Do you ever wonder about how other people celebrate Christmas? Or, perhaps where some of our own traditions came from? In my travels, I have experienced first hand some of the Christmas Traditions of Germany, and have learned about others from Northern Europe. Here are a few of the traditions that we have adopted, or found to be very interesting.
Saint Nickolas Day
December 6th is the day that St. Nickolas visits the children in Germany. He brings them treats, and reminds them to be good over the next couple of weeks.
When we lived in Germany, in the 90’s, our German neighbor couldn’t believe that we didn’t know about this day, or how to celebrate it. What we found out was that the children are supposed to leave their shoes outside the door to their house, and St. Nickolas will come by, if they’ve been good, and leave them a treat in their shoes. Our neighbor was kind, and left the kids little treat bags at our door, anyhow.
School age children also get to see him at school. My German friends at the time said that this wasn’t always a pleasant experience. In less modern times, St. Nickolas would take you aside and switch your backside if you hadn’t been a very good little boy or girl. However, now he comes and reminds children to be good, obey their parents and gives them a treat.
You can read more Here.
Saint Lucia Day
In Sweden, on December 13th, St. Lucia is celebrated. St. Lucia was a martyr from the early 300’s. It is said that she would go down to the catacombs, in Rome, where the Christian were hiding, and provide them food and comfort. Since she needed her hands to carry the food, she would light a candle and wear it on her head.
The timing of St. Lucia Day coincides with the pre-christian Festival of Lights. In a country as far North as Sweden, celebrating the return of the light at the winter solstice is truly a cause for celebration.
Today, in towns and schools, a young girl is dressed up as the Saint, in a white gown, with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head. She leads a procession, singing Christmas Carols.
13 Days of Trolls
In Iceland, formally an entity of Denmark, they celebrate 13 days of Christmas with the visits of 13 trolls, called Yule Lads. Starting on the evening of December 12th, children leave a shoe on the window ledge of their bedroom, with the appropriate snack, and wake up to find a small treat in the morning.
The story goes, that these trolls live up high in the mountains, away from others. They are confined, by their mother, to remain in the cave throughout the year, only getting to go out, one at a time, at Christmas. So, on at a time, they make their way through the mountains, into town. Each troll brings a unique gift, and enjoys different snacks. One of the trolls even appreciates a chair being set in front of the window.
If you would like to learn more, I would suggest reading The 13 Yule Lads of Iceland, by Brian Pilkington.
Origins of Other Christmas Traditions
The exchanging of gifts to mark the end of the year can be traced back to the Roman era, and probably even further. While Christian traditions tell us that the exchanging of gifts is tied to the gifts the three wise men brought to Jesus upon his birth, the timing and methods of gift giving can be tied to other pagan traditions. This can certainly be seen in the timing of gift giving. Which can start as early as December 5th, and run as late as January 6th, the day of Epiphany. In Germany and other Northern countries, gifts are often left in shoes or stockings.
Cutting down, and bringing an evergreen tree into the house has Germanic origins. Evergreen plants of all kinds are seen in many of our Christmas Traditions. When you live in Northern countries the sun goes away at the end of the year, and most vegetation dies. It is easy to see the need to bring in a “living” example of life, as a reminder that the sun will return and seasons will continue.
Even, the timing of when the tree is put up differs from country to country. When we lived in Germany, we were surprised to find out that they didn’t put up their trees until December 24th. Children were often told that St. Nickolas brought the tree and the presents. Therefore, the tree wasn’t brought into the house and decorated, until the kids went to bed.
If you are curious about other Christmas Traditions, check out Why Christmas.com. They have some fascinating history about common, and uncommon traditions.