The way we celebrate Christmas is as diverse as our team at scoutbee. Of course, many of our bees don’t celebrate Christmas at all because they belong to religions or cultures other than Christianity. But a great meal with family and friends and some beautiful presents are enjoyed by all. Here we give a few examples of how our bees celebrate. Ho ho ho.
In Serbia, Christmas is celebrated for three consecutive days, and there are many traditions. On these days, one is to greet another person by saying “Peace from God, Christ is born” (Mir Boziji, Hristos se rodi) which should be responded to with “Truly He is born” (Vaistinu se rodi). Early in the morning on Christmas Eve (Badnje vece), the head of the family goes to the forest to cut down a young oak tree (called “badnjak”). In the evening, the badnjak is brought into the house and placed in the fireplace to burn. Badnjaks are also burned in huge fires in front of churches nationwide. The ritual includes Vespers, placing the badnjak on the open fire, blessing or consecrating the badnjak, and an appropriate program with songs and recitals, mulled wine and rakija. It is believed that, if there are a lot of sparks, it is a sign of good luck in the year ahead. Before the meal is served on Christmas Eve, straw is placed under the table where it stays for three days. “A polažajnik” is the first person who visits the family on Christmas Day. People expect that this will bring prosperity and well-being to their household in the new year.
Given that the Christmas lunch is supposed to mark the end of the seasonal fast, there is an abundance of meat dishes on offer, with most families eating “pecenica”, or roast pork and potatoes. Other delicacies that often grace the festive table include “sarma” (stuffed cabbage leaves), regional varieties of soup and, of course, the nut pastry baklava as a sweet.
On Christmas morning, the lady of the house traditionally also makes “cesnica”, a special type of seasonal bread. A coin is added to the dough mix, and the family member who finds it in their slice can expect success and good fortune in the coming year.
In the US, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December. Leading up to Christmas we decorate our houses, put up Christmas lights, hang stockings, and put up our Christmas tree (real or fake). Many churches hold Christmas Eve services on the 24th where families come together to sing and begin to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
For the children and families who believe in Santa, Christmas Eve is important. Before the children go to bed, they leave out cookies and milk for Santa (and sometimes carrots for the reindeer). Usually, the kids go to bed early so they can wake up early on Christmas Day to see what presents Santa has brought.
In my family, on Christmas morning, we wake up and eat breakfast together before opening stockings and gifts with our immediate family (e.g., mom, dad, siblings). Around noon, we have a larger Christmas gathering with the extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins). We begin by eating a meal together. The “traditional” Christmas dinner is similar to Thanksgiving dinner (e.g., turkey or ham, mashed potatoes, etc.), but my family eats something different and non-traditional every year. After our meal, we gather around in a circle and open our presents. Then comes dessert – cookies, brownies, pie, eggnog, and much more. Finally, we spend the rest of the day playing games and just spending time together as a family.
Depending on the size and dynamics of the family, many families have more than one day of Christmas celebrations. In my family, Christmas Eve is for one set of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and Christmas Day is for the other.
In Bulgaria, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. Many countries in Eastern Europe celebrate Christmas on January 7th as most Orthodox Churches use the old Julian Calendar, but the Bulgarian Orthodox Church uses the Gregorian calendar, so Christmas is on December 25th.
For many Bulgarians, the preparations for Christmas start with Advent which lasts 40 days in the Orthodox Church and starts on November 15th.
One Bulgarian legend is that Mary went into labor on “Ignazhden”, December 20th (Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s Day) and she gave birth on Christmas Eve but the birth of Jesus wasn’t announced until Christmas Day. The 20th is also the traditional “new year” in Bulgarian culture. It’s traditional to eat a special ring-shaped cake called “kolaks” on this day.
Christmas Eve (called “Budni Vecher”) is a very important day and the main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening.
The meal should have an odd number of dishes (normally 7, 9 or 11) and an odd number of people sitting around the table. (Salt, pepper, and sugar can count as separate dishes!) Straw is often put under the tablecloth, and you might even bring a wooden plough into the house and put it behind the door! These are meant to help you have good crops the following year.
There’s a special round decorated loaf of bread called “pita” which has a coin baked into it. If you find it, you’re meant to have good luck for the next year. The bread is normally cut by the oldest person at the table and they hand it around.
It’s normally a rich vegan meal and includes different dishes, such as bean soup, “sarmi” cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, peppers stuffed with rice, boiled wheat with sugar and walnuts, different kinds of pastries, some kolaks, nuts, lots of fruit like dried plums, dried apricots, oranges and tangerines, and “oshav”, a dried fruit compote. But it’s only after midnight that dishes with non-vegan ingredients are served and eaten. These will include foods like “banitsa” (a pastry filled with yogurt and feta cheese) and “baklava” (a dessert made of filo pastry that’s filled with chopped nuts and soaked in syrup or honey).
It’s traditional to leave the food on the table until Christmas morning as some people think their ancestors might get peckish during the night!
On Christmas Day, some families have another big meal, but this time there will be meat, usually some kind of pork.
Following the meal on Christmas Eve, some people go to a Midnight Mass service. You might also hear Koledari (carol singers), who are normally young men who go carol singing dressed in traditional clothing. The singing can only start after midnight. The singers often go around singing all night, so the sun never catches them! When they reach a house, they sing “the house song”, praising and wishing the house well. Having the Koledari visit your home is meant to be good luck. The songs are often in two parts with half of the singers singing the song first and then the other half repeating it back. After the singing, the head of the house will give the Koledari food to thank them for singing. The special foods include “Koledni gevreci” (round buns) and “banitsa” (a layered pastry filled with cheese).
Christmas trees are now popular in Bulgaria, and towns are decorated with Christmas lights. Some people still have a traditional Yule Log (normally from an oak, elm, or pear tree), known as a “badnik” or “budnik”, which is brought into the house on Christmas Eve.
In Bulgarian, Merry Christmas is “Vesela Koleda”. Santa is known as “Dyado Koleda” (Дядо Коледа), which means Grandfather Christmas.
Tomte is the Swedish name for “Santa Claus” and the name Nisse is often used for someone with the name Nils, like me. Christmas in Sweden is a month of activities combined with eating very well – and trying to bring light into people’s lives and their homes and gardens.
The festivities tend to start on the Sunday approximately four weeks before Christmas, when we light the first Advent candle. At this moment, we try to have the house and the garden decorated with an advent star, reindeers, and nets with LEDs because, at this time of the year in Sweden, having as much light as possible matters!
On December 1st, we start opening at least one advent calendar – for children and adults – a countdown to Christmas Eve on the 24th, which I believe most Swedish children associate with Santa and getting presents… Now for me and many others, December is a month of gaining weight,“ because a lot of Christmas is about coming together inside homes filled with candles and tealights, away from the cold darkness outside. And when we come together, we tend to enjoy good food and hot drinks like “Glögg” (mulled wine) and hot chocolate. It’s not for nothing that Merry Christmas in Swedish is “God Jul”, which you could translate as “tasty Christmas”!
Another activity in the month of December is shopping which, before covid, often offered the opportunity to not only find great presents, but also to look at very nicely decorated “Christmas Windows” and to indulge in some more hot chocolate with whipped cream and Christmas pastries.
On December 13th – which in the old calendar year was the day with the fewest hours of daylight – the focus is on Lucia, and starting the day (in our house) by serving your parents Lussekatter, St. Lucia’s Day buns flavored with saffron and dotted with raisins, followed by traditional Santa Lucia songs. But it doesn’t stop there; as a child you might also take part in the school celebration or even the national Lucia celebrations.
Now we also start looking for a (real) and, of course, perfect-looking Christmas tree, which we will have decorated by Christmas Eve so all the presents can be placed under it. But before that, each present needs to be wrapped and, on the evening of the 23rd, we wrap a number of presents with a simple rhyme, to give a hint as to what could be inside so the recipient can guess. (We don’t usually do it with all of the presents as that would mean a lot of rhymes!)
In our house, there are normally five “activities” on the 24th:
1. Breakfast. We eat rice pudding with whipped cream on Christmas morning (and many other mornings), which we share with the Christmas gnome by putting a plate outside.
2. Lunch. The Swedish “Julbord” – a smörgåsbord which often takes hours to get through. Our smörgåsbord includes a range of different foods but, for me, one of the most important is the Christmas ham. We serve the food buffet-style, and we follow a certain order when we dig into the food (and drinks). We start with cold fish, eggs with caviar, pickled herring, salmon, and sometimes eel before we start with the special Christmas bread and meat, followed by hot foods like ribs, sausages, meatballs, beetroot salad, but also Jansen’s frestelse.
Between the dishes, some singing and drinking helps to make space for more food.
3. 15:00. Time to watch “Kalle Anka och Hans Vänner Önskar God Jul” on TV, a program which features a number of clips from Disney movies like Robin Hood, Snow White, Cinderella, Mickey and Friends, and more. The program also tends to show a preview of a new Disney movie.
4. Santa and opening presents: Now Santa (most often) comes walking through the snow with a candle and a sack with some additional presents – to make the little ones extra happy – and kicks off the afternoon session next to the open fire and the Christmas tree (in different corners), when we read the rhymes and give out the presents.
5. Play games. Enjoy the company of family and friends. Eat and drink more. GOD JUL!
In Germany, the Christmas season begins four weeks before the actual festivities, on the first Sunday in Advent. Then the first candle in the Advent wreath is lit, and one each Sunday in December until all four candles are lit on the weekend before Christmas Eve. A joke poem says: When the fifth candle is lit, you’ve missed Christmas.
On December 6th, St. Nicholas comes to reward the children who have behaved well and to “punish” those who have not been so good.
But the most important day is Christmas Eve. In a lot of German families, mothers have the day off. Instead of having to spend hours in the kitchen preparing a festive three-course meal, she is relieved of this task by serving potato salad and sausages.
Afterwards, when the silver bell calls for the giving of presents, the exciting part of the evening begins: presents! Under the decorated Christmas tree, the gifts for our loved ones are already there and are unwrapped more or less enthusiastically. Children often have to recite a poem beforehand, or play a musical instrument.
Many Germans love to lavishly decorate their homes with Christmas decorations. And some overdo it a little. My father is collecting Xmas figurines for years, and has an impressive collection of them now. One year i wanted to know, how it would sound if all the Santas would play at once. I did not know better, but hear yourself in this video:
The Santa Orchestra
100,000 lightbulbs in one garden
World record: 444 Christmas trees in one house