Christmas Trees are very important in Germany. They were first used in Germany during the Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas eve. In some parts of Germany, during the evening the family would read the Bible and sing Christmas songs such as O Tannenbaum, Ihr Kinderlein Kommet and Stille Nacht (Slient Night).
Santa Claus or Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann) brings the main Christmas presents on December 24th. You might also write a letter to Weihnachtsmann in other parts of Germany. Some people say that Santa/Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents and some say it is Christkind!
As well as hoping for presents from Christkind or der Weihnachtsmann, children also hope that 'der Nikolaus' will bring you some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate on the 6th December (St Nicholas's Day). He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening. In some regions of Germany, there is a character called "Knecht Ruprecht" or "Krampus" who accompanies Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December. He is big horned monster clothed in rags and carries chains. He is mean to punish the children who have been bad! He is usually the one who scares the little children. In other parts of Germany, St. Nicholas is followed by a small person called "Schwarzer Peter" (Black Peter) who carries a small whip. Black Peter also accompanies St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas in Holland. In north west Germany Santa is joined by Belsnickel a man dressed all in fur. Although 'der Nikolaus' visits in December, he's not officially part of Christmas!
At small work places and school parties, secret presents are often exchanged. A door is opened just wide enough for small presents to be thrown into the room. The presents are then passed around among the people until each person has the correct present! It is thought to be bad luck to find out who sent each present.
Another tradition is the Sternsinger (or star singers) who go from house to house, sing a song and collect money for charity (this is a predominantly Catholic tradition). They are four children, three who dress up like the Wise men and one carries a star on a stick as a symbol for the Star of Bethlehem. When they're finished singing, they write a signature with chalk over the door of the house. The sign is written in a special way, so 2016 would be: 20*C*M*B*16. It is considered to be bad luck to wash the sign away - it has to fade by itself. It has usually faded by the 6th of January (Epiphany). The Sternsingers visit houses between December 27th and January 6th.
This is the UK flag
this is what UK looks like in Christmas time
Mistletoe is a plant that grows on range of trees including willow, apple and oak trees. The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that's where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from.
The dinner table is decorated with a Christmas Cracker for each person and sometimes flowers and candles.
In France, Father Christmas / Santa Claus / St. Nicholas is called Père Noël (Father Christmas). In eastern France he is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard, a man dressed in black. He might be the same person as Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands.
In France, a Nativity crib is often used to help decorate the house. French cribs have clay figures in them. During December some towns and cities, such as Marseilles, have fairs that sell Nativity figures. As well as having the normal Nativity figures in them, French scenes also have figures such as a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman and a Priest.
Epiphany is also important in Italy. On Epiphany night, children believe that an old lady called 'befana' brings presents for them. The story about Befana bringing presents is very similar to the story of Babushka. Children put stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill. In parts of northern Italy, the Three Kings might bring you present rather than Befana. On Christmas day 'Babbo Natale' (Santa Claus) might bring them some small gifts, but the main day for present giving is on Epiphany.
One of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy is the Nativity crib scene. Using a crib to help tell the Christmas story was made very popular by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 (Assisi is in mid-Italy). The previous year he had visited Bethlehem and saw where the stable, where it was thought that Jesus was born. A lot of Italian families have a Nativity crib in their homes.
St. Nicholas' day is on the 6th December, but in The Netherlands, the major celebrations are held on the 5th December. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas.
Sinterklass travels with his servants called 'Zwarte Pieten' ('Black Peters'). When Sinterklaas and the Black Peters come ashore from the steam boat, all of the local church bells ring in celebration. Sinterklaas, dressed in his red robes, leads a procession through the town, riding a white horse. Every town in The Netherlands has a few Sinterklaas helpers, dressed the same as Sinterklaas who help give the presents out. (and sometimes you might one see one or more Zwarte Pieten with Sinterklaas!)