On December 24, children here in the U.S. will hang their stockings (or usually weeks in advance as my kids did) and put out milk and cookies for Santa Claus. Then, they’ll go to bed and TRY to sleep. That part was always hard because of all the visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Poor kids.
But what about some of the other countries?
HOLLAND – St Nicholas arrives a month early in November with his gifts. He is dressed in Bishop’s robes and journeys in a boat with his helper who is called Black Peter and wears Spanish clothes. The pair live most of the year preparing lists of presents and writing every child’s behavior in a very large book. Many people go to Amsterdam docks to greet him. He mounts a snow horse and rides through the streets in a great parade, amid many festivities. I’d really LOVE to see this!
SCANDINAVIA – A little gnome called Julenisse puts the presents under the Christmas tree in the night. The children leave a bowl of porridge out for him.
ENGLAND – One of their customs is mummering. In the Middle Ages, people called mummers put on masks and acted out Christmas plays. These plays are still performed in towns and villages. The English gift giver is Father Christmas and he wears a long red or green robe, and leaves presents in stockings on Christmas Eve.
GREECE – St. Nicholas is important as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. (I’m sure this image would be very comforting. Not!) Greek ships never leave port without some sort of St. Nicholas icon on board.
IRELAND – Christmas lasts from Christmas Eve to the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which is referred to as Little Christmas. Red lighted candles are placed in windows on Christmas Eve to guide Joseph and Mary who look for shelter. Irish women bake a seed cake for each person in the house. After the Christmas evening meal, bread and milk are left out and the door unlatched as a symbol of hospitality.
ITALY – The Christmas season begins eight days prior and is known as the Novena. On January 6, presents are delivered by a kind ugly witch called Befana on a broomstick. The children are told that when the baby Jesus was born missed the Star, lost her way and has been flying around ever since, leaving presents at every house with children in case he is there. She slides down chimneys, and fills stockings and shoes with good things for good children and leaves coal for those who are not so good.
GERMANY – Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle.
FRANCE – On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. In the morning they also find that sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys have been hung on the tree.