Hi, I'm Rick Steves, and it's Christmas time in Europe.
From manger scenes to mistletoe, from Norway to Rome, we're celebrating all over the continent.
And thanks for joining us.
[ Background orchestra plays "Joy to the World" ] In melting pot America, Christmas is celebrated year after year with traditions that came over on the boat with our ancestors.
In this holiday special, we're traveling back to the old country, to places of rich variety and deep roots.
We'll explore the history behind our much-loved traditions.
Joining friends and families across Europe, we'll discover a Christmas that's both familiar and different.
England is filled with voices singing in the season.
The short days around the solstice bring Norwegians out to celebrate the light of Christmas.
Families, friends, and food are the centerpiece of the French Noel.
An angelic Christmas presence fills Germany and Austria with magical wonder.
Italy reveals the sacred nature of the season, from its countryside to its holiest shrines.
Nature in all its wintry glory seems to shout out the joy of the season in Switzerland.
And everywhere Christmas is celebrated with family, including my own, as together, Europe remembers the quiet night that that holiest family came to be.
While each European culture gives Christmas its own special twist, they all follow the same story of how the Son of God was born on Earth, as told in the Bible and illustrated over the centuries by great artists.
The Christmas story begins with the Annunciation: "An angel sent from God with a message "for a young woman whose name was Mary.
"And the angel said, "'Fear not, for thou shalt bring forth a son, "'and you will name him Jesus.
"'and he shall be called the Son of the Most High and his kingdom will have no end.'"
"And it came to pass, "that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, "that all the world should be taxed.
"And Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth, "went to Bethlehem to be taxed, "with Mary, who was expecting a child.
"And while they were there, "she brought forth her firstborn son "and laid him in a manger "because there was no room in the inn.
"In that region, there were shepherds, "keeping watch over their flocks by night.
"An angel of the Lord came to them, and said, "'Fear not, for behold, "'I bring you good tidings of great joy.
"'For unto you is born on this day in the city of David, "'a savior, who is Christ the Lord.'
"And suddenly there was a multitude of angels "proclaiming: 'Glory to God in the highest, "'and on Earth peace and good will to all.'
"And the shepherds said, 'Let us go to Bethlehem,' "where they found Mary and Joseph "and the babe lying in a manger.
"Now, after Jesus was born, there also came wise men.
"And a glorious star, which they saw in the east, "went before them.
"Guiding them, it stood over where the child was.
"The wise men knelt down and worshipped the child, "giving him gifts: Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The long-awaited Messiah had arrived."
This is the story that Christians have celebrated through the ages.
We don't really know on which day Jesus was born.
Historians argue it was likely in the spring, as shepherds were "tending their flocks."
But, in the 4th century, a pope declared December 25th to be the official birthday of Jesus.
Why that date?
Christianity was newly legal in the Roman empire, and the clever pope figured it would be smart if the biggest Christian festival coincided with the biggest pagan one: winter solstice.
And throughout the land, people -- Christians celebrating the birth of the Son and pagans celebrating the return of the sun -- have been rejoicing ever since.
For scenes straight out of a box of old-fashioned Christmas cards, we head to England, to the city of Bath.
Here, in the heart of the old town near the magnificent medieval abbey, Bath hosts an annual Christmas market.
- Woman: Hello.
- Man: Hello.
Mulled wine please?
Carols are a deeply ingrained part of the English Christmas tradition.
The custom goes back to Shakespeare's day.
Today, young and old sing their way through the season.
Here the Bath Abbey Choir of Boys and Men are performing a carol concert by candlelight.
[ Choir singing "Oh, Holy Night" ] [ Introduction to light, staccato melody ] [ Choir singing ] As is the case just about anywhere, it's in the countryside that families celebrate Christmas in the most down-to-earth style.
My friends Maddy and Paul and their kids, Theo and Leila, are looking for a living tree, which they'll decorate and then plant at home.
Maddy: That the right size?
Yeah...OK. Paul: You think it would look good with the fairy on top?
I like it.
It's a new twist on an old tradition, with a wink to the nature-worshipping pagans who once haunted these parts.
Decorating with greens goes back to the druids who adorned their temples with swags of evergreen.
For pagans, living greens in the dead of winter represented the persistence of life.
And for Christians, evergreens are a reminder of the gift of everlasting life.
During this hectic season, getting together to bake Christmas goodies while the little ones decorate edible ornaments, is a fine way for busy mums to enjoy some time together.
Maddy's recipe for mince pies harkens back to the days of Henry VIII.
Back then, the dried fruits, spices, and shredded meat for the filling were so expensive that only the wealthy could afford to make a mince pie.
According to tradition, 12 pies should be eaten during the 12 days of Christmas to ensure good luck each month of the coming year.
Woman: Don't let me forget those mince pies, Maddy.
But it's the Christmas pudding that's the real centerpiece of a traditional English holiday meal.
♪ Now bring us some figgy pudding.
♪ ♪ Now bring us some figgy pudding.
♪ ♪ Now bring us some figgy pudding.
♪ ♪ Now bring some out here.
♪♪ Put this one up here.
Like a lot of us, Maddy and Paul are opting for a simpler, less commercial style of Christmas, and that's reflected in their family traditions.
Little Theos and Leilas wouldn't always have been so involved in the family activities.
Childhood as we know it really began in 19th-century England with the new middle class.
And at Christmas those stern Victorians gave themselves permission to indulge their children.
[ Talks indistinctly ] The English tradition of caroling starts very young.
We're visiting Theo's school as the students take center-stage at the 14th-century village church for a very special Christmas concert.
♪ ...here we go off to Bethlehem ♪ ♪ on a cold and frosty morning ♪ ♪ We're going to be taxed in Bethlehem, ♪ ♪ Bethlehem, Bethlehem ♪ ♪ We're going to be taxed in Bethlehem ♪ ♪ on a cold and frosty morning ♪ ♪ There is no place in Bethlehem, ♪ ♪ Bethlehem, Bethlehem ♪ ♪ There is no place to Bethlehem ♪ ♪ on a cold and frosty morning ♪♪ [ Applause ] [ Children singing "Jingle Bells" ] Christmas is drawing near, and tonight these lucky kids are taking a train through the woods to meet Santa, or as the English know him, Father Christmas.
Father Christmas: Come on in now.
Come on in and stand just there.
And you stand just there.
You come across there.
Tell me your names.
Now, what's your name?
What's your name?
And what's your name?
Now then, most important.
What do you want for Christmas?
I don't know.
Just some surprises.
I'm very good at surprises.
And what do you want?
Well, I haven't written my list out yet.
So we're going to wait for your list, and when it comes, I'll be ready for it.
Now, are you going to do something for me?
Are you going to leave me something out on Christmas Eve?
What are you going to leave me?
Mince pies and wine!
And are you going to leave a carrot for the reindeer?
We'll check back with Theo and Leila on Christmas Eve.
While children on their best behavior ask Santa for the toy of their dreams, my wish right now is a chance to hear one of finest chamber choirs in England, the Sixteen, filling a church with timeless sounds of the season.
Woman soloist: ♪ the holly and the ivy ♪ ♪ trees that's both well-known ♪ ♪ of all the trees that grows in woods ♪ ♪ the holly bears the crown ♪ Chorus: ♪ the rising of the sun ♪ ♪ the running of the deer ♪ ♪ the playing of the merry harp ♪ ♪ sweet singing in the choir ♪ Male soloist: ♪ the holly bears a bark ♪ ♪ as bitter as any gall ♪ ♪ and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ ♪ ♪ for to redeem us all ♪ Chorus: ♪ the rising of the sun ♪ ♪ the running of the deer ♪ ♪ the playing of the merry harp ♪ ♪ sweet singing in the choir ♪ Woman soloist: ♪ the holly and the ivy ♪ ♪ trees that's both well-known ♪ ♪ of all the trees that grows in woods ♪ ♪ the holly bears the crown ♪ Chorus: ♪ the rising of the sun ♪ ♪ the running of the deer ♪ ♪ the playing of the merry harp ♪ ♪ sweet singing in the choir ♪♪ Leaving the tranquility of the English countryside behind, London offers Christmas fun fit for a queen and streets twinkling with joy.
There's magic in the air.
Or...is that snow?
Here in Trafalgar Square, in the heart of the city, a winter wonderland has been created just for the day.
[ Exclaiming ] [ Laughing ] It's a lovely snowy day, isn't it?
Father Christmas has dropped by for the wintry fun, and London's town crier is in fine form as he passes out mince pies and holiday cheer.
Nearby at Somerset House, once a grand palace, the courtyard has been transformed into an ice-skating rink, elegant enough to make a commoner feel like royalty.
At Covent Garden, shoppers can find classic toys for tots at Benjamin Pollock's famous toy shop, in business since the 1880s.
The joy and peace of the Christmas season bring both people and countries together.
This giant spruce, a gift from the citizens of Oslo, is a reminder of the friendship forged between Britain and Norway during World War II.
And Norway is where we're headed next.
Here in small-town Norway, Christmas is celebrated with a unique intimacy and a Scandinavian flair for community.
We're in Drobak, about an hour south of Oslo.
While it's Norway's self-proclaimed capital of Christmas, Drobak feels like any idyllic town on a fjord.
It's Santa Lucia Day, December 13th, one of the darkest days of winter and an important part of the Scandinavian Christmas season.
All over Nordic Europe, little candle-bearing Santa Lucias are bringing light to the middle of winter and the promise of the return of summer.
These processions are led by a young Lucia wearing a crown of lights.
[ Children singing "Santa Lucia" in Norwegian ] ♪ ...Santa Lucia ♪ ♪ Santa Lucia ♪♪ [ Applause ] This home has housed widows and seniors for over 200 years, and today the kindergarteners are bringing on the light in more ways than one.
The children have baked the traditional Santa Lucia saffron buns -- the same ones these seniors baked when they were kindergarteners.
Taking their cue from Santa Lucia, Norwegians, cozy in their homes, brighten their long, dark winters with lots of candles, white lights -- you'll never see a colored one-- and lots of greenery.
In Norway, as in the rest of Europe, pagan symbols -- like the evergreen tree -- survive disguised as Christmas traditions.
The same is true with this sprig of mistletoe.
In Scandinavia, it's associated with the Viking goddess of love.
For Celtic people, it was a sacred plant.
They used it to heal the sick and enhance fertility.
For most of us, it's just a handy excuse to steal a little Christmas kiss.
Oh, that's a mistletoe.
The Norwegian spirit of Christmas extends even to the departed.
Candles flicker in graveyards as families remember lost loved ones.
And all over Norway, communities gather together in churches just like this as choirs cap Santa Lucia Day with a concert.
[ Choir singing "Angels We Have Heard on High" ] ♪ ...glo...ria... ♪ ♪ In excelsis deo ♪♪ And as the congregation follows the Santa Lucias out, more light of Christmas spills into this little fjord-side community.
[ Choir singing "Santa Lucia" in Norwegian ] ♪ ...Santa Lucia ♪ ♪ Santa Lucia ♪♪ A common theme across cultures is a legendary gift giver -- not always fat and jolly -- who kids butter up with treats.
While I grew up leaving Santa Claus milk and cookies by the fireplace, the kids here leave a bowl of porridge out by the barn for the Julenisse.
These mischievous elves-from-the-forest visit each Christmas, not on reindeer, but with a horse, pig, and mouse entourage and a bag of gifts.
Every good child knows the Julenisse is coming with an exciting reward.
Just up the fjord, Norway's capital, Oslo, celebrates Christmas with a more urban charm.
Streets are decorated, locals not ready to rely on the Julenisse, are out shopping, and good cheer is abundant.
[ Shrieking ] Christmas in Oslo feels low-key.
You'll find it best not on the streets or in the malls, but in the homes, with friends and in music.
Youthful voices fill the city's oldest church.
The old Aker Church, which dates back to the 12th century, hosts the Norwegian Girls' Choir for an Advent concert.
[ Choir singing carol in Norwegian ] ♪ ...in excelsis deo ♪♪ [ Loud applause ] We'll check back with the Santa Lucias and the Julenisse later.
And while Norway awaits the return of the sun, further south, Paris creates its own light.
Paris is nicknamed Europe's "City of Light" for its incandescent energy and effervescent culture.
In the dark of winter, the city's best-loved icon, the Eiffel Tower, brilliantly heralds this happy season.
By night, Paris' biggest department stores dress up the streets.
Printemps is pretty in pink, and the Galeries Lafayette has woven an exquisite embroidery of lights.
And all along the Champs-Elysées, it's a festive forest of 2,000 twinkling trees.
[ Bells chiming ] By day, the signs of Christmas are more subtle but can be found everywhere.
The best-dressed trees are seen here in the Pompidou Center.
Where else but in Paris will you find avant-garde Christmas trees making a fashion statement?
With visions of Versace dancing in their heads, inspired fashionistas can bundle up their wish lists and head to the designer boutiques on the Rue Royale.
Christmas in Paris is elegantly understated, and the city yields unexpected moments.
Turn a corner, and you just might find yourself in a stylish arcade all wrapped up in red.
Busy Parisian shoppers fuel up on the city's street food: Steamy crêpes... and hot roasted chestnuts.
Man: Joyeux Noel!
And neighborhood brasseries are full of friends slurping fresh oysters rushed in from the Brittany coast.
Oysters are favorites at Christmas, which makes perfect sense as they're plump and delicious this time of year.
'Tis also the season of elegant edibles.
Foie gras, a pâté made from goose liver and a smidge of cognac, is especially popular during holidays.
And chocolate shops and patisseries -- wonderful any time of year -- get even better at Christmas.
There are chocolate chestnuts... Yummy yule logs... And delights fit for a king.
Even sophisticated Paris rolls out the magic carpet for children.
French families from all over the country rendezvous at the windows of the grand department stores.
Displays are especially designed to enchant the little ones.
And stools provided by thoughtful stores make sure that even the tiniest tot enjoys a good view.
During Christmas, the Eiffel tower becomes the highest ice-skating rink in Paris.
Kids ride ponies at Luxembourg Gardens... And the city's magical Manèges de Noel, the carousels of Christmas, spin memories.
A clear, cold day brings out Parisians, trying to soak up as much sunlight as possible on these, the shortest days of the year, while a dusting of snow brings out hopes for a white Christmas, like at home.
Whether you're young or just young at heart, Christmas in Paris is the stuff of dreams.
If Paris is a grandam strutting her Christmas finery, then Burgundy, where we're heading next, is her pious country cousin.
[ Choir singing in French ] Burgundy lies in the quiet, religious heart of this mostly secular nation.
France's most venerable abbeys are here, and their spirit seems to animate the small villages throughout the region.
Ancient traditions survive comfortably here.
This 13th-century abbey resonates with the rich sounds of the French group Phonema, singing medieval carols just as they were sung centuries ago.
[ Singing continues ] A sense of community runs strong in rural France, and it expresses itself in simple rituals shared by families and friends.
In Burgundy, no one goes without.
Communities take good care of one another year-round, with special treats at Christmas.
This amiable village mayor, accompanied by her entourage, gets into the spirit of things by delivering baskets of delicacies to the elderly for the Christmas Eve feast.
[ Both speaking French ] This morning my friends the Berteloots are shopping for seasonal fare at the Saturday market.
[ Speaking French ] [ Speaking French ] Fine food's at the center of life in Burgundy, even in the dead of winter.
Right about now the truffles are at their pungent best.
[ All speaking French ] Delphine and Emmanuel prepare for the grandest culinary event of the year.
The French call their Christmas Eve feast "Le réveillon de Noel."
[ Speaks French ] At home the family's busy preparing for the big event.
The children are decorating candles to set on the windowsill on Christmas eve to light up the dark on that night so filled with anticipation.
[ Speaking French ] [ Speaking French ] And the tree's not quite done until capped with a star.
[ Both speak French ] In the kitchen, Delphine slices her foie gras... Then devotes herself to the centerpiece of the réveillon: Filet of beef wrapped in brioche.
Stretching the pastry is a two-person job.
After generously grating local truffles the beef is tenderly wrapped and ready for the oven.
And there's still the serious business of selecting the perfect wine from the cellar.
Soon guests will be arriving.
This time of year, when the days are short and the nights are long, it's customary to leave a welcoming light in the window.
We'll be back when dinner's ready.
But first, we've got some shopping to do...in Germany.
When it comes to traditional holiday images, Germany's Bavaria is the heartland.
Here we'll savor classic holiday themes: Glittering trees, old-time carols, and colorful Christmas markets.
These markets, called Christkindl markets, enliven squares throughout Germany.
The most famous is here in Nuernberg.
It's a festive swirl of the heartwarming sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas.
Long a center of toy making in Germany, a woody and traditional ambiance prevails.
Nutcrackers are characters of authority: Uniformed, strong-jawed, and able to crack the tough nuts.
Smokers, with their fragrant incense wafting, feature common folk like this village toy maker.
Prune people, with their fig body, walnut head, and prune limbs, are dolled up in Bavarian folk costumes.
And hovering above it all is the golden Rausch angel, an icon of Christmas in Nuernberg.
"Rausch" is the sound of wind blowing through its wings.
It's a favorite for capping family Christmas trees.
Bakeries crank out old-fashioned gingerbread -- the Lebkuchen Nuernberg -- using the original 17th-century recipe.
Back then, Nuernberg was the gingerbread capital of the world, and its love affair with gingerbread lives on.
Shoppers can also munch the famous Nuernberg bratwurst, skinny as your little finger... And sip hot spiced wine.
As in so many cultures, kids love their local version of Santa Claus.
While Santa is a legend, his character is based on St. Nicholas, a kind and generous bishop who actually lived in Turkey in the 4th century.
Holiday gift-giving, especially in Catholic regions, is often associated with the feast day of St. Nicholas, December 6th.
But Germany is Luther country.
Back in the early 1500s, the Great Reformer, Martin Luther, wanted to humanize the Christmas story by shifting the focus away from the saints and back onto the birthday boy: Jesus.
Rather than jolly old St. Nick bringing the goodies on December 6th, Luther established the idea that gifts would be given on the 25th by the Christ child or, in German, "Christkind."
[ Speaking German ] [ Laughing ] But for kids, it was hard to imagine the little baby in the manger delivering gifts, so an angel served as the gift-giving Christ child.
And somehow the angel came to be represented by a young girl.
She spends her reign spreading the joy of the season.
The Christkind concludes by telling the enthralled children, "if you're very, very gentle, you can touch my wings."
Nuernberg's favorite angel then leads her fans into the children's section of the market where expertly bundled kids enjoy a Christmas wonderland.
[ Children shouting ] Now we cross the border into Austria to the town that to me always feels like Christmas: Salzburg.
With its old town gathered under its formidable castle, Salzburg celebrates the holidays with an Alpine elegance.
[ Horseshoes clopping ] Christmas-y shopping lanes delight browsers.
Markets are busy as shoppers gather last-minute holiday decorations and perhaps a fresh sprig of mistletoe.
[ Gunshots ] These Tiroleans celebrate the season in noisier fashions, as well.
[ Gunshot ] From the castle ramparts, high above town, traditional gunners fire away as they have since the days when they really believed these shots would scare away evil spirits.
[ Gunshots ] Salzburg, nicknamed "the Rome of the North," has a magnificent cathedral inspired by St. Peter's at the Vatican.
Locals here in the town of Mozart pack the place to mix worship with glorious music.
[ Orchestra playing; Choir singing ] [ Bells chiming "Silent Night" ] It was here, in the region of Salzburg that the most-loved carol of the Christmas season, "Silent Night," was sung for the first time nearly 200 years ago.
According to legend, a local priest went out one Christmas night to bless a newborn baby.
As he walked home in the snow, he was so moved by the stillness of the starlit and holy night that he wrote a poem about it.
He gave the poem to Franz Gruber, the organist in his church, who composed a simple tune.
On Christmas Eve, 1818, the carol was sung for the first time accompanied only by a guitar.
[ Plucks introductory notes ] Both: ♪ stille nacht ♪ ♪ heilige nacht ♪ ♪ alles schlaeft...♪ Austria is one of Europe's more traditional corners.
Its strong Catholicism and a love of heritage shine especially brightly at Christmastime in the countryside.
♪ ...hochheilige Paar ♪ ♪ holder knabe ♪ ♪ im lockigen haar ♪ We're visiting the Weissacher family farm.
- "Frohe Weihnachten!
Kommt herein, bitte."
This family happily shares its love of the season with a guest.
Like just about anywhere, part of Christmas is making cookies with grandma.
More unique to Austria is this ritual in which the dad blesses the home with incense as his daughter follows with holy water.
The prayer is for a healthy and happy new year.
Maria teaches her daughters how the advent wreath marks the four weeks of Advent: The season of preparation leading to the advent, or arrival, of Jesus.
Ancient peoples were the first wreath makers.
For Christians, that evergreen circle came to symbolize everlasting life.
The candles, one for each week, reminded them that the birth of their Savior was approaching.
Austrians lovingly decorate their tree, but keep it secret and hidden from the children until December 24th arrives.
We'll check back a little later to see what Christmas brings.
From here in the Alps, we journey to a grand city that was the capital of the Western world on that first Christmas 2,000 years ago and remains a leading city in Christendom today: Rome.
This is home of the Vatican City, headquarters of the Roman Catholic church and some of Europe's most sacred Christmas traditions.
For centuries, pilgrims have hiked from all over Christendom to this great city.
Domes and ancient obelisks still serve as markers, lacing together relics and sacred stops...
Including the tomb of St. Peter, marked by the greatest dome anywhere.
And through the ages, pilgrims have stopped here at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
The faithful believe the original planks from Jesus' crib are in this ornate container.
And here in the capital of Catholicism, each Christmas, lovingly constructed manger scenes, called "presepi," pop up all over town.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with assembling the first manger scene in 1223.
He used it as a tool to teach people the story of the first Christmas.
Since then, in the creative teaching style of St. Francis, manger scenes often put Bethlehem in a local context.
Instead of the Middle East, Italians have long set the Holy Family right here in Italian settings.
St. Francis knew that by putting Jesus in a place people would recognize -- their own neighborhood -- the faithful could relate more easily to the story of His birth.
And presepi range from the very traditional to the very surprising, like this one that imagines the Nativity in an Eskimo village.
The ultimate manger scene is back on Rome's ultimate square.
St. Peter's is where the pope celebrates midnight mass each Christmas Eve.
For Roman families there are more than just manger scenes to see.
For centuries this lively square, Piazza Navona, has hosted a boisterous village-like holiday market that stays busy until Epiphany in January.
The Christmas season in Europe stretches for well over a month, not to maximize shopping days, but to fit in the season's many holy days.
Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas Eve.
Then comes the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th.
Santa Lucia Day is on the 13th, and Europeans don't wrap things up on the 25th.
The 12 days of Christmas stretch from the 25th through January 6th.
That's Epiphany, the day the three kings finally delivered the gifts.
In Italy on Epiphany, La Befana, a popular Christmas witch, flies over the rooftops filling children's stockings with candy...or coal.
Between visiting their manger scenes and Christmas witches, many Italians are shopping for their big Christmas eve dinner.
[ Shouts in Italian ] When it comes to a festa, Italians like to buy fresh and local, and lucky Romans enjoy an abundance of farmers markets.
La vigilia, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, calls for all the trimmings.
Here in Rome, that's lots of veggies and a nice big female eel.
As anywhere, Christmas in Rome is a time of giving.
The spirit of charity is especially alive in this neighborhood, which has come together for a special holiday meal.
At the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, tables have replaced pews and the poor are enjoying a feast prepared and served by the community.
It's a joyful occasion, and by all accounts those doing the giving feel as blessed as those they feed.
Outside of Rome, in villages in regions such as Tuscany, Christmas celebrations are a little more rustic.
The festivities, while low-key, are memorable.
During a busy season that sometimes feels overwhelming, village life can be refreshingly simple.
These jovial friends are playing an old game.
The idea is to toss the panforte, the local fruitcake, close to the edge of the table without having it slide off.
[ All talking in Italian ] [ All exclaim ] [ Woman calls to child ] These children are flip-flopping the gift-giving tradition.
Boy: Buon Natale.
They're delivering another Christmas treat, panettone, a rich brioche made with raisins and citrus, to older folks who have no family nearby.
Woman: Buon Natale!
While providing a bright spot in this grandma's day, the child experiences the joy of giving.
Woman: Buon Natale!
And today the children have another important errand.
It's time to post their letters to Babbo Natale, the Italian version of Santa Claus.
This special mailbox mysteriously appears each Christmas.
[ Men singing Gregorian chant ] Sacred music and prayer infuse this tranquil landscape.
Here at the 15th-century abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, reclusive monks celebrate their faith in a timeless fashion as if one with the communities they serve.
[ Chanting continues ] And in this town, the people are doing a dress rehearsal for a "presepio vivente," or living nativity.
On Christmas Eve in this simple cloister they'll recreate the town of Bethlehem on that holiest of nights.
Monks: ♪ Amen ♪♪ In the countryside, you'll appreciate how sacred traditions have deep roots.
Here in this medieval Tuscan hill town, villagers stack neat pyramids of wood for great bonfires.
The lighting of the fires is a signal to villagers, dressed as shepherds, to come and sing old carols.
[ All singing in Italian ] It's a reminder that through the ages Italy's humble shepherds entertained the faithful as they gathered by fires to warm themselves and await the arrival of Christmas.
[ Singing continues ] While Italy has the rich history, magnificent manger scenes, and grand churches, the spirit of Christmas can be experienced everywhere in Europe.
High in Switzerland, where the churches are small and villages huddle below towering peaks, the mighty Alps seem to shout the glory of God.
Up here, Christmas fills a wintry wonderland with good cheer.
[ Bells clanging ] In these villages, traditions are strong, [ clanging continues louder ] And warmth is a priority.
Ovens are small so wood is, too.
My family has arrived for a Swiss Alps Christmas.
Along with our kids, Andy and Jackie, my wife, Anne, has joined me here in the tiny village of Gimmelwald where we're having some fun with our friends Olle and Maria and their kids.
[ Shrieks and laughter ] Yahoo!
Olle is taking us high above his village on a quest to find and cut the perfect Christmas tree.
Ollie: What do you think?
Andy (offscreen): I like it a lot.
Yeah, this is a good tree.
I think we should cut it.
[ Various people exclaiming ] [ Indistinct talking and laughter ] Still high above Gimmelwald, we're stopping in a hut for a little fondue.
- Anne: We've got the tree.
- Jackie: Yes!
Olle: That was quite a bit of work.
Rick: This feels just right in the winter, doesn't it?
Maria: When it's cold outside, it's perfect.
"Figugegl" means, um... "Fondue isch guet und git e gueti Lune" And it means in English "fondue is delicious and gives a good mood."
Rick: So if you have a party, it's going to be -- Maria: Yes, everybody knows what "figugegl" means.
Rick: If there's fondue, it'll be a good ambience.
[ All laugh ] It's impossible not to linger in this cozy setting.
Before we know it, the light outside begins to fade.
Rick: Here's to a happy Christmas.
[ All laugh ] As the sun sets, we've got our tree and take an unforgettable ride home to Gimmelwald.
[ Laughing, shrieking ] Back in the village, the kids take the tree home, and we've been invited to enjoy another Christmas tradition.
While I grew up opening windows on a paper Advent calendar, up here the windows are real.
25 homes decorate a window for each day of Advent.
The sense of anticipation is the same as, day by day, Christmas approaches.
[ Bells jingling, sheep bleating ] Advent is all about anticipation.
And for the kids, much of that anticipation is about presents: Rewards for being not naughty, but nice.
And as we've seen, throughout Europe each culture seems to have its own version of Santa Claus, who serves parents by providing children incentives for good behavior.
Here in the Alps, it's Samichlaus -- that's Swiss-German for "St. Nicolas" -- and his sidekick, Schmutzli.
My son, Andy, is playing Samichlaus this year.
Olle's son, Sven, is playing Schmutzli.
And the donkey is playing himself.
Each year, Gimmelwald's children anticipate a visit from this dynamic Christmas duo.
Samichlaus surprises the children and checks in his ledger to see if they've been doing their chores.
Have you been feeding the cows lately?
[ Speaks Swiss-German ] Then he might ask for song or a poem.
Samichlaus: What would you like to sing?
[ Sings in Swiss-German ] And the performance is always followed by a treat from his big bag of gifts.
I hope you have a merry Christmas.
See you next year.
[ Everybody laughing ] Mission accomplished, and it's time for dinner.
Back home, Grandma and Grandpa have joined the gang as we settle into a classic Swiss Christmas Eve.
After dinner, both our families gather in the living room.
Lighting the candles is a treat our children will always remember.
[ Man reading in German ] Three generations come together as Grandpa reads from the old family Bible.
[ Continues reading in German ] The evening's capped off with the sharing of gifts.
[ Exclamations, appreciative comments ] Christmas Eve is finally here, and right about now, all across Europe, our friends are celebrating this long-anticipated night in their own unique ways.
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound...
In England, the family snuggles together, anticipating the arrival of Father Christmas.
[ Crowd singing carol ] Up in Norway, they're joining hands in song.
In Burgundy, a toast starts the réveillon.
And Delphine's beef is finally done.
[ Exclamations and applause ] In Austria, the children discover what their grandparents have been hiding from them.
Final touches are made to the Bethlehem being created in Tuscany.
[ Bell pealing ] And at the Vatican, people pack St. Peter's, as millions around the world share a sacred and glorious Midnight Mass.
♪ all seem to say throw cares away ♪ ♪ Christmas is here bringing good cheer ♪ ♪ to young and old, meek and the bold ♪ ♪ ding, dong, ding, dong, that is the song ♪ ♪ with joyful ring, all caroling ♪ ♪ one seems to hear words of good cheer ♪ ♪ from everywhere filling the air ♪ ♪ oh, how they pound, raising the sound ♪ ♪ o'er hill and dale, telling their tale ♪ ♪ gaily they ring, while people sing ♪ ♪ songs of good cheer, Christmas is here ♪ ♪ merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas ♪ ♪ merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas ♪ ♪ Christmas is here bringing good cheer ♪ ♪ to young and old, meek and the bold ♪ ♪ ding, dong, ding, dong, that is the song ♪ ♪ with joyful ring, all caroling ♪ ♪ one seems to hear words of good cheer ♪ ♪ from everywhere filling the air ♪ ♪ oh, how they pound, raising the sound ♪ ♪ o'er hill and dale, telling their tale ♪ ♪ gaily they ring, while people sing ♪ ♪ songs of good cheer, Christmas is here ♪ ♪ merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas ♪ ♪ merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas ♪ ♪ on, on they send on without end ♪ ♪ their joyful tone to every home ♪ ♪ on, on they send on without end ♪ ♪ their joyful tone to every home ♪♪ And as Christmas Day dawns, a joyful chorus heralds the birth of Jesus.
[ Loud chorus of bells pealing ] [ Bells fade away ] Happy Christmas!
Buon Natale a tutti!
Ho, ho, ho, Frohe Weihnachten!
All: God Jul!
[ Bell clanging ] Oyez!
I wish you all a very merry Christmas!