Posts Tagged ‘christmas customs’

Our Silver Christmas

August 25, 2016

TIMG_20131129_211658_753his year we experienced a special celebration at our house.  It was my wife and my 25th anniversary.  It made me stop and think about the 25 Christmases that we experienced as a family.

Our first Christmas we did not have much money.  We got a Christmas tree, a star to top it, lights, and some garland; but we did not have ornaments.  My wife had some books with bead patterns for Christmas ornaments.  We must have made several dozen ornaments, bells, stars, ball ornaments filled with figures.  Many of these ornaments we still have and still put on our trees.

A few years later we had some little ones to enjoy our Christmas trees.  By this time we had some store-bought ornaments hanging from the branches.  We also had a train running around the tree.

Then came a major move from the Gulf states to the upper Midwest.  We no longer had room for the train.  The tall trees did not fit either.  We started using a 4-foot tree set on an end table.  The star and the bead ornaments were still there, and more children were enjoying Christmas with us.  We finally bought a slim 6-foot tree and started decorating the tree with color-themes.  Our favorites color themes are red and silver, blue and silver, and purple and silver.

Many of our Christmas traditions were set during this time.  Every year we set up our tree the day after Thanksgiving with all the children helping decorate.  We usually take a Saturday in December to make several kinds of cookies.  The family decides on 3 or 4 kinds of cookies to make. (At one time we let every child choose a cookie recipe to make on that day; but as more children arrived, cookie making day became a chore instead of being enjoyable so we cut down on the number of cookie choices.)  Every Christmas morning we have a hashbrown breakfast casserole.  Last year when my wife and I talked about doing something else for Christmas breakfast the children spoke up and made us know that they wanted the traditional hashbrown casserole.  Unlike many families who have turkey with all the fixings for Christmas dinner, we have an extra-cheesy, extra meaty lasagna.  It sure simplifies the clean up.

Then came another move, not so far this time.  Now we are able to comfortably set up two Christmas trees.  We decorate one tree with a color-theme and the other with our favorite ornaments.  The train has also reappeared.

The next 25 years will be full of surprises.  As the children grow and move on to make families of their own, I am sure we will be dropping some traditions and adding new ones.  The trees will lose some ornaments and gain others.  But, oh, the fun we will have getting there.

Merry Christmas!


Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole
1 lb ground sausage ( “hot” or “sage” flavored)
¼ cup chopped onions
2 ½ cups frozen cubed hash brown potatoes
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups)
1 ¾ cups milk
1 cup baking mix
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1. Cook sausage and onion in large frying pan over medium-high
heat for 5 minutes or until meat crumbles.
2. Stir in hash browns, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until sausage
is no longer pink and hash browns are lightly browned.
3. Drain mixture well on paper towels.
4. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13×9-inch baking dish.
5. A stoneware baking dish works really well.
6. Stir together the lightly beaten eggs, shredded cheese, milk,
baking mix, salt, and pepper.
7. Pour evenly over sausage/hashbrown mixture.
8. Stir well.
9. Cover and chill for 8 hours.
10. Bake covered with foil at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
11. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 minutes or until a wooden pick
inserted in the middle comes out clean.
12. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
13. You can also keep the casserole warm until you are ready to eat
by covering it with foil and putting it in a 200 degree oven.
14. Optional toppings: sour cream, favorite sauce of your choice
(picante, hot sauce). You can also garnish it with parsley.

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Christmas in Brazil

July 28, 2016

brazil_treeThose who would love to spend Christmas on Christmas Island might enjoy spending Christmas in Brazil.  Temperatures range from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  A Brazilian Christmas, a blend of Portuguese, African, and Indian customs, is a holy time of remembering the birth of Christ celebrated with close friends and family. 

Papai Noel:  Although pictured as doing so Santa Claus, or Papai Noel as Brazilians know him, does not travel by sleigh and reindeer.  Instead he travels by helicopter.  In early December thousands of children fill Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro waiting for the arrival of Papai Noel.  The helicopter lands; Papai Noel steps out, and the children flood the field.  He greets the children shaking their hands and giving them small toys, such as balloons, water pistols, whistles, and more, as gifts.  After the gift-giving Papai Noel steps to a microphone on stage and leads everyone in a sing-a-long.  Local singers and musicians accompany the throng as they sing Christmas carols and other popular songs.

Children in Brazil do not hang stockings for Papai Noel to fill on Christmas Eve.  Instead, in northern Brazil, children put their shoes by the tree, by their bed, or near a window to be filled with all sorts of small toys and goodies by Papai Noel when he arrives later that night after the children are asleep.

Papai Noel personally visits the children in the southern regions of Brazil earlier in the evening on Christmas Eve.  He takes time to talk to each child before giving presents to the child.  Often Papai Noel is a relative, a friend of the family, or a co-worker.

Presepios:  With the vast majority of Brazilians being a religious people it is not surprising that every church and nearly every home puts up a presepio or nativity scene.

Many churches display life-sized versions of the presepio including life-sized animals.  Among those animals is sure to appear a rooster to remind parishioners of the Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster).  Some church presepios are so elaborate that non-church-goers go to church to see them.

Home presepios may be set up in early December; others are not set up until Christmas Eve day.  Some are small fitting on a coffee table; others fill a whole room.  Some are simple; others are abundant.  Whether large or small, many include pieces that have been handed down for generations.

Most home presepios include the Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the three magi, angels, a star, cows, chickens, sheep, and a rooster.  One of the peculiarities of these home presepios is the figures may not be the same scale.  It is not uncommon for Jesus to be larger than some of the other figures.  Another peculiarity comes in the personal touches.  One may see Brazilian animals, Brazilian fruits, airplanes, trains, and other “impossible” figures included in family presepios.

Christmas cards:  Usually people try to send their Christmas cards so the recipients get them before Christmas; but in Brazil, people think nothing of sending their cards after Christmas.  Many cards arrive at their destinations between December 25 and January 6.

Most cards have the traditional wintery scenes showing lots of snow, Santa Claus and his reindeer, Christmas trees covered in snow, and children wrapped in heavy, warm winter clothing.  However, more cards are appearing showing traditional Brazilian weather and scenes of sandy beaches, palm trees, Christmas trees, and, more importantly, no snow.


Look for more about Christmas in Brazil at CustomsOfChristmas.com.

Christmas in Ireland

May 25, 2016

irish-christmas-cakeChristmas in Ireland, with all its religious overtones, is a time for family.  The religious nature of an Irish Christmas begins with Advent.  Starting four Sundays before Christmas Advent is a time to ponder the birth of Christ and get ready for the celebration of His birth.  It is a time for confession of sins and for expressing sorrow for wrongdoing.  One must be holy when expecting a holy Visitor.

Much must be done to prepare for Christmas.  Houses must have a thorough cleaning.  The grounds and all out-buildings get a good tidying also.  Christmas cards are sent to neighbors, friends, and family members.  Most of these cards have religious themes but Santa Claus, reindeer, and snowy landscapes may also be seen.

Christmas trees did not become a regular part of Christmas decorating until the 1960s.  Some people put their trees up the first week of December while others wait until Christmas Eve.  Electric lights, tinsel and a variety of purchased and homemade ornaments adorn each tree.

Even churches get in the spirit of the season by decorating the pillars and the altar with garlands of holly leaves.  A nativity scene is also part of every church’s display usually found near the altar, in the back of the church, or outside in front of the church.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve day final preparations are made for the Christmas celebration.  As expected, unmarried children, no matter their age or how far away they live, arrive at their parents’ house.  Most, if not all, Christmas shopping is done; but many shops stay open later than normal for those last-minute shoppers.  The house fills with glorious odors as food preparation begins in earnest.  The family goes through the house giving it a final tidying before the celebration begins.  Some of the more religious families fast on Christmas Eve until dinner when a simple meal of fish and potatoes is served.

Many families wait until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas tree.  Candles are placed in the windows.  For many the Christmas season is about to begin, with the lighting of the candles.  Traditionally the main candle is lit by either the youngest child in the family or a daughter named Mary.  Some children hang their stockings before the family goes to Midnight Mass; others wait until after mass.  After returning from mass the children go to bed.  After the children fall asleep the parents place the children’s gifts under the tree or around the room often arranged in piles on chairs with the child’s name on the chair.

Christmas morning children awaken and rush to see what Santa Claus has left for them.  Most gifts are practical, but as Irish affluence increases the gifts become less practical.  Some who did not go to Midnight Mass, and some who did, attend “First Light” Mass at either 6:00 AM or 8:00 AM.  After mass the men and boys enjoy games of hurling (a game similar to field hockey), Gaelic football (a game like soccer), shooting competitions, and hunting rabbits with greyhounds.

The women prepare the Christmas feast and deliver gift baskets to less fortunate neighbors filled with the ingredients for a “proper” Christmas dinner.  The Christmas table is covered with a linen or lace tablecloth and set with the best china, polished silver, and cut-glass stemware.  The traditional Christmas dinner may consists of roast goose or turkey (often served with ham) stuffed potatoes heavily seasoned with black pepper, mashed or roasted potatoes with gravy, and one or two vegetable dishes.  Desserts may include Christmas cake, Christmas puddings such as bread pudding or plum pudding, mincemeat pies or tarts, sherry trifle, soda scones, fairy cake, and cookies.

After the Christmas feast families stay home relaxing, talking, singing and playing musical instruments, and telling stories.  Irish history was once passed from one generation to the next via stories told at family gatherings like Christmas.  Therefore, it is not surprising that some of these stories are of family ancestry, the famine, Irish heroes and villains, the countryside, as well as the Nativity.

Nollaig Shona Duit  (Merry Christmas!)

For more information about the Irish Christmas season visit CustomsOfChristmas.com.

Christmas Recipes from Ireland

February 25, 2016

I have been doing some reading on Christmas traditions from Ireland.  Here are some recipes that may be used in many Irish Christmas dinners.  Enjoy!

Christmas Roast Turkey with Sage and Onion Stuffing Recipe

Remove the turkey from the fridge several hours before cooking as it must be at room temperature before cooking to prevent the turkey drying out in the oven.

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1lb/450g pork sausage meat
  • 2 level tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 2 level tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 oz/25g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 14lb/6.3kg oven-ready turkey
  • 4oz/110g soft butter
  • 8oz/225g streaky bacon, thinly sliced
  • 1¼ pints/1 liter poultry stock
  • 2 tbsp all purpose/plain flour
  • ¼ pint/150 ml Port
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 280 minutes
  • Total Time: 325 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8

Preparation

Heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7

  • Prepare the stuffing: In a large bowl mix together the onion, pork sausage meat, herbs, breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Slip your fingers under the skin at the neck end and loosen to create a cavity over the breast. Stuff the neck end with the onion and sage stuffing up to the breast. Tuck the loose skin underneath and secure with a fine metal skewer.
  • Smear the soft butter evenly over the breast and legs of the turkey. Lay thin slices of bacon neatly across the breast and top surface of the legs. Sprinkle the whole turkey liberally with salt and pepper.
  • Lay two large sheets of aluminum foil over a roasting tin large enough to hold the bird. Place the bird back down and fold the foil loosely over the bird leaving a roomy gap between the bird and the foil to allow steam to escape.
  • Roast in the preheated oven for 40 minutes then lower the temperature to 325°F/160°C/Gas 3 and cook for 3½ hours basting from time to time.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven, raise the temperature to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Fold back the foil on the turkey, remove the bacon and pour any juices into a jug or bowl. Return the turkey to the oven and cook for a further 30 mins to crisp the skin.
  • Remove from the oven and check the temperature with a meat thermometer placed into the thickest past of the thigh, the turkey is cooked if the temperature is 175°F/80°C. If you don’t have a thermometer the turkey is cooked if the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a small sharp knife. If the juices are pink return to the oven and cook until they run clear. When cooked, leave the turkey to rest for 30 minutes wrapped loosely with fresh foil before carving. Meanwhile make the gravy.
  • Pour all the juices from the roasting tin into the bowl or jug with the juices saved from the foil. Spoon off all the fat which will float to the surface and discard. Place the roasting tin on a high heat on the stove top, add the flour and stir to scrape up all the sediment from the tin. Cook for one minute. Pour in the port and stir well then add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the turkey juices, bring back to the boil and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the redcurrant jelly stir until dissolved then strain into a gravy boat or serving jug.

Irish Christmas Cake

Ingredients
* 2 c. butter
* 2 c. sugar
* 8 well-beaten large eggs
* 1/2 c. brandy, optional
* 1 tbsp. rose water, optional
* 1 tsp orange extract
* 4 c. flour
* 2 tsp ground allspice
* 1 tsp salt
* 1/2 c. ground almonds
* 3/4 c. whole almonds
* 1 pkt (15-ounce.) raisins
* 3 c. currants
* 3/4 c. candied cherries
* 1/4 c. minced lemon peel
* 1/2 c. minced orange peel (candied peels)

Directions
* Cream butter and sugar; add in Large eggs, brandy, rose water and orange extract and beat till fluffy. Sift flour, all spice and salt. Stir in ground almonds and stir flour mix into creamed mix. Stir in whole almonds, fruits and peels. Grease a 19-inch springform (tube-type) pan and place on baking sheet. Pour batter into pan and bake at 300 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hrs.

* Cold in pan on rack. Remove sides from pan and cold cake on rack. Frost with almond paste as follows. Place of an 8-ounce. can of almond paste in layers of waxed paper and roll to 1/8- inch thick. Press pcs against side of half the cake, repeat with second half of can. Roll another 8-ounce. can of almond paste to a 10-inch circle, 1/8-inch thick, cut center away and place circle on top of cake. pat sides and top together. Finally, frost with Royal Icing. Make icing by combining 2 egg whites at room temperature, a lb. package of powdered sugar,1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a small mixer bowl. Beat till very stiff.  Frost cake immediately because frosting gets very hard. Wrap cake well in tightly covered wrapping or possibly in container.

View this recipe online at http://cookeatshare.com/recipes/irish-christmas-cake-306703?ref=mail

First and Second Christmas Day in the Netherlands

August 24, 2015

On Christmas morning in the Netherlandsoliebollen many families attend church services especially if they did not attend the previous night.  After church services they return home for Koffietafel, coffee table, an elaborate brunch consisting of such things as smoked salmon or pate and Kerstkrans (a pastry similar to Banketletter shaped like a large wreath decorated with lemon icing, candied fruit, holly, and a red bow).  Families in most areas do not exchange gifts on Christmas day; but for those families who do, especially in the southern regions, Father Christmas brings the gifts.

Because Christmas day is a holiday of family togetherness, many families will either visit the homes of family and friends or entertain family and friends at their homes.  They will talk, play board games, listen to the radio or other recordings, watch television, attend concerts or ballets, and sing and play Christmas carols.  Throughout the day they will snack on Kerstbrood, a sweet bread filled with raisins, currants, and candied fruit peel then dusted with powdered sugar.  If the weather is cold enough during the month of December the family will go to the rivers and canals to enjoy some ice skating.

At approximately 7:00 P.M. Christmas dinner is served.  Poinsettias, holly, fresh flowers, and other Christmas greenery may decorate the table.  In many families either the youngest person or the oldest person at the table reads the Christmas story from the Bible before the meal begins.  The meal may begin with Bitterballen (small croquettes of finely minced veal or beef in an herb-laced gelatin), cocktail meatballs, Zoute Bolletjes or salted bullets (salty dabs of pastry baked to a fine crunch), Groentensoep (vegetable soup), Erwtensoep (pea soup) sometimes served with little fried meatballs, Mossel-Rijstschotel (and Indonesian-style casserole of mussels over cream-smothered rice), Haringsla (herring salad), and Matjes (salted herring).

The main course may consist of rolled beef, roast hare, roast goose, or roast venison.  Turkey is gaining popularity on the Christmas table.  Pureed potatoes seasoned with a variety of spices is also a popular item.  In many homes the Christmas dinner is served using a table-top grill.  Each guest cooks their own bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables as they eat.  Popular Christmas desserts in the Netherlands are Bessensappudding (tart currant pudding), cookies, and chocolates.

The people of the Netherlands also celebrate Second Christmas Day, December 26.  This is a day to reach out to friends and do things outside the home.  Many people attend performances both professional and amateur at churches, concert halls, and auditoriums.  These performances may be choral, instrumental, or theatrical in nature.  Churches and schools offer choral presentations and Christmas plays often depicting the story of the Nativity.  Families living in and around Rotterdam may attend the Ahoy Kerstcircus (Christmas circus) featuring a live band, aerial acts, animal acts, and clowns.  This circus has performed annually since 1917.

—————————————————————————————————————–

Oliebollen  (I would love to try these.  They sound good.)

SERVINGS 36

PREP TIME 20 mins  

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped apple (optional)
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Cooking oil for deep-fat frying
  • Sifted powdered sugar

Directions

1.  In a large bowl, stir together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt; stir in the raisins and, if you like, apple. Make a well in the center. Combine eggs, milk, the 1/4 cup cooking oil, and the vanilla; add to flour mixture. Mix thoroughly.

2.  In a large saucepan or deep-fat fryer, drop by tablespoons, 3 or 4 at a time, into deep, hot oil (365 degree F). Cook about 3 minutes or until golden, turning once. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes about 36.

 

Christmas in Mexico

February 24, 2015

Las Posada lead by children dressed as Mary and Joseph.The Christmas season in Mexico lasts about two months and is filled with traditions that have lasted, in some cases, for nearly five hundred years.

Christmas was brought to Mexico by Catholic missionaries who brought the Christian faith to the natives of Mexico after it was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.  In 1538 Fray Pedro de Gante invited all the Indians within twenty leagues of Mexico City to attend the first Christmas celebration.  These Christmas masses and the parties and feasting that surrounded the celebration became so popular that Fray Diego de Soria in 1587 received permission to hold the Christmas masses out of doors.  These outdoor Christmas masses were held nightly from December 16 to 24.  As time went on the natives of that area added their own touches to the Christmas celebrations and art to make Mexico’s Christmas celebration what it is today.

On or around December 16 families all over Mexico put up their nacimientos or nativity scenes.  This is also the first of nine nights of posadas.  The last night of posadas followed by a special midnight Mass occurs on December 24.  After Mass finishes on the 25th of December families return home to a Christmas feast of turkey, tortillas, fried peppers, vegetables, fruits, candies, hot chocolate with vanilla and cinnamon, and a Christmas salad of fruit, nuts, beets, and sugar cane sprinkled with tiny colored candies.  Other food items may be served as well or in place of these items as desired by the family.  Children may get small gifts at this time, but they usually do not receive gifts until January 6.  December 28 is El Dia de los Inocentes or Day of the Innocents.  On this day children play tricks on their friends much like children do in the United States on April Fool’s Day.  The people of Mexico welcome the new year with parties, fireworks, and lots of noise, games, and food.  January 6 is El Dia de los Reys, the Day of the Three Kings or Epiphany.  Children receive their gifts from the Magi, not Santa Claus, on this day.  During the parties and feasting on this day a cake called La Rosca de Reyes or King’s Ring Cake is served.  Baked in this cake is a small Christ Child doll.  The finder of this doll has to host a party on February 2.  February 2 is the last day of the Christmas season.  Known as El Dis de la Candelaria or Candlemas, the day is filled with huge fireworks and partying.  Each family takes the Christ Child from their nacimiento to the priest to be blessed before packing the nacimiento away for another year.

Read more about Christmas in Mexico including some very unique customs here at CustomsOfChristmas.com.


As we are now in the middle of the Easter season visit our sister site CustomsOfEaster.com to explore the origins of many of our customs of Easter.

The Cinnamon Bear advent calendar begins tonight!

November 29, 2014

The Cinnamon Bear Advent CalendarThe story of Paddy O’Cinnamon begins tonight in the Cinnamon Bear advent calendar located at www.customsofchristmas.com. Be sure to stop by every night between now and Christmas to hear the whole story.

Celebrating Advent

November 25, 2014

On November 30 our family will begin our celebration of Advent.  Advent for us is not just a countdown to Christmas.  It is a time for us to prepare for the celebration of and to remember the birthday of Jesus. Bartholomew's Passage

This year we are using a book written by Arnold Ytreeide called Bartholomew’s Passage.  It is about a young Jewish boy and his adventures just prior to the birth of Jesus.  This book is one of three interrelated books for Advent written by Mr. Ytreeide: Bartholomew’s Passage, Jotham’s Journey, and Tabitha’s Travels.  Every night we read a portion of the story until, on Christmas morning, the story ends with the main character of the story arriving at the manger where the baby Jesus lays.

This is an excellent way for the entire family to get into the Advent season.  Even our youngest child sits quietly to find out what will happen to Bartholomew tonight.

If you haven’t yet begun celebrating the Advent season or if you are looking for something new for Advent, why don’t you look for one of these books.  You won’t regret it.

 


 

The Cinnamon Bear Advent CalendarCountdown to Christmas with CustomsOfChristmas.com’s Cinnamon Bear Advent Calendar.  Taken from The Cinnamon Bear radio program the advent calendar follows the adventures of Paddy O’Cinnamon as he helps Jimmy and Judy find the silver star, stolen by Crazy Quilt Dragon, that belongs on top of their Christmas tree.  The 26-segment story, each segment 12 – 15 minutes long, begins on Saturday, November 29, and continues through Christmas Eve.  Join us and the Cinnamon Bear this Christmas season as we count down to Christmas.

 

 

 


 

Buckeyes

1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 pound milk chocolate

In a large mixing bowl, stir together powdered sugar, peanut butter, and butter until well combined.  Shape into about 30 1-inch balls.  Place balls on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Let stand for about 25 minutes or until dry.  Place water in the bottom of a double boiler to within ½ inch of upper pan.  Make sure the upper pan does not touch the water.  While balls are cooling and the water is heating, finely chop the chocolate so it will melt quickly.  Bring the water to a boil.  Remove from heat and place about ¼ of the chocolate in the top of the double boiler.  Stir until melted.  Add about ½ cup more, stir, and repeat until all chocolate is melted.  Stir until chocolate has reached 120 degrees; reheat if necessary to reach this temperature.  After the chocolate has reached 120 degrees, refill bottom of double boiler with cool water to within ½ inch of upper pan.  Stir frequently until chocolate cools to 83 degrees.  This should take about 30 minutes.  Using a toothpick, dip balls in chocolate, working quickly and stirring chocolate frequently to keep it evenly heated.  Place balls on cookie sheet.  (Chocolate will stay close to 83 degrees for about 30 minutes.  If temperature falls below 80 degrees, chocolate must be remelted.)  Store tightly covered in a cool, dry place.

Christmas Customs From Denmark

September 25, 2014

Cut and Paste Day: Usually in mid-December family and friends gather for “Cut and Paste Day,” a day to make new handmade ornaments.  Hearts, woven heart baskets, Danish flags, paper cones (to be filled with candies and nuts), three-dimensional stars, nisse (made with yarn) pine cone ornaments, little drums, and wooden figures are among the favorite handmade ornaments made on “Cut and Paste Day.”  Most, if not all of these ornaments, will be red and/or white in color just like the Danish flag.

Advent Calendars and Candles:

Like children everywhere Danish children get excited with the anticipation of the Christmas celebration. So, when December 1 rolls around, out comes the advent candle and one or more advent calendars.  Advent candles have marks on them one for each day of December leading up to Christmas.  At some point each day, a family member lights the candle.  The candle is allowed to burn to the next mark but no further until the candle is allowed to burn down to the final mark Christmas morning.

Advent calendars may be homemade or store-bought, simple or elaborate. Some may have only windows to open revealing a verse or saying about Christmas.  Others may include cookies, toys, small gifts, candles, candy, or gum for the child fortunate enough to expose the day’s goodies.  A couple Danish television stations produce a special advent calendar in the form of a Christmas show that is divided into twenty-four episodes.  These shows are like The Cinnamon Bear, Jonathon Thomas And His Christmas On The Moon, and Jump-Jump And The Ice Queen radio shows produced in the United States during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Christmas Seals: The purchasing of Christmas seals to raise money to treat children with tuberculosis began in Denmark.  In 1903, Danish Postal clerk Einar Holboell looked at all the Christmas cards and mail going through the post office and thought what if people could purchase a Christmas “stamp” to place on their packages.  He designed the first Christmas seal, had them printed, and sold them raising much money for the fight against tuberculosis thus beginning the beloved custom of purchasing Christmas seals.  Norway and Sweden were the first countries to adopt this custom followed by the United States in 1907.

Collectible Christmas plates: In 1895, the porcelain company Bing and Grondahl decided to make a special Christmas plate.  It was to be colored blue and white, involving one of the more complicated processes in plate-making.  On Christmas Eve the company made that plate a true collectible by destroying the mold.  Every Christmas since then Bing and Grondahl has created limited edition Christmas plates breaking the molds for the plates on Christmas Eve.  In 1908 Denmark’s oldest porcelain maker, Royal Copenhagen, started making its own Christmas plates following the same processes used by Bing and Grondahl.  And like Bing and Grondahl, Royal Copenhagen breaks their molds on Christmas Eve.  These plates have become the most sought after plates by plate collectors worldwide.

Learn more about Denmark’s Customs of Christmas here.

Here’s a Christmas cookie from Denmark.

Brune Kager (Brown Christmas cookies)

1 cup butter or lard
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 tsp cardamom
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
½ tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
4 ½ cups flour
¼ cup finely chopped almonds

At a low heat, melt the butter (lard), sugar, and syrup. Add the other ingredients and mix well.  Form the dough into rolls as if making refrigerator cookies.  Store the rolled dough in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.  Aging greatly improves the flavor.  Cut the rolls into very thin cookies and decorate each with half of a blanched almond.  Bake at 375 degrees F until the cookies are crisp (approximately 5 to 7 minutes).  After cookies have cooled, store in a covered jar or tin.

Christmas in France

July 25, 2014

Christmas-in-france-eiffel-tower

Christmas market in front of the Eiffel Tower

The Christmas season in France begins on December 6 with St. Nicholas Day and continues through January 6 or Epiphany. In eastern France children receive gifts of candy, fruit, and small toys from the good saint. Some of these children hit the jackpot receiving gifts on both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas day. For the religious people in France the Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas.

Houses are given a thorough cleaning. Floors are swept. Furniture is dusted and waxed. The silver is polished to a bright sheen, and the finest china is brought out to grace the Christmas board. After that the house is filled with the glorious sounds and aromas of Christmas cooking and baking.

In nearly every house a manger scene is lovingly brought out of storage and given a place of prominence in the living room. The manger scene first appeared in Avignon between 1316 and 1334 B.C. but did not become popular until the 16th century. Legend says that ancestors of St. Francis of Assisi brought the tradition with them to France. Many families have figures that have been handed down from generation to generation and may be a hundred years old or more. These scenes may be simple scenes with just the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and a few animals; or they may be very elaborate forming a complete village with many figures called santons, little saints, representing Bible characters and villagers seen in everyday life, such as a mayor, priest, policeman, butcher, and baker. Many families purchase new santons to add to their nativity scene every year at a local store or outdoor Christmas market. Even children get involved gathering moss, stones, and twigs to be included in the scenery.

At midnight Christmas Eve adults and older children attend midnight masses at beautifully decorated churches and cathedrals where joyful choirs and peeling bells welcome Christmas Day. Younger children, instead of attending mass, are sleeping dreaming of the presents they will receive in the morning.

After midnight mass families return home or visit a restaurant to enjoy a feast known as le reveillon. The foods served for le reveillon vary according to the region. Served in many courses, the meal may include such meats as roast beef, leg of lamb, goose, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, quail, grouse, and baked ham. Wild boar and venison are considered delicacies for this Christmas meal. The fish course may include all kinds of fresh water fish, oysters, snails, sea urchins, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. One region of France makes buckwheat cakes served with sour cream a must-have dish for their reveillon. Salads and fruit such as oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tangerines, and plums are enjoyed by celebrants as well as all kinds of bread. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes and an assortment of pates made with goose, duck, or rabbit liver which may be mixed with minced ham or pork are integrated into this extensive meal. Wait! The meal is not finished yet. There is still dessert. Boxes of chocolates, hard candies, candied fruit, and other pastries like tartes, pies, tartlets, petit fours, napoleons, éclairs grace the table accompanying the piece de resistance, the buche de Noel or Yule Log cake. This sponge cake is rolled with a chocolate butter cream filling and frosted with a brown icing. It is often marked with lines to make it look like a log. It may also be decorated with confectioners’ sugar, nuts, images of Pere Noel, roses, sugar or real, elves, or sprigs of fresh holly. Wine and/or champaign also accompanies the meal.

For more about Christmas in France and other Christmas customs please visit my website, http://www.customsofchristmas.com.

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