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Holiday ornaments on a tree in the Christmas Around the World exhibit.
Scotland to Wales

Trees and Traditions

Scotland

“Nollaig Chridheil”

Many symbols of Scottish culture decorate this tree, including tartans, golf, Highland dance, bagpipes, highland coos (cows), and sheep. In 1640, the Scottish Parliament banned "Yule vacations," so Scots celebrate Hogmanay (New Year's Day) instead. However, several Christmas superstitions still survive. Bees are believed to leave their hives on Christmas morning; fires are kept burning on Christmas to keep evil spirits at bay; and the morning after Christmas, Scots may check the fire's ashes for a footprint. If it faces the door, it foretells a death in the family. If it faces into the room, a stranger will visit.

Tree decorated by Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers.

Serbia

“Mir Bozji, Hristos se Rodi”

Serbian Orthodox holiday traditions follow the Julian Calendar beginning with St. Nicholas Day (December 19), when children receive gifts in their shoes. Religious icons are displayed. On Christmas (January 7), straw is spread throughout the house representing the humble stable of Christ's birth. A Badnjak (Oak branch) replaces the traditional Evergreen. Sprinkled wheat grains and hot plum brandy welcome guests. Nuts are tossed in the four corners of the room symbolizing the cross. Sprouted wheat grass reveals the coming year's bounty. A candle, decorated sweet bread (Božičnjak), and Česnica, in which a lucky coin is baked, adorn the holiday table.

Serbian cultures and traditions prepared with pride by Gordana Trbuhovich.

Slovakia

“Veselé 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 Vilija, Christmas Eve. The Vilija meal starts with oplatka, a wafer coated with honey and a hand-carved wooden črpák mug for celebrating with pivo (beer). On Vilija, a Christmas carp is placed in a tub, then meal preparations begin. Slovak tree ornaments include nuts, cookies, candies, snowflakes, candles, and Slovak crests. Additional cultural items include inventors, castles of Slovakia, and Slovak-born NHL hockey players.

Tree decorated by First Catholic Slovak Union District II.

Slovenia

“Vesel Božić”

On St. Nicholas Day, the saint visits with angels who protect good children from all evil and parklji, mischievous elves who scare misbehaving children. Slovenian families create small pine-and-ribbon Advent wreaths. One of four colored candles (three purple and one pink) is lit each Sunday during Advent, which ends the last Sunday before Christmas. Slovenians also bake potica, a traditional holiday raisin-nut bread. The ornaments on this tree are handmade, featuring traditional Slovenian motifs: silver and gold pinecones; clusters of walnuts; wooden hearts painted with popular Slovenian landmarks, poets, and writers; red glass apples; corn husk dolls; and pieces of cotton strategically placed to represent snow.

Tree decorated by Slovenian Catholic Center members.

SocialWorks

Founded by Grammy-award-winning musician and humanitarian Chance the Rapper in 2016, SocialWorks empowers the youth through the arts, education, and civic engagement. Its five initiatives give youth opportunities to learn and act on their passions with programming focusing on education, mental health, homelessness, and performing and literary arts. This year, SocialWorks' Warmest Winter Tree collaborates with the Chicago Department of Family Services, and the Salvation Army through our Warmest Winter Initiative, providing direct support for those experiencing homelessness. These ornaments were created by families who participated in a day of food and relaxation at the 2023 Taste of Chicago.

To donate and learn more about SocialWorks, visit socialworkschi.org.

Sweden

“God Jul”

Historically, Swedes made ornaments out of straw since it was the most readily available material. Candles were used in times before electricity, and apples were a special treat during a northern winter. The woven heart baskets held sweet treats, such as pepparkakor (heart-shaped ginger cookies). All of these would stay on the tree until January 13, 20 days after Christmas. Then, children hold a party, called julgransplundering, and eat all the goodies left on the tree. The yarn tomtar elves are representative of the household elf Tomten, who watches over the house all year long.

Tree decorated by Linnea (South Suburban Swedish Women's Club).

Switzerland

“Fröhliche Weihnachten” (German), “Joyeux Noël” (French), “Buon Natale” (Italian)

Switzerland is a diverse country, with its population speaking German, French, Italian and Romansh. Customs and decorations may vary from one region to the next. Many Swiss trees feature handmade ornaments. The tree is also decorated on Christmas Eve, which is a joyful family celebration. Traditional décor on this Swiss tree includes hand-blown glass ornaments from Swiss shop Glasi Hergiswil, candles, tinsel, and lights. Wrapped gifts are placed underneath the tree, as is a crèche featuring little figurines from the Nativity scene.

Tree decorated by the Swiss Club of Chicago.

Thailand

“Suk San Wan Christmas”

Less than five percent of Thai people are Christian, so Christmas is not a common celebration. 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. Thai culture is represented on this tree with classical dance symbols, Thai silk and crafts, musical instruments and flowers.

This tree was decorated by St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church.

Ukraine

“Chrystos Razhdayetsya”

The Ukrainian tree's handmade ornaments interpret the embroidery of Ukrainian regions. The tree topper is our national emblem, the tryzub (trident), which dates back to the medieval period of the 10th century when Volodymyr the Great, the ruler of Kyivan Rus, minted coins with his own image on one side and the tryzub on the other. Since February 2022, the trident has been instantly recognizable and synonymous with Ukraine. The gold bells with blue and yellow ribbons represent the bells that chime under the golden domes of Kyiv's Saint Sophia's Cathedral, ensuring that the voices of Ukrainians will be heard forever.

Tree decorated by the Ukrainian Women's League of America, Branch 85.

United States of America

“Merry Christmas”

All the ornaments on this year's tree are handmade by members of the Friends of the USA Tree using assorted materials and techniques. They include crochet, ribbon embroidery, velvet, wood, enamel, glass, basketry, sequins, and beads. There are two sets of 50-state ornaments, one wood, and the other glass-fired enamel. There are also over 100 crocheted snowflakes, all of which are unique. The eagle landing on the top of the tree has 125 pieces made from five different woods.

Tree decorated by the Friends of the USA Tree.

Wales

“Nadolig Llawen”

The Red Dragon is the symbol of Wales and is on the national flag. The daffodil is the national flower. The Welsh triple harp is the national instrument. Love spoons, birds, and the Mari Lwyd horse skull represent specific holiday customs. Holly and mistletoe have decorated homes since ancient times. Musical notes represent Welsh musicians and actors' considerable contributions to music and the arts (Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Christian Bale), singers (Metropolitan Opera star Bryn Terfel, pop star Tom Jones), and award-winning choirs. Each ornament displays the traditions and culture of Wales.

Tree decorated by the Welsh Cambrian Benevolent Society of Chicago.