The 12 Days of European Christmas: Filming (and Celebrating) Christmas All Across Europe

ROnce upon a time, for the 12 days of Christmas, we had two busy television crews a-filming: 12 carol concerts, 11 mugs of Glühwein, 10 living mangers, 9 happy families, 8 Christmas feasts, 7 Euro-cultures, 6 mistletoe kisses, 5 alternative Santas, 4 pounds of weight gain, 3 midnight Masses, 2 exhausted cameramen, and a festive hour of great new public television. (Go ahead, sing it.)

During the 2005 holiday season, my crew and I enjoyed producing a one-hour public television special we hoped would be around for many Christmases to come. As it turns out, stations all over the country air this to audiences who have come to think of watching the show as part of their holiday tradition. For a little holiday cheer here on Facebook, I’m kicking off a “12 Days of Christmas” series of video clips from our experience there.

From England to Norway, Burgundy to Bavaria, and Rome to the top of the Swiss Alps, our mission was to get you a seat at the family feast, save you a pew up in the lofts with the finest choirs, and hand you a rolling pin in Grandma’s kitchen as she labored over her best-kept holiday secrets. We joined Romans cooking up female eels, Parisians slurping oysters, Tuscans tossing fruit cakes, and Norwegian kids winning marzipan pigs. Exploring the rich and fascinating mix of traditions — Christian, pagan, commercial, and edible — we learned lots about the holiday festivities we know and love today and packed it into this special program.

Rather than feature a bunch of shopping malls and Christmas markets, our goal was to get an inside look at sacred, traditional, intimate family Christmas celebrations. We wanted to feature diverse cultures whose colorful yuletide traditions would be appreciated by American families whose ancestors emigrated from those places. Our goal: to give our viewers a look at European Christmas through the eyes of a child, a parent, and a pilgrim. This was not a “happy holidays” sales gimmick, but a true celebration of Christmas. As the increasing commercialization of the holiday season has driven me abroad for several recent Christmases, I was happy to take our crew to a continent where people aren’t counting the shopping days left until Christmas.

So, get ready. Starting tomorrow, for the next couple of weeks, we’ll enjoy a daily dose of European Christmas right here.