Trolls, carps and defecating shepherds: How Europe toasts Christmas

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Hundreds of millions of people across Europe will wake up on Christmas Day and rush to their tree to open the presents left for them.

But although that Christmas tradition is seemingly universal, others are very typical of just one country and range from the boisterous — rowdy carols — to the slightly inconvenient — keeping a carp in the bathtub.

Here’s a round-up of how Europeans celebrate Christmas differently.

Icelandic children start receiving their presents on December 11 — and no, it’s not because of their proximity to the North Pole — but naughty ones get something unpleasant delivered in their footwear by a band of mischievous tricksters collectively known as the Yule Lads.

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While most countries decorate their cities with a depiction of Father Christmas or a nativity scene, in Spain, one of the ubiquitous sights adorning squares is that of a defecating shepherd. Santa is also not necessarily the gifter-in chief in some parts, but goal mongers by the names of Olentzero and Apalpador.

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In such a land of food and with stark geographic and climatic differences between the north and south, there is no single Christmas menu. Northern Italians, who are more likely to huddle around a fireplace favour hearty, meaty meals while in the south, where Christmas dinner can be enjoyed al fresco, fish is more de rigueur.

In any case, pasta rules the table!

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The Christmas meal features a carp and tradition dictate that you keep it in the bathtub until December 24. Nowadays, however, carp sellers lining the streets in the run-up to the holiday, prepare it for the more squeamish.

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Gifts are not delivered by Santa or coal mongers but by Baby Jesus, as is the tree and any post-holiday stupor or food coma is swiftly dealt with a traditional dip in a river.

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