Traditional Christmas Greeting: God Jul
Several elfin characters visit Norwegians during the holiday season. Julenisse, a short elf with a red hat and beard, is much like Santa, bringing 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 mischief at bay. Traditional Norwegian holiday foods include lutefisk (dried cod) and a minimum of seven different types of cookies. Yum!
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Maligayang Pasko
A pageant known as panunuluyan takes place Christmas Eve. As Midnight Mass is about to begin, a young couple re-enacts Mary and Joseph's search for shelter. The couple arrives at church, just as Midnight Mass starts. Colorful star lanterns called parol, crafted with bamboo and paper, adorn homes throughout the country, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Wesolych Swiat
In Poland, Christmas Eve is known as Wiglia (after "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 includes 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 also witnessed Christ's birth in the manger.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Feliz Natal
On Christmas Eve, families gather for a traditional feast called a consoada, where they eat codfish, boiled potatoes and sprouts. For dessert, the spiced Bolo Rei (King Cake) is served and everyone searches for the broad bean hidden inside. Children must wait to open their gifts from Pai Natal (Santa Claus) until after the "Rooster's Mass" at midnight.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Feliz Navidad
Christmas is celebrated in Puerto Rico, but the more popular holiday is January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany also known as Three Kings Day (Dia de Reyes). On the evening before, the Three Kings-Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar-visit and leave gifts for Puerto Rican children. In anticipation, youngsters fill shoeboxes with grass to feed the Kings' camels.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Crăciun fericit şi un an nou fericit
Romanian families make an intricate wooden star placed atop a long pole, covered with paper, bells and ribbons. This "steaua" depicts a nativity picture with a lit candle placed inside. Families travel from home to home, carrying their steaua, reciting poetry and singing songs. These religious, somber and elaborate carols are an important part of a Romanian Christmas.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Vesyoloye Rozhdyestvo
Long ago, Russian children would dress as barn animals and sing kolyadki (carols) to neighbors, receiving treats in return. The tradition is still observed in some parts of Russia. From 1917 (the Russian Revolution) until the early 1990s, Christmas was replaced with a non-religious winter festival. Today, Christmas follows the Julian calendar, taking place on January 7.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Nollaig chridheil
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.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Mir Boziji, Hristos Se Rodi
Following the Julian calendar, Serbians celebrate the "Nativity of Christ" on January 7. The morning before, Serbian fathers take their eldest son to chop down (or in more recent times, buy) a young oak tree called a "badnjak." A traditional holiday treat is cesnica, bread with a gold coin baked inside. Good luck comes to the one who finds the coin!
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Vesele Vianoce
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 Christmas Eve (Vilija). The Vilija meal starts with oplatka (a wafer coated with honey and eaten with a clove of garlic).
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Trees and Traditions Podcast
Hear about the international holiday traditions on display in Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light.
Get the "Christmas Around the World" and "Holidays of Light" exhibit guide, including the events, hours, a map and activities. (PDF file)