Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

The European Holiday: 14 Ways to Decorate the House, from France, Sweden, and More

Search

The European Holiday: 14 Ways to Decorate the House, from France, Sweden, and More

December 4, 2018

Each year we find ourselves taken by some new tilt on holiday decorations: one year it was Scandi style, with clean-lined ornaments and plenty of charm; other years we’ve looked toward no-cost and small-space decor. This year, I’m planning a late-December trip to the snowy storybook city of Stockholm, so I’ve been inspired by the (varied) old traditions of western Europe. From France to Sweden to Ireland, here are a few ways to decorate for the holidays like the Europeans do.

England: Trim the mantel.

While you’re decorating the tree, don’t forget to make the mantelpiece merry. “Deck the mantel with fir garlands and decorate it with pine cones, candy canes, and Christmas decorations,” says London-based designer Rita Konig. “Then use the fireplace to gather the presents and hang the stockings.” Read more of Rita’s tips in Expert Advice: 8 Decorating Ideas for an English Holiday. Photograph by Justine Hand from DIY: Minimalist Holiday Mantel, $10 Edition.
Above: While you’re decorating the tree, don’t forget to make the mantelpiece merry. “Deck the mantel with fir garlands and decorate it with pine cones, candy canes, and Christmas decorations,” says London-based designer Rita Konig. “Then use the fireplace to gather the presents and hang the stockings.” Read more of Rita’s tips in Expert Advice: 8 Decorating Ideas for an English Holiday. Photograph by Justine Hand from DIY: Minimalist Holiday Mantel, $10 Edition.

France: Set out thirteen desserts.

Do as the French do and let sumptuous bowls of food double as decor. Here—following the Provençal tradition of Thirteen Desserts—nuts, dried fruit, and sweets look elegant when displayed in mix-and-match cut glass and silver heirlooms. Photograph by Anson Smart from Christmas in Burgundy: At Home with the Expat Family Behind the Cook’s Atelier.
Above: Do as the French do and let sumptuous bowls of food double as decor. Here—following the Provençal tradition of Thirteen Desserts—nuts, dried fruit, and sweets look elegant when displayed in mix-and-match cut glass and silver heirlooms. Photograph by Anson Smart from Christmas in Burgundy: At Home with the Expat Family Behind the Cook’s Atelier.

Sweden: Channel Saint Lucia.

“Last week I got to attend Santa Lucia mass in Malmö, Sweden, by way of a friend’s Instagram story,” writes Alexa. “While I’d rather be there in person, I did enjoy the benefits of modern armchair travel as I watched the long-haired girls in candle crowns on repeat.” Channel Sweden’s tradition, 11 nights before Christmas, of lighting candles to bring light to winter darkness. These 5 Scandi Circular Candleholders in Brass evoke the traditional crowns.
Above: “Last week I got to attend Santa Lucia mass in Malmö, Sweden, by way of a friend’s Instagram story,” writes Alexa. “While I’d rather be there in person, I did enjoy the benefits of modern armchair travel as I watched the long-haired girls in candle crowns on repeat.” Channel Sweden’s tradition, 11 nights before Christmas, of lighting candles to bring light to winter darkness. These 5 Scandi Circular Candleholders in Brass evoke the traditional crowns.

Denmark: Invest in festive stamps.

Among Denmark’s many holiday traditions (see: the entire concept of hygge), one of the most charming is Danish Christmas seals, in which an artist (or, occasionally, the Queen, who possesses surprising artistic talent) designs a special-edition set of postage stamps for the holiday season. It’s a tradition that’s been going for well over a century. Buy a few of past years’ collections at Present and Correct (this one is a set from 1962), or source a similarly festive set from the post office for all of your holiday postage needs. For more tiny European finds to tuck into stockings, see Holiday Gift Guide 2018: 12 Petite Gifts from the Old Country (aka Europe).
Above: Among Denmark’s many holiday traditions (see: the entire concept of hygge), one of the most charming is Danish Christmas seals, in which an artist (or, occasionally, the Queen, who possesses surprising artistic talent) designs a special-edition set of postage stamps for the holiday season. It’s a tradition that’s been going for well over a century. Buy a few of past years’ collections at Present and Correct (this one is a set from 1962), or source a similarly festive set from the post office for all of your holiday postage needs. For more tiny European finds to tuck into stockings, see Holiday Gift Guide 2018: 12 Petite Gifts from the Old Country (aka Europe).

France: Make a pomander.

Who knew this old-school holiday favorite traces its roots to France? Pomanders (from pomme d’ambre,  meaning “amber apple”) were originally worn or carried as an early form of perfume in the Middle Ages. Make this simple version with cloves to hang in the house or give as a gift; for instructions, see Gift Guide: 3 Last-Minute DIY Holiday Gifts.
Above: Who knew this old-school holiday favorite traces its roots to France? Pomanders (from pomme d’ambre,  meaning “amber apple”) were originally worn or carried as an early form of perfume in the Middle Ages. Make this simple version with cloves to hang in the house or give as a gift; for instructions, see Gift Guide: 3 Last-Minute DIY Holiday Gifts.

Ireland: Hang holly and ivy.

Before Christmas trees caught on, the Irish traditionally hung mistletoe, ivy, and holly (considered a “noble” wood) to ward off evil spirits. Cuttings are widely available at floral shops, tree lots, and even grocery stores; tie them into swags, set them in vases, or hang tiny bundles on a wall, as seen in DIY: Holiday Decor for Small Spaces.
Above: Before Christmas trees caught on, the Irish traditionally hung mistletoe, ivy, and holly (considered a “noble” wood) to ward off evil spirits. Cuttings are widely available at floral shops, tree lots, and even grocery stores; tie them into swags, set them in vases, or hang tiny bundles on a wall, as seen in DIY: Holiday Decor for Small Spaces.

Norway: Set out gløgg.

 Sweden is known for gløgg—the warm mulled wine with spices, and sometimes spiked with port or brandy—but Norwegians partake in it, too. Ceramic wine cups will keep the drink hot—and warm hands. For our favorites, see 10 Easy Pieces: The New Ceramic Wine Cup, and for a similar recipe, see DIY: Mulled Apple Cider, With a Secret Ingredient on Gardenista.
Above: Sweden is known for gløgg—the warm mulled wine with spices, and sometimes spiked with port or brandy—but Norwegians partake in it, too. Ceramic wine cups will keep the drink hot—and warm hands. For our favorites, see 10 Easy Pieces: The New Ceramic Wine Cup, and for a similar recipe, see DIY: Mulled Apple Cider, With a Secret Ingredient on Gardenista.

Germany: Add intricate carved-wood scenes.

“My paternal grandparents (last name Hotz, or Hötz, as it was intended) decorate their home each year with heirloom decorations from Germany, things like hand-carved carousels with tiers of taper candles and miniature wooden houses,” says Alexa in our recent roundup of Garnet Hill gifts. Follow in traditional German folk art traditions with intricate carved-wood Christmas decor, like this tree topper from Schoolhouse, or a tiny carousel powered by candle smoke. See more in The 10 Best Holiday Decor Finds, Nordic Christmas Edition.
Above: “My paternal grandparents (last name Hotz, or Hötz, as it was intended) decorate their home each year with heirloom decorations from Germany, things like hand-carved carousels with tiers of taper candles and miniature wooden houses,” says Alexa in our recent roundup of Garnet Hill gifts. Follow in traditional German folk art traditions with intricate carved-wood Christmas decor, like this tree topper from Schoolhouse, or a tiny carousel powered by candle smoke. See more in The 10 Best Holiday Decor Finds, Nordic Christmas Edition.

Austria: Light an advent wreath.

Borrow a tradition from Austria, and so many other European countries, by lighting—with care and supervision—an advent wreath. (Concerned about safety? Swap in faux clip-on lights.) You can make this one yourself; see DIY: Simple Advent Wreaths Made from Foraged Flora.
Above: Borrow a tradition from Austria, and so many other European countries, by lighting—with care and supervision—an advent wreath. (Concerned about safety? Swap in faux clip-on lights.) You can make this one yourself; see DIY: Simple Advent Wreaths Made from Foraged Flora.

England: Set crackers around the holiday table.

Crackers are a traditional addition to holiday tables in the UK, as seen here, in Holiday Tables Fit for an Englishman: Ben Pentreath’s City and Country Picks.
Above: Crackers are a traditional addition to holiday tables in the UK, as seen here, in Holiday Tables Fit for an Englishman: Ben Pentreath’s City and Country Picks.

Italy: Have a ceppo.

Ceppo is the (far more romantic) Italian term for what we call a yule log. (It can also refer to a triangular display featuring a nativity scene, tiny gifts, and more.) All the more reason to keep a festive fire going through the season. Photograph from Villa Lena: A New Creative Hub (and Hotel) in Tuscany.
Above: Ceppo is the (far more romantic) Italian term for what we call a yule log. (It can also refer to a triangular display featuring a nativity scene, tiny gifts, and more.) All the more reason to keep a festive fire going through the season. Photograph from Villa Lena: A New Creative Hub (and Hotel) in Tuscany.

Portugal: Set out your shoes.

Some Portuguese families leave shoes by the fire in lieu of a tree, for Pai Natal to fill with gifts. Photograph by Issha Marie from Peasant Chic: Atelier St. George in Vancouver
Above: Some Portuguese families leave shoes by the fire in lieu of a tree, for Pai Natal to fill with gifts. Photograph by Issha Marie from Peasant Chic: Atelier St. George in Vancouver

Finland: Feed the birds.

In Finland, animals are central to the celebrations—and farmers and homeowners hang out wheat or seeds to help feed winter birds. Do something similar with Gardenista’s DIY Grapefruit Bird Feeder, which makes use of discarded citrus rinds. Photograph by Justine Hand from A Winter Berry Garden to Feed Birds.
Above: In Finland, animals are central to the celebrations—and farmers and homeowners hang out wheat or seeds to help feed winter birds. Do something similar with Gardenista’s DIY Grapefruit Bird Feeder, which makes use of discarded citrus rinds. Photograph by Justine Hand from A Winter Berry Garden to Feed Birds.

Switzerland: Light a fire.

Bundle up after hitting the slopes—or just against the cold winter weather—with a fire in the fireplace or wood stove, as the Swiss do. Add Swiss specialities like raclette and chocolate accordingly. Photograph by James Brittain Photography from Swish Chalet: An Alpine Remodel by Jonathan Tuckey.
Above: Bundle up after hitting the slopes—or just against the cold winter weather—with a fire in the fireplace or wood stove, as the Swiss do. Add Swiss specialities like raclette and chocolate accordingly. Photograph by James Brittain Photography from Swish Chalet: An Alpine Remodel by Jonathan Tuckey.

For more European holiday decor, see 13 Favorites: European Christmas Ornaments. And for more easy holiday decor ideas from the archives, see:

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

From our network