“Christmas Around the World,” Friend, Dec. 1971, 45
Christmas is a time for singing carols, wrapping gifts, cutting star cookies, decorating the Christmas tree, and sharing with family, neighbors, and friends. Children all over the world love Christmas!
In England an immense yule log or block of wood that nearly fills the fireplace is pulled into the house by the family. According to custom, the log is lighted with a piece of yule log left from the Christmas before. This is thought to bring good luck to the household in the coming new year.
Groups of carolers called “waits” gather on Christmas Eve to sing carols and hymns.
In the homes, trees are decorated and stockings are hung in anticipation of Father Christmas. Christmas Day dinner includes roast beef or goose, and plum pudding.
According to old tradition in Norway, church bells chime to call the people to church on Christmas Eve. The beautiful Scandinavian custom of remembering the animals and birds is kept each Christmas. The farm beasts are carefully tended and the cows are given extra hay. A sheaf of wheat is saved to place on the top of a tall pole in the yard for the birds. On Christmas morning every rooftop and every door is decorated with a bundle of grain for the birds’ Christmas dinner.
As the family Christmas dinner is being prepared, an almond is put into the Christmas porridge. The lucky person who finds the almond in his porridge gets an extra gift.
People in Finland prepare for the holiday celebrations weeks before Christmas. False ceilings in their homes have frameworks of straw. The ceilings are decorated with hanging paper stars. Straw is piled on the floor, and the children sleep on mangerlike beds to remind them of the birth of the Christ Child.
Families visit with their friends on Christmas Eve, but the children beg to return home early to see if Father Christmas has left any presents for them.
Pinatas are hung from beams at Christmastime in Mexico. A pinata is a large earthenware bowl decorated to resemble a face or an animal, and filled with fruits, candy, nuts, and small toys. Children take turns being blindfolded and trying to hit the pinata with a large stick. When someone finally succeeds in breaking it, all the children scramble to pick up the goodies and each child can keep what he finds. On the eve before Epiphany, children place their shoes in windows or at the foot of their beds. If they have been good, the next morning their shoes are full of gifts from the Magi on their way to see the Christ Child.
Following a custom of long ago in Greece, mothers make fried cakes while their children watch in wonder. Christmas is a time of family get-togethers and a time for listening to stories and folk legends. December 25 is a happy day for everyone.
The Christmas tree—the tannenbaum—is the great Christmas contribution from Germany, where the tree is decorated in total secrecy and then lighted on Christmas Eve to the surprise and excitement of all.
Christmas in Germany in celebrated from December 6 to January 6. St. Nicholas comes on December 6 and gives candy, nuts, and cookies to all good children.
On the evening of January 6, after the Christmas trees are taken down, groups go “star singing.” One person carries a star on a long pole while others follow carrying lanterns. They walk through the city or village, stopping now and then to sing a carol. These star singers are symbolic of the wise men who followed the Star of Bethlehem in search of the Christ Child.
December 6 begins the holiday season in France. Watersoaked wheat is placed in dishes and the dishes are then set aside for the grain to germinate. An old folk legend says that if the grain grows fast, the farmers will have good crops for the coming year.
French children arrange a miniature nativity scene, called a creche, in their living rooms. The families sing hymns and Christmas carols, and after midnight they enjoy a special meal of oysters and sausages.
On Twelfth Night, the end of the holiday season, Twelfth Night cakes are baked with a bean or china figure inside. Whoever finds the token in his or her piece of cake is the king or queen of the party.
A kindly little man in Denmark who tends the farm animals and is responsible for mysterious happenings around the house is called Julnisse. The family cat is the only one able to see this little man who lives in the attic. Children take bowls of porridge and pitchers of milk to their attic doors before going to sleep on Christmas Eve. When they get up in the morning, they find that the food has mysteriously disappeared and that Julnisse has left gifts for everyone.
Befana is a kind ragged old witch in Italy who rides from house to house on a broomstick on Twelfth Night. She leaves presents beside the hearths for the children who have been good. If the children have been bad, Befana will leave only birch rods or charcoal ashes.
Children in the Netherlands stuff clean wooden shoes with carrots and hay and place the stuffed shoes with a dish of water on the window sill. These treats are for St. Nick’s good white horse on Christmas Eve. If boys and girls have been good, they are pleasantly surprised on Christmas morning to find that St. Nick has removed the straw and carrots and placed small gifts, toys, and other surprises in their wooden shoes. If the children have been bad, they only find rods of birch in their wooden shoes.