Leaving shoes out with carrot sticks: In the Netherlands on St. Nicolas Day Eve (December 5th) it’s common for children to place their shoes near a fireplace or front door for St. Nicolas to fill with gifts. In their shoes, they place carrot sticks for his reindeer. We don’t do Santa Claus and we explain to the girls that this is a fun tradition we want them to enjoy, but mama and daddy are the ones eating the carrots and leaving the gifts. We then take this opportunity to read about the wonderful St. Nicholas and how he inspired the Santa Claus that many celebrate.
Pickle ornament: Originally thought to be a German tradition, but is now known to be a German-American one, that involves hiding a pickle among the Christmas tree decorations. The first to find it receives an extra gift. (So how did the whole “hidden pickle Germany tradition” start? An American store received glass decorations from Germany and among them was a pickle. It seemed so different and odd that a story was created to explain it and the rumour of this Germany “tradition” was started.)
An extra place setting: A Polish tradition. An extra seat and plate is prepared at the dinner table, just incase someone shows up unexpectedly. I mean, this sums up that kind of people we want our girls to be.
The advent calendar: An actual tradition that originated from Germany that consists of counting down the days to Christmas using a special calendar, many now containing little trinkets–ours consisting of books.
Visiting the ‘Christkindlmarkt’ (Christmas market): An Austrian tradition, these outdoor market sell all kinds of Christmas goodies from the end of November throughout December. While we aren’t located in Austria, we are very fortunate that our town has a Christmas market of its own.
Gifts for the animals: This is a newer tradition in France that takes place at the Zoo de la Flèche in Le Mans in which the animals are given gifts to open. Our pets receive gifts every Christmas, too–as I’m sure many homes with loved furbabies do. I can’t wait to see what the girls think about it this year.
Vasilopita, the St Basil’s Day cake: A Greek tradition that includes a hidden coin inside. The first slice is for Jesus, the second for Mary, the third for the poor people, and the fourth is for the household. Then the family members are each served a slice, beginning with the oldest. This is the recipe we try. I was introduced and encouraged to participate by a dear Greek friend many years ago.
A burning candle all night: An old Irish tradition is to light a candle on the window sill of the largest window of the house. It is lit after sunset on Christmas Eve and burns all night as it’s supposed to represent a welcoming light for Mary and Joseph. While we will burn a candle while awake, once we go to bed we switch to a battery operated one for safety (wandering pets and a candle burning without supervision is, umm, just a no here).
Nativity scene: While many households all over the world, it’s particularly popular in Italy. While the nativity is set up on the 8th of December, the manger, or rather the crib, remains empty until the night of 24th. This year my mum is offering us the one from my childhood.
Christmas crackers: A tradition in the United Kingdom, crackers are little round cardboard containers that make a bang when pulled apart. They often contain little toys and paper crowns (symbolizing the wise men’s crowns) although they can become quite extravagant. I came across these accidentally, totally thinking they were individually wrapped edible crackers. They were so fun that I’ve purchased them ever since.
Saint Lucia Day: Taking place on December 13, it is also known as the Christmas festival of light. We are fortunate because where we live, they celebrate in the evening with a parade of lights. When they girls get older, we will celebrate more traditionally.
What traditions does your family enjoy? And, if you’re Norwegian, do you hide your brooms or put them and your shovels outdoors? I’m dying to know.