Christmas comes but once a year

It is the time of year when Christians around the world celebrate Christmas. The celebrations include a range of activities from attending church, to decorating trees, exchanging presents and eating traditional foods. All countries where Christmas is celebrated enjoy a variety of traditions relating to Christmas, and European countries are no exception. This post explores some of those traditions as reflected in the University Library’s collections.

Babar Christmas tree

Babar et le Père Noël (Waddleton.a.4.468)

Christmas music plays a very important part of Christmas celebration. At the UL, there are hundreds of Christmas music books in different languages, such as Weihnachtslied : Kantate für Soli, Chor, Strichorchester und Orgel (M210.d.95.39) and Noëls populaires de Provence (MR250.b.90.7). The Christmas tree was a symbol of Christianity and started probably around 1000 years ago in Northern Europe, although no one is sure when the fir tree was first used as a Christmas tree. The custom of bringing a Christmas tree into our homes as we do today is believed to originate from the German preacher Martin Luther (D. Martin Luther: Leben und Werk, 61:23.d.95.26-) around the year 1500. There are many books written about Christmas trees in UL, including Russkai︠a︡ ëlka : istorii︠a︡, mifologii︠a︡, literatura (2004.7.1064).

Babar on bike

Babar et le Père Noël (Waddleton.a.4.468)

Babar et le Père Noël (Waddleton.a.4.468) offers another view of Christmas celebrations. The Library has the fourth edition (1947) of this 1941 work, and the book features a variety of large-format colour illustrations of Babar celebrating (or, more accurately, learning how to celebrate) Christmas. This book is part of the UL’s Waddleton Collection which has a focus on the book as a physical object, especially the methods of colour printing used in its production. The narrative of the story carries Babar through a variety of activities while looking for Father Christmas, including shopping for books along the River Seine and taking a horse-drawn sledge through wintry woods with his dog (named ‘Duck’), and then skiing through the woods, before being lost and then saved by Father Christmas himself. The book ends with some classically bizarre Babar scenes: “Often, Father Christmas went for rides on a zebra. Babar accompanied him on a bicycle”, followed by Father Christmas joining Babar and his family around the Christmas tree, and then flying away to his subterranean palace to be with his little helpers.

Christmas Eve, or ‘Wigilia’, is one of the most important holidays for most families in Poland. Families do their best to make this day as happy as possible, because it is generally believed that “jaka Wigilia taki cały rok” (what Wigilia is like, the whole next year is like) (Zwyczaje, obrzędy i tradycje w Polsce, 2003.8.7973). Readers interested in Polish traditions and customs can find a selection of books on the subject under subject heading “Poland. Social life and customs”.


Weihnukka : Geschichten von Weihnachten und Chanukka (C203.c.6865)

Weihnukka : Geschichten von Weihnachten und Chanukka (C203.c.6865) was an exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin 2005/2006. “Chrismukkah” refers to mixed activities from the traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah. Chrismukkah in way demonstrates how modern changes have led to new customs through the merging of religious traditions. These new festive traditions may no longer hold their original religious significance, but they serve the purpose of maintaining a continuity of traditional activities.

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Natal, Vrolijk Kerstfeest, Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten, Buon Natale, С рождеством, Miłych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia, Gleðileg jól…

European Collections

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