Some of my first Christmas memories come from walking through the woods with my Daddy, hunting for a cedar tree. When we found one we liked, I would hold onto the sticky, pungent branches while Daddy chopped the tree down, then I’d “help” drag the tree home. To this day, I can’t think of Christmas without remembering the odor of cedar. Mama always made a coconut cake for Christmas and we left a big piece of it, with a glass of milk, sitting on the coffee table by the tree.
When Daddy was alive, Santa came just after dusk on Christmas Eve – Daddy’s reasoning being that he came to our house first of all. Of course, Mama told me years later that the real reason Santa didn’t wait for Christmas morning was because Daddy couldn’t wait for me to have my presents. On Christmas Day, sometimes Daddy would point out “evidence” of reindeer hooves and/or sleigh tracks by the house.
Of course, when my own kids were little our family developed some of its own traditions, but the basics are pretty much the same.
Thinking about our Christmas traditions, I started wondering how others around the world celebrate this most important of all holidays.
As usual when I want to know something quickly I “Google” it, and this is just a small sample of what I found.
In Belgium, children believe it is Saint Nicholas who brings them their gifts on horseback. So instead of reindeer treats, they leave hay and carrots out for the Christmas horse.
The Christmas tree, a German custom, came to us by way of England. Christmas trees became popular during the Queen Victorian era, when the queen’s consort, German Prince Albert, introduced Christmas trees in the royal palaces. The trees were decorated with apples and other items. England is also where the tradition of hanging stockings by the chimney began.
In Italy, gifts are exchanged on January 6, the day it is traditionally believed that the Wise Men reached the baby Jesus. Italy has La Befana, who brings gifts for the good and punishment for the bad.
In the Netherlands, Santa is known as Sinterklass, and he also makes his deliveries on horseback. The children leave their shoes out, filled with hay and sugar for the horse, and in the morning, they find them filled with candy and nuts. When Sinterklass appears to the children, he takes the form of their father or another favorite male relative.
The children of Spain leave their shoes on the windowsills filled with straw, carrots, and barley for the horses of the Wise Men, who they believe reenact their journey to Bethlehem every year. One of the Wise Men is called Balthazar, and it is he who leaves gifts for the children. They call Christmas Eve Nochebuena, and families gather together to rejoice and share a meal around the Nativity scene.
In Sweden, Santa is known as “Tomte,” and they see him as a gnome who comes out from under the floor of the house or barn carrying his sack of gifts for them. He does ride in a sleigh, but it is drawn by a goat, instead of reindeer.
My favorite custom is in Switzerland, where Santa Claus is called CHRISTKIND, the Christ Child coming to bring gifts to the children dressed in all white with a golden crown accompanied by his helper, Saint Nicholas.
Whatever the traditions, or even the date, it seems Christmas is still Christmas, around the world. Let us all be mindful of the reason for the season.
Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for The Madison County Journal.