Trees and Traditions
On St. Nicholas Day, the saint visits children with mischievous elves (parklji) who scare children who have misbehaved during the year. Slovenian families create small pine and ribbon Advent wreaths. Each week leading up to Christmas, one blue or white candle is lit. They also bake potica, a traditional raisin nut bread enjoyed especially during the holidays.
St. Lucia Day is celebrated December 13. Before dawn, the youngest girl in the family dresses in white robes and a red sash and serves her family coffee and St. Lucia buns. Atop her head she wears an evergreen wreath with tall white candles. "Star boys" accompany her wearing white shirts and pointed hats. In Swedish homes, Christmas is time for a true "smorgasbord" (a buffet of countless dishes), including lutefisk (fish soaked in lye to make it more tender) and rice porridge. An almond is hidden in the porridge and the eligible man or woman who finds it will be married the next year.
Joyeux Noël (French), Fröhliche Weinachten (German), Buon Natale (Italian)
On Christmas Eve, a beautiful angel, dressed in white with a golden crown, appears to announce the arrival of the Christ child. Upon her arrival, the family lights the candles on the Christmas tree as she distributes gifts to the children. Sternsingers ("starsingers") dress as the Three Wise Men and carol throughout their community.
Suk San Wan Christmas
Less than five percent of Thai people are Christian, so Christmas is not a national celebration. However, with Western influence, children may dress in Santa costumes, sing, dance and play holiday party games. The Thai New Year (Songkran) in April is a more widely celebrated holiday.
A Ukrainian Christmas Eve includes a 12-course meatless dinner with kutia (a sweet grain pudding), borscht, fish, crepes, varennyky (dumplings), holubtsi (cabbage rolls) and stewed fruit. A stalk of wheat called didukh often decorates the table, a symbol of the harvest and homage to ancestors.
Santa Claus lives in the North Pole with Mrs. Claus and countless elves who make toys in an enchanted workshop. On Christmas Eve, Santa is whisked through the skies in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Children across the United States hang stockings from the fireplace with the hope that Santa will fill them with treats. If they've misbehaved, they may receive lumps of coal instead! Many homes are decorated with a real or artificial Christmas tree (under which additional gifts are placed), plus lights and illuminated decorations outside. On Christmas morning, children wake early, eager to unwrap the gifts Santa has left.
Calennigs are considered to be good luck for the harvest and for peace and prosperity in the coming year. Families stud an apple or orange with cloves and place it atop three twigs. A sprig of greenery tops the decoration. In some Welsh communities, a resident is chosen to be the Mari Lwyd. Dressed in white, he carries a horse's skull atop a long pole, and anyone who is "bitten" by the horse must give money. In some areas, being greeted by the gray mare is considered to be good luck.
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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)
For children visiting the exhibit, this take-along guide provides activities to learn more about the cultures represented in our annual holiday celebration. (Suggested for grades 2 - 8.)