Slow Festive Traditions in Europe

However you choose to celebrate the festive period, there’s a sense of comfort that can be found in the magical effect that winter has on nature, and cosy traditions that evoke nostalgia around this time of year.

Below, we’ve collaborated with our local partners and friends across Slow Adventure destinations to give you an authentic flavour of the festivities that are woven into their culture. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed compiling it! If you have any questions about our destinations and Winter 2023, chat to our team.

Wishing you a happy and peaceful festive season.

The Slow Adventure Team

Valtellina, Italy

It’s a truly magical atmosphere in Valtellina over Christmas. By this time, the first snowflakes already fallen on the peaks and you’ll be treated to some spectacular, fairy-tale views. There are countless opportunities to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of mulled wine. 

Tradition is to be discovered in the many markets or in the sculptures of the nativity scenes in Talamona, Tartano and Chiesa in Valmalenco. Those who have the chance to be in Valtellina from December 24 to January 6 can experience up close the various representations of the nativity on a 2 kms hike in the woods with various nativity figures and representations.

You can also rediscover your inner child by participating in the ‘Gabinat’ on Epiphany, (6 January). The word ‘Gabinat’ originates from the German "Gaben Nacht" or night of gifts. The tradition has its roots in faraway Bavaria where the poorer people used to sing in front of the houses of the rich on the night before Christmas, New Year's Eve and Epiphany. In the hope of receiving, in return, some gift. It’s a cherished time of year for Valtellinisi children, who love to outsmart adults by being the first to greet people with ‘Gabenat’, and as tradition goes, the first to say it, is entitled to a sweet treat gift, that must be supplied by the addressee by St Anthony’s Day (Jan 17th).


Chiesa in Valmalenco in the snow
Winter in Chiesa

Suðurland, Iceland

December 23rd is really when Christmas starts in Iceland, a day we call Þorláksmessa. All the Christmas tasks are done and the season for enjoying begins. 

The most important thing about Þorláksmessa is eating fermented skate, which many Icelanders feel is a big part of Christmas. Families meet, often during lunch and cook together (usually in the garage or outside even as the smell is very strong!). Some choose to go to a restaurant to have skate which many restaurants serve only on this day. 

The day ends for many with a walk in the town where people meet friends, have a drink, enjoy the Christmas lights and do some last minute Christmas shopping as shops are open late on this day. 

If you want to start your Christmas like an Icelander, put on your winter jacket, have a walk, grab a warm drink, eat some skate and maybe see a Christmas concert.


Christmas lights in Reykjavík, Iceland
Christmas in Reykjavík

Jamtland Harjedalen, Sweden

As a country, Sweden is perfectly positioned to provide the most beautiful and traditional Christmas backdrop, and as a nation, Swedes are notably fastidious in creating a wholesome and enjoyable Christmas experience.

Advent plays a significant part in Swedish festive tradition. Traditionally, from 4 weeks before the 24th, a candle is lit for a while and extinguished, until 4 candles are lit together for the final day of Advent. Many Swedes are partial to spicy glögg mulled wine, and pepparkakor (ginger bread biscuits). You’ll often find a cured Christmas ham (Julskinka) at the dinner table, forming part of an extensive festive smorgasbord, that traditionally can take up to five trips to the table. 

As Sweden is vast and some families that travel to one another have to incorporate long drives into their festive schedules. Of course, this can mean multiple stops that take in the diversities of modern Swedish life, such as blended and step families, and time with those we simply class as ‘family’.

And finally, as you can imagine, Sweden is a great place to source the perfect Christmas tree - something that is taken quite seriously by many Swedish households!


Christmas tree outside winter cabin in sweden

Ranua, Finland

Nowhere says Christmas more than Lapland, and this region of Finland is a haven for families from around the world, who flock to visit the ‘real home’ of Santa, enjoy crisp air, thick snow and revel in the scenes from our childhood Christmas storybooks.

Finnish tradition includes a cleansing Christmas sauna, accompanied by a Sauna Vasta or Vihta, made of dried birch branches. It’s a loving and customary gesture to (gently) ‘whip’ your sauna mate.

A traditional Christmas meal typically consists of delicious, local produce, often including reindeer, root vegetables, foraged accompaniments and of course, plenty of rustic baking.


Finnish sauna

Lochaber, Scotland

Supplied by Anja of Great Glen Charcuterie

We don’t start decorating till after the 17th of December. Three of our children have their birthdays in the weeks before Christmas and wait till after Pieternel’s birthday on the 17th to start decorating.

We love going into the woods near our home and garden to pick greenery such as ivy, spruce, dried Heather and any berries and seed heads we can find. I really love to use bracken too, a fern which grows in abundance in the highlands.

We make a wreath for the door, garlands on the fireplaces and we always have a large piece (on a stick) hanging above our kitchen table. It looks like a chandelier and we hang little open glass baubles with tea lights. It makes our meals very special.

We set our dining room table with our best table wear and use special Christmas napkins which I got from Bluebellgray a few years ago. They have a very vintage feel and look like they’ve been in the family forever. I’m always picking up silver candlesticks in charity shops; we now have a large collection and use them to make a large centrepiece on the table. I always use a mix of coloured candles and add some foliage in the spaces between the candlesticks.

We always love to bake here and have many traditions when it comes to the festive seasons I love to make edible gifts for friends. In the week before Christmas there is always a dough proving to make a large batch of stollen. We wrap them in a festive tea towel and they make wonderful gifts.

Courtesy of Great Glen Charcuterie

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