07 Dec Gifts
It’s that time of year again; our cities are aglow with a myriad of twinkling lights and our homes with strands of brightly coloured bulbs and decorations.
Around the world, Christmas is, first and foremost, a family celebration rich with traditions. Among the most important of these is gift giving. Yet, this exchange does not have the same origin or meaning in all countries. Let’s take a look at the ways and customs of different countries.
In Norway and Sweden, Tomte, a bearded gnome with a red hat and worn clothes, gives children gifts. Legend goes that the “creature” protects villagers in exchange for a bowl of oatmeal with butter. Also, in Sweden, residents offer their loved ones gifts on December 24 and then, according to a very old custom, say a few rhyming verses.
In Mexico, the Three Wise Men (Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar) reward children on January 6.
In Hungary, on the night of December 5, children who have been good hang their Christmas stockings to receive treats, toys and books from Saint Nicholas.
In Greece, there is no Santa Claus. Instead, Saint Basil brings his share of gifts and surprises on January 1, Saint Basil’s Day.
In the Netherlands on December 6, Saint Nicholas, having left Spain by boat to land on the Dutch coast, makes his way across the country on horseback to deliver gifts or strokes of “martinet“. [i]
In Italy, festivities begin on December 8, but children have to wait for the Epiphany to receive gifts from the Befana (witch), who goes from chimney to chimney on her flying broom.
Here in Quebec and throughout North America, milk and cookies are left by the chimney so Santa Claus can reenergize during his long gift distribution night.
In Ireland, a country close to my heart, people leave a glass of whisky for Santa Claus on Christmas day before leaving for Church. You can only imagine his blood alcohol level at the end of his rounds…
Picture yourself in Russia. On December 31, Father Gel—a kind of cousin of Santa Claus’ dressed in blue and white—gives children gifts with Grandmother Babushka.
To conclude, we give you Iceland, land of with its many legends and thirteen happy trolls. Locally. They are called the Yule Lads. As Santa Claus or “Père Fouettard”, the troll is either amusing or cruel, as he has a very special and magical mission. For thirteen nights before Christmas, a malicious, twisted troll roams the streets to visit every child. If the child was good during the year, the troll will put a gift in their stocking hanging at the window. If not, he will leave a rotten potato. Each troll has his own name and costume: The Stubby one, the Door-Slammer, the Gully Gawk, the Sausage-Swiper, the Meat-Hook, the Spoon-Licker, the Skyr-Gobbler (a kind of yogurt), the Window-Peeper, the Candle-Stealer, among others. Their mission: to steal pots, slam doors at night to scare families, steal Christmas cookies, follow children to steal their candles, and other nasty tricks.
How about you? What are your rituals?
[i] a kind of whip, formerly used to punish children in France and other European countries. If you were born in the 50s / 60s, you may have some memories….