e-card landing in your inbox?

Christmas tradition in Italy: Panettone

The way to a person’s heart in Italy is through their stomach, right? Nowhere radiates quite as much warmth as an Italian kitchen, where the nonna is rolling out pasta dough and stirring the ribollita every so often. So it makes sense that there are plenty of tasty traditions in Italy at Christmas too. One of those is panettone, a sweet treat that’s eaten in many Italian households at this time of year. It’s a tall, sweet bread loaf with a dome shape and a texture that’s lighter than air. The dough is filled with candied fruit and raisins, and icing sugar is often dusted on top when it comes out of the oven. Famously soft and buttery, panettone is usually served with coffee or as a dessert. Here in Switzerland, the equivalent to our Italian neighbours’ favourite festive treat is stollen.

Christmas tradition in Spain: El Gordo

Don’t worry – there’s no offence to be taken here:  El Gordo ("the fat one") isn't a reference to Santa Claus, but the legendary Spanish Christmas lottery, also known as the Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad or Lotería de Navidad. El Gordo is one of the biggest lotteries in the world – the jackpots are eye-watering. In the past, lucky winners have claimed millions and sometimes even billions of euros. The draw takes place on 22 December every year, with the excitement building even outside of Spain. This tradition started back in the 19th century, when it was introduced by the nation’s rulers as a way of filling up the state coffers and getting the population in the Christmas spirit. Who says money can’t buy love?

Christmas tradition in Sweden: Julbock

The Julbock, the Christmas goat, is as much a part of Christmas in Sweden as the Advent wreath is here in Switzerland. Usually made of straw, these festive friends come in all shapes and sizes – from tiny hanging decorations to huge statues that stand in front of the Christmas tree. Although the goat originally delivered the presents at Christmas time, that responsibility has since been handed over to Jultomte, or Father Christmas. But the Julbock is still an important Scandinavian Christmas tradition – along with Father Christmas, his reindeer and his little helpers, who are known as Nisser.

Christmas tradition in Iceland: Jólabókaflóð

Winter in Iceland is much longer and darker than it is here in Switzerland. So what could be better than snuggling up with a good book in front of the fire? That dreamy picture has given rise to an Icelandic Christmas tradition called the Jólabókaflóð – the "Christmas book flood". The Jólabókaflóð tends to begin in November, when lots of new books are published so they can be bought as gifts to put underneath the Christmas tree. What better way to show your love than with the gift of a book? The country has become known for its national celebration of reading and giving books as gifts. This tradition has also had the knock-on effect that Iceland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

Christmas tradition in England: Mistletoe

In England, mistletoe is strategically placed in people’s homes – usually in the hallway or living room. The plant symbolises love, happiness and peace. And an innocent green bunch of mistletoe with white berries is enough to get even the shiest of people coming up to you all of a sudden: tradition has it that two people standing under the mistletoe together have to kiss each other – whether they want to or not! So things can get interesting in public spaces like cafés and restaurants ... Who needs Tinder when there’s mistletoe around at Christmas time?

Christmas tradition in Greece: Kalanta

In many parts of Greece, Christmas is a time for belting out Κάλαντα or Kalanta. These are Greek Christmas carols that are often sung by children as they go from door to door to wish everyone in their neighbourhood a Merry Christmas. As you can imagine, the little singers are hopeful that they’ll receive a sweet treat as a reward for their angelic performance.

Christmas tradition in Finland: Joulusauna

Joulusauna is one of the oldest and most cherished Christmas traditions in Finland. Once all the tough manual labour was done and Christmas was approaching, families would come together to spend the afternoon relaxing in the sauna, bathing and cleansing themselves for the big day. Finns and saunas go together like reindeer and sleighs to this day, so it should come as no surprise that this tradition has stood the test of time.


Achieving goals together

  • A reliable partner

    It’s very easy to process jobs in our portal myFREELANCE and you can look forward to punctual, monthly payments.
  • Your link to Apostroph

    With Apostroph, you will have personal contact with our project management employees. They will answer your questions and help you process your orders.
  • The Apostroph community

    A lively exchange, exciting and entertaining contributions in the Language Lounge and continuing education opportunities are what make our community what it is.