Polish Christmas Traditions (FA 01 67)
Poland celebrates Advent, four weeks of fasting and preparations for Christmas. To start it off, they have St. Martin’s Day, a celebration of the first winter and the last meat meal before they fast. On St. Martin’s they eat goose, and if the bones are white they know the winter will be snowy. If the bones are spotty, it’ll be stormy.
St. Andrew’s Day is November 30th, and with it comes a lot of fortune telling games. The first game is called Wax Pouring, where girls pour hot wax into a bowl followed by cold water and interpret the shape it makes. A second game is merely called Candle and is comprised of walnut shell with a candle in it is suspended in a bowl of water. Girls throw papers with the name of their crush on it into the bowl, and if they get it into the flame they’ll marry that person within the year. The last fortune telling game is called Slipper. Girls measure the length of a room from wall to threshold with just their shoe. A girl will start toe-heel, then heel-toe, etcetera until she reaches the threshold. If she ends with her toe facing the threshold, she’ll get a marriage proposal within a year.
During November, all the women in a village gather together to a widow’s house and spin together. They made patterned table cloths for Christmas Eve, as well as normal household items.
Polish children get small presents on December 6th (St. Nicolas Day) left near their bed or under their pillow.
December 24th is “Wilia Supper” a time for family, but they always leave an empty seat for an unexpected guest. People at the table break holy bread together and share their wishes for the future as well as their love for their family and friends. Traditionally, on Christmas Eve the angels decorate the tree and leave presents under it. Then everyone goes to a midnight “Shepherd’s Mass” where they sing Christmas carols for 2 hours then visit all the churches in town to see their mangers.
On Christmas day, after opening presents, everyone leave their homes. There are many small puppet shows performed by school-boys for cookies and petty cash.
Christmas Around the World (FA 01 2006)
On Christmas Eve, families visit graveyards to leave candles for their dead ancestors. The light from all the candles light up the graveyards and make for a beautiful display. Afterwards there is a big Christmas feast and ‘Joulupukki’ comes to give each child a present.
On Christmas day, everyone goes and sits naked in a sauna, periodically taking breaks from the 200 degree heat to roll in the snow.
Russian children must trick Santa for their presents. He’s called Dyedushka Morose, and he comes to the town’s Christmas tree to jump around inside a circle of townsfolk. The children sing songs at him, and if he can’t guess the name of the song he’ll give them a present.
Christmas Eve Traditions of a Slovak-American Family (FA 01 2100)
Christmas Eve dinner is filled traditional Slovak foods, like sauerkraut or sour mushroom soup. The table is set with a clean white table cloth with straw under the table to represent the manger of the Christ child. Candles are placed in the window to welcome the holy family into the home. Like the Polish people, they set an extra place at the table for unexpected visitors that the candles invite. They get family gifts from grandparents and siblings on Christmas Eve so they won’t be so anxious to get the presents from Santa.
Before dinner, the lady of the house puts a honey cross on the brow of each member of the family to remind them of Christ and to bless them to have a sweet new year. Family members like to make fun of the people who get the honey on their face right after it has been dipped in the jar, laughing as it slowly creeps down their face.
Twelve food items are traditional to represent the twelve apostles. Before dinner, a Catholic communion wafer is split between the family and dipped in honey. They also eat raw garlic dipped in honey to keep away evil spirits and unwanted physical affection.
Christmas Eve in Finland (FA 01 2130)
Finnish people roast ham overnight before Christmas Eve. They all decorate a tree cut out of the snowy forest, so cold and frozen that it has to defrost a bit before they can put it in the house. All preparations must be completed before noon because there is a public proclamation of Christmas Peace and then people aren’t supposed to leave the house. No one goes visiting on Christmas; they just stay inside with family.
In the evening, everyone brings candles to the grave yards for their dead loved ones. Because it is so dark in the north, the light is a welcome reminder of the sun.
On Christmas day, everyone must partake in a sauna before the feast. They all go into the hot sauna together, and get out to roll in the snow a few times. This was the only way to bathe for a long time in the winter, so if someone refused to go in the sauna, they don’t get to eat. The dinner is full of traditional Finnish food that is served in tin boxes. They eat things like casseroles, rutabaga, carrot, liver, Lutefisk, cold cut and salmon, hot chocolate, pinwheel tarts, gingerbread, and cake.
After the feast, Santa or ‘Joulupukki’ comes. He knocks on the door like a sensible person. He asks the children if they have been good before they get any presents. They have to be accountable for their own behavior. One girl admitted she had been naughty and Santa gave her a twig. After the presents are distributed, the children play with Santa for a while before he leaves.
Norse Legends Live On: Swedish Christmas Traditions at Present (FA 01 2348)
Christmas in Sweden is still called by its old pagan name Jul (Yule). A feast is held on Christmas Eve with all the family and friends. The focus is largely on remembering light during the long dark winter. They use candles to light the whole house so that it softly glows in the snow.
On December 13th, a Santa Lucia is chosen. While any girl can be the Santa Lucia for her own family, there is always one girl chosen on the city and national level. They wear white nightgowns and holly wreaths with candles in them on their heads, singing as they wake people up with cinnamon buns. There are two versions of the Santa Lucia legend. The Christian version is of a saint who was martyred instead of giving up her virtue. The Pagan version (just Lucia) is a goblin queen of questionable character who was doomed to roam the earth with her goblins.
During the winter, Swedes feed their Tomten to ask him to grant blessings on the house. A Tomten is basically a garden gnome, but it has become a kind of Santa Claus who leaves gifts on Christmas Eve, called “Christmas Doorknocks.” The gifts are good or bad depending on how the children treat the gnomes during the year.
Swedes also leave nice things for their goats to eat. Goats are the symbol of Thor, so upsetting him by neglecting his symbol was never a good idea. They change out the straw and clean up the goat’s stall, and also build a straw goat in the town center. This was adapted by Christianity because the Christ child was born in a stable, and goats were presumably there.