European Folklore

European folklore or Western folklore refers to the folklore of the western world, especially when discussed comparatively. There is no single European culture, but the common history of Christendom during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period has resulted in a number of traditions that are shared in many ethnic or regional cultures of Europe.

This concerns notably common traditions based on Christian mythology, i.e. certain commonalities in celebrating Christmas, such as the various Christmas gift-bringers, or customs associated with All Souls’ Day.

In addition, there are certain apotropaic gestures or practices found in large parts of Europe, such as the knocking on wood or the fingers crossed gesture.

Matryoshka Russian Doll Russian Toy Doll Souvenir

Matryoshka, Russian Doll


Further information: Classical mythologyFolk ChristianityChristianizationGermanic mythologySlavic mythology, and Celtic mythology

The culture of Classical Antiquity, including mythology, Hellenistic religion and magical or cultic practice was very influential on the formative stage of Christianity, and can be found as a substrate in the traditions of all territories formerly colonized by the Roman Empire, and by extension in those territories reached by Christianization during the Middle Ages. This includes all of Europe, and much of the Middle East and North Africa. These traditions inherited from folk beliefs in the Roman era were syncretized with local traditions, notably Germanic, Celtic and Slavic. Many folk traditions also originated by contact with the Islamic world, especially in the Balkans and in the Iberian peninsula, which were ruled by Islamic empires before being re-conquered (in the case of the Balkans, partially) by Christian forces. The result of such cultural contact is visible e.g. in the tradition of the Morris Dance in England, an adaptation of the “moorish” dances of the late medieval period.

The result were the related, but regionally distinct, folk traditions as they existed in Europe on the eve of the Early Modern period. In modern times, and especially since the 19th century, there has been a lot of cross-pollination between these traditions, often by the detour of American folklore.

Regional traditions

  • Northern Europe
    • English folklore
      • Anglo-Saxon paganism
    • Estonian folklore
    • Finnish folklore
    • Lithuanian folklore
    • Scandinavian folklore
    • Celtic mythology
      • Matter of Britain
      • Irish folklore
      • Hebridean mythology and folklore
      • Scottish folklore
      • Welsh folklore
    • Dutch folklore
    • German folklore
  • Western and Southern Europe
    • Alpine folklore
    • Spanish folklore
    • French folklore
    • Portuguese folklore
    • Italian folklore
    • Swiss folklore
    • Folk Catholicism
  • Eastern Europe
    • Albanian folklore
    • Czech folklore
    • Hungarian folklore
    • Montenegrin folklore
    • Romanian folklore
    • Slavic folklore
      • Polish folklore
      • Russian folklore
      • Serbian folklore
      • Ukrainian folklore

See also

  • Western Folklore
  • American folklore
  • Argentine folklore
  • Australian folklore
  • Brazilian folklore
  • Ethnic groups of Europe
  • Folk Catholicism
  • European culture


  • Leach, Maria (ed.), Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and LegendNew York: Funk & Wagnalls Co, 1949.
  • Newhall, Venetia J., European Folklore: An Encyclopedia, Garland Publishing, 2005, ISBN 978-0-8153-1451-6.
  • Ziavras, Mary, “Greek Folk Stories, Old and New:, ComteQ Publishing, 2012, ISBN 978-0-615-40612-1.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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