Celebrations in Europe

Family and community

As humans, we love to celebrate each other. All around the globe, people show their partners, friends, family and community their gratitude and appreciation at different times of the year.

International Children’s Day

Children are doted on at several occasions, but have their own special day as well. International Children's Day came into existence during the World Conference on Child Welfare of 1925, and is celebrated on 1 June in many European countries. Children often get to wear their most best clothes and are treated to presents, games and lavish parades or special school outings.

For adults, Children’s Day is an incentive to reflect upon important topics such as children’s rights, safety, healthcare and education.

Fête du Muguet

In France and parts of Belgium, family is at the centre of the ‘Fête du Muguet’, named after the lily of the valley bouquets gifted as a symbol of springtime and happiness.

The tradition, occurring every year on 1 May, is thought to have begun in 1560 when a knight presented King Charles IX with flowers to wish him well. From this was born the custom of handing out bouquets to the ladies at his court.

More than five centuries later, thousands of roadside stalls sell lily of the valley on this very day. It is said that whoever finds one with 13 bells will be particularly lucky in the coming year.

Community identity

Many communities across Europe have a yearly feast reaffirming their sense of belonging and honouring their shared history, characteristics and values.

Since 1990, 8 April has been designated as International Romani Day, intended as a celebration of Romani culture but also as an event to raise awareness of the persecution and discrimination still experienced by Romani people today.

Explore more: Romani people in Europe gallery

In Sápmi, a region in Northern Europe, 6 February is dedicated to the indigenous Finno-Ugric Sámi people. The date was chosen in memory of the Sámi congress in 1917, which brought together North and South Sámi for the first time across national borders to discuss common problems and challenges.

The Sámi flag was adopted many years later at the 13th Sámi Conference in Åre (1986). 

The circle symbolises both the sun and the moon, while the colors are those of the traditional Sámi costume.

Celebrations of love

On 23 April, it’s the Catalan flag that proudly waves to mark ‘La Diada de Sant Jordi’ or the feast of Saint George.

The streets and squares are filled with people celebrating love and culture, with the rose and the book as prominent symbols. The flower refers to the legend of Saint George as a knight, who - after having saved a princess from a dragon - gave her a rose born from the blood of the beast.

In accordance with this tradition, red roses are given to lovers or friends, often in exchange for a book - the latter commemorating the death and burial respectively of two great European literary personalities: Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare.

Saint Valentine's Day

Saint Valentine’s Day, originally marking the arrival of spring, originates in the Roman festival of Lupercalia which included a match-making lottery.

Explore more: Who was Saint Valentine?

Although some European countries use a different date (such as 24 February, when Romania and Bulgaria celebrate Dragobete or 12 March for Slovenia’s St Gregory's Day), 14 February - chosen by the church as Saint Valentine’s feast - has been widely known as an occasion to indulge lovers and friends since the late Middle Ages.

Explore more: Saint Gregory’s Day – the Slovene Valentine’s Day

The sending of messages goes back to the 16th century, with commercial valentines entering the market place about 200 years later.

Cards often depict Cupid the Roman god of love, or birds - believed to be mating at that time of the year - and are adorned with red hearts as a symbol for that place in the body supposed to be the seat of emotions.

Apart from written declarations of love, couples often exchange small presents (such as the lenço de namorados or lovers' handkerchief in Portugal), candy or flowers, and many of them pick this day to tie the knot. 14 February is one of the most popular wedding dates and has seen quite a few mass ceremonies happening across the globe.

Explore more: Gallery of wedding and marriage traditions from across Europe