Several elven characters visit Norwegians during the holiday season. Julenisse, a short elf with red hat and beard, much like Santa, brings gifts for good children. Fjonisse lives in the barn and cares for animals. He is a trickster though, and families must give him Christmas Eve porridge to keep him at bay. Norway’s tree features brightly painted Norwegian Rosemaled painted ornaments, traditional folk art, heart baskets, candles, yarn nisse and Norwegian flags.
All of the decorations on the tree are from the Philippines, and most have been crafted by hand. Many are made with pineapple fiber, beautifully colored capiz shells, bamboo and leaves from tropical trees. The ornamental stars replicate a paról, or a star-shaped lantern made with bamboo and paper that adorn homes throughout the country. This star represents the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Kings to the manger, in addition to the victory of light over darkness, much like the Filipinos’ hope and goodwill during the holiday season. Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated as early as September and lasts through January. The country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season.
In Poland, Christmas Eve is known as Wigilia (vigil). Early in the evening, family members share the oplatek, or Christmas wafer. Poles wait for the first star to appear in the sky before sitting down to dinner. The meatless meal may be either a 12-course feast to symbolize the 12 apostles, or seven dishes representing the seven sacraments. With full stomachs, families share the oplatek with friends and neighbors. Livestock and pets are included in the sharing; after all, animals witnessed Christ’s birth in the manger as well. This year’s Polish tree features ornaments all made out of feathers, and all are handmade by retired girl scouts, boy scouts and current Legion members who volunteer their time each year. Nearly 400 new ornaments are produced for each tree, as well as a tree topper, tree skirt and nearly 50 yards of garland. In Poland, handmade ornaments are made out of tissue paper, wrapping paper, egg shells, beads and straws to create something unique from basic items.
The instruments, including the national symbol of the cuatro guitar, hanging from the tree celebrate the Puerto Rican holiday tradition of Christmas caroling, known as parranda or asalto. Friends and families get together in groups, or trullas, late in the evening to go from house to house, singing traditional songs and playing many instruments. The participants aim to surprise their friends by waking them with music. As the night progresses, the group becomes larger and larger as people from each house join the group to the next asalto. The cuatro guitar on the tree symbolizes the national instrument of Puerto Rico. While Christmas is celebrated in Puerto Rico, the more popular holiday is January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Día de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day.
Romania’s tree is decorated with a variety of handmade ornaments, like glass Christmas trees, puppets dressed in national costumes, walnuts, apples, and ornaments in the national colors of red, yellow and blue. Romanian families decorate the Christmas tree while enjoying food and songs. Guests and carolers are welcomed to people’s homes for a three-day period, starting on the evening of December 24. This celebration is about 2,000 years old and honors the nativity of Jesus.
The Russian tree is decorated by children adopted from Russia and their families, serving as thanks to Russia and a celebration of Russian culture and tradition. It includes traditional black lacquer ornaments handcrafted in Russia, as well as ornaments gifted by Russian schoolchildren. Many of the new additions this year were handmade by children at Kaleidoscope Eastern European Culture Camp. Among the ornaments are important symbols such as Grandfather Frost on his troika pulled by three horses and the beautiful Snowmaiden. Look closely to see other tributes to Russia, including important Russian architecture, musicians such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, ballet, the elegant Borzoi, matryoshka nesting dolls and more. Russia is a diverse country, and people celebrate many winter holidays like Orthodox Christmas and New Year's Day.
On the Scottish tree are traditional symbols of Scottish culture. Tartan is the traditional woven fabric of the country, while other decorations feature golf, highland dance, bagpipes and St. Andrew's flags. During the 16th century, the Reformation banned Christmas in Scotland, and for some 500 years, Scots celebrated New Year’s Day (Hogmanay) instead. However, several Christmas superstitions survived. Bees are believed to leave their hives on Christmas morning. Fires are kept burning on Christmas to keep evil spirits at bay. The morning after Christmas, Scots may look at the fire’s ashes for a footprint. If there is a footprint and it faces the door, a death in the family is foretold; if the footprint faces into the room, a stranger will visit.
Mir Bozji, Hristos se Rodi
The Serbian creche displays items representing Serbian Orthodox Holiday traditions, like Holy icons, customary straw weavings, candles, wheat grains, decorated festal bread, oak branches and costume pieces. Serbian holiday traditions begin with St. Nicholas Day on December 19, when children receive gifts in their shoes set out the night before. Wheat grains are planted in a dish, and however much it has grown by Christmas represents the bounty that is to come the coming year. Christmas is celebrated on January 7, and Serbians distribute straw around the home to represent where Christ was born. A holy icon of the nativity is displayed, and nuts are tossed in four corners of a room to symbolize the sign of the cross. Instead of a Christmas tree, families have a badnjak (oak branch) still bearing its leaves and decorated with colorful ribbons and fruit. Hot plum brandy is traditionally served, and an ornately decorated sweet bread is the holiday table centerpiece. A coin is baked into another Christmas bread, and whoever finds it is granted joy.
The holiday season in Slovakia begins with the first day of Advent and the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 and continues through Three Kings Day on January 6. Slovakia’s foremost celebration takes place on Vilija, Christmas Eve. The Vilija meal starts with oplatka, a wafer coated with honey and eaten with a clove of garlic. Slovakian ornaments on the tree include nuts, cookies. candies, snowflakes, candles and Slovak crests. Other homages to Slovakian culture include inventors and inventions, the castles of Slovakia, and hockey. A handmade nativity scene and special LEGO®-built Christmas scene, in honor of temporary exhibition Brick by Brick, sit underneath the tree.