International Christmas Traditions



When Dusty Miller was growing up in Luten, England, 30 miles north of London, the day after Christmas was Boxing Day and the shops were closed.

The highlight of Christmas for Christina Kreutzer, who grew up in Germany, was going with her six brothers and two sisters to the town square to watch angels herald with trumpets and sing from the Church of Our Lady's tower.

Inger LeGrande recalls dancing around the Christmas tree when she was little and as a teen, dressing in a fancy gown and dancing the minuet in a ballroom filled with lights.

Step back half a century to 70-odd years ago and find out what Christmas was like in Europe from three people who now make Payson their home.

England in the 1950s

"Christmas traditions all revolved around food," said Dusty Miller. "Here fruitcake is sort of a joke but over there at Christmas you really have a very rich, heavy, thick, dark fruitcake. That is sort of a given. Sometimes with marzipan over the top and icing over that. You have small slices."

Dusty likes fruitcake and so does his American wife, Marie.

When the Millers lived in England, Marie made a fruitcake she turned upside down after it was baked, poked holes in it, poured half a bottle of Guinness over the cake then let it sit for a few days before eating it.

"It makes a really moist cake," he said.

He recalls Christmas pudding -- a steamed, very heavy fruit pudding, not much different than steamed Christmas cake.

The pudding is almost black in color and is traditionally topped with a sprig of holly and served with brandy butter poured over the top.

"Then you set fire to it," he said. "That is all part of the ritual."

So is placing a "thrupenny bit" (pronounced thrup-nee) or three-penny silver piece inside the pudding.

When silver got rare, the more common brass-colored one was used.

"If you got the thrupenny bit in your piece of pudding that meant you were lucky and if you didn't bite on it, you were luckier still," Miller said with his contagious laugh.

Only one of the three grown-up Miller children eat Christmas pudding.

Christmas day in Europe was for families.

The Christmas meal was followed by Christmas crackers for adults and children alike. (The Millers are holding one in the cover photo.)

"You don't put cheese on them," he said.

The little presents make a bang when you pull the ends apart.

Inside is an uplifting motto, a paper hat or crown and a little toy.

And cheesy riddles such as: Q: What kind of magazine do gardeners read? A: The Weeder's Digest or Q: What kind of bird can write?

A: A PENguin.

Boxing Day, the twenty-sixth of December, was a day for friends to get together and party and eat leftovers. Children would play with their toys.

Miller fondly recalls getting a soccer ball when he was about 6 years old.

But that was one of the rare holidays it snowed and he could not find anyone to play ball with him.

When he was eight years old he received his first electric train.

"What more does a boy want?" he asked, eyes twinkling. "I imagine here it's probably a baseball and an electric train."

On Boxing Day, at least when Miller was a child, all the shops were closed. (Boggles the mind, doesn't it?)

Neighbors would gather in the large public crescent and sing carols, sometimes to raise money for charity, but more often just for fun.

Impromptu gatherings of youth, from ages of about 11 to 15 would gather and go caroling.

Sweden and Norway in the 1940s

Inger LeGrande is Swedish on her mother's side and of Norwegian descent on her father's so she has two different Christmas traditions.

"We spent most Christmases in Sweden and I remember the first Sunday in December was ‘Display Sunday,'" LeGrande said.

"That was the day all the shops put out their moving displays in the windows and the whole town turned out to look that evening," she said.

LeGrande was about 5 years old then.

On Santa Lucia Day (Dec. 13) all the girls would dress in white.

"(My sisters and I) wore wreaths in our hair with lit candles on them and served our parents special cookies and the boys would dress in white, but they carried candles in front of them," she said.

Nowadays they use battery operated candles.

Inger's family spent the war years at their home in Karlstad, Norway.

"In my family Deeping Day was celebrated at my aunt's house," LeGrande said.

"We put the cauldron on the table that the Christmas ham had been boiled in and everybody would take bread and dip in the bowl.

"I suppose other families celebrated it, too, because the children had a saying: The day before the day is Deeping Day."

The day before Christmas Eve was known as Little Christmas. That is the day the Christmas tree was erected, not in the corner as it is so often done in America, but in the center of the room and decorated.

"We would all link hands, walk around the tree and sing," she said.

LeGrande liked the funny carols that she could clap along and stomp her feet to.

Her grandfather woke the household at 6 a.m. Christmas day and the family gathered around a steaming pot of glug -- spiced wine, served very hot on which he would pour liquor and set to flame.

Then it was bundle up and hop into the sleigh for church, 12 miles away.

If Christmas Day was private, the days that followed until New Year's were festive for one and all.

There was lots of visiting between farms.

In the evenings, groups of younger people all dressed up in old clothes from attic trunks and made paper masks.

Guessing the identity of each Julboken (means Christmas goat) was the game.

"Of course most time they recognized us by our horses," she said. "It was so fun."

The farm LeGrande's family owned had many employees.

"That was back before machinery, so there were a lot," she said.

The employees had a party that lasted for several days between Christmas and New Year's.

Santa visited in a sled drawn by one horse. The horse was decked out with jingle bells and Santa wore a floor-length coat made of wolf fur.

Santa had one brown bag for each child filled with apple, nuts and little toys.

But it is a wooden duck pulled by a string that her grandfather made that LeGrande recalls with love.

"He was a tall man with a long white beard and I overheard my mother tell him that I was too old for the toy, so I pulled the duck around all day long and made sure Grandfather saw."

Then there were the balls.

The ballroom was opened and all decorated in white. The boughs of the tree in the center were decorated from bottom to top with special candle holders the blacksmith made, each a different length.

"They held big, heavy, real candles," she said.

Young people got together ahead of time to learn the minuet and other traditional dances.

Men like LeGrande's father, a doctor, dressed in tails and the younger men in suits.

The ladies wore elegant ball gowns, some from Paris.

"I felt like a queen in my first ball gown," LeGrande said.

It was her mother's dress, made of silver satin overlaid with tulle and hand-painted flowers, altered to fit.

"My sister was seven years younger," LeGrande said with a sigh. "She really missed out. I lived in a special age."

Germany in the 1930s

The marketplace in Nuremberg, Germany where Christina Kreutzer recalls walking with her family to "Christkindles," the Christ Child Market on the town square on Dec. 4, St. Barbara's Day.

"The market is at least 300 years old," Kreutzer said.

Christkindles opened in the evening with actresses from the city theater dressed as angels heralding the season with trumpets and singing carols from the tower of the Church of Our Lady.

"The scene is the same from medieval times," Kreutzer said.

After the trumpets played, the market stalls opened, selling Christmas decorations and edible goodies.

Kreutzer had six brothers and two sisters so the siblings shared everything.

"We got oranges and walnuts on the table Christmas day and were happy to get them," she said. "Remember, my parents had nine of us."

The Advent Calendar with its 24 small doors that opened on treasures like trumpets, teddy bears and cookies is a fond memory for Kreutzer.

A goose or duck with all the trimmings was the Christmas meal for the family and was served in the afternoon after church.

Second Christmas was the day after. Friends would gather for coffee, cookies and "Stollen," or Christmas Cake.

"Different parts of Germany bake it a little different. Where I come from in Bavaria nuts and raisins and rum go into the cake."

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