Bisons reflect on Christmas around the world

Wednesday, December 25, 2013
by Mark McGee

It is truly Christmas all around the world. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are celebrated in various ways with each country having variations on the traditions of the season. Some Lipscomb student-athletes spent some time talking about the Christmas season in their home countries before leaving for the break.

Croatia, Lorena Djuknic, sophomore, tennis

It is hard for Djuknic to focus on Christmas. Memories of her first Thanksgiving in the United States at the home of Turney Stevens, Dean of the Lipscomb College of Business, still are so vivid for her – especially her first exposure to cranberry sauce. 

Her plan is to teach her relatives how to make cranberry sauce as well as show them how to stuff turkeys.

“I want to put cranberry sauce on everything,” Djuknic said. “The Thanksgiving meal was so delicious.”

The Christmas season is a lengthy one in Croatia.

“Christmas is different in Croatia because the Roman Catholic religion is the main religion there,” Djuknic said. “We light four candles and light one every Sunday for four weeks before Christmas in anticipation of Christmas.”

There are several days that are special in addition to Christmas. 

“We also have St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6. Children polish one boot and put it next to the window and the next morning it is filled with candy and oranges if you are good. It is a good way to make the children happy.

“On Dec. 13 we have St. Lucia Day. We plant wheat in a small cup. It is symbolic. If your wheat grows and is green and full then your year is going to be rich. We also put the cup underneath the Christmas tree.”

Christmas Eve is a day of fasting though fish is usually served at lunch. Food is also prepared for Christmas Day. Then everyone attends midnight mass. Santa Claus, known as Sveti Nikola, arrives on Christmas Eve.  Smaller children unwrap their presents later on Christmas morning.

Christmas trees are not decorated until Dec. 24. There is a lot of snow at Christmas in Croatia. At Christmas time it is also legal to set off fireworks.

“When we get back home from midnight mass it is Christmas Day and we unwrap our presents around 1 a.m.,” Djuknic. “We have been fasting so we want to eat something delicious. We take a lot of pictures of the family around the Christmas tree. The smell of the tree is the best part of it.

“We eat duck or turkey and spend the day with our families. And the day after Christmas we also spend time with our relatives.”


Sweden, Viktoria Bjork, freshman, tennis and John Kingstedt, freshman, cross country

In Sweden Christmas Eve is the big day compared to Christmas Day. The main meal of the holiday season is eaten that day. Cold fish such as salmon or herring is joined by a Christmas ham and meatballs among other items.

“We have things like special breads with raisins inside,” Bjork said.  “We have eggs with caviar. We have roast beef, ham and oatmeal. We have a Christmas table.”

Presents are also exchanged on Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas Day.

“We celebrate all of the eves instead of the days,” Bjork said.  “We give each other presents in the evening on Christmas Eve. At 3 p.m. everyone watches a one-hour television show with cartoons like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

“We have Santa Claus. He knocks on the door around 5 p.m. and gives presents. We have a Christmas tree as well.”

Kingstedt admits the cartoon show, which is shown all across Sweden on Christmas Eve, has become such a tradition.

“I have never understood that,” Kingstedt said. “It has been a tradition since the 1960s. They show the same cartoons every year. They are Christmas cartoons pertaining to certain Disney characters. I have never understood it because I can’t understand the point of watching TV at that time.

“Everything stops. People have to watch.”

And while it is not a Christmas miracle, Bjork and Kingstedt do share an interesting story. Their families lived next door to each other until the two were three or four years old. Kingstedt’s family moved away and the two never saw each other again until they both arrived at Lipscomb.

“That was crazy,” Kingstedt said. “It was just a really big coincidence.”

 On Dec. 13 in Sweden is the celebration of St. Lucia’s Day. 

“That is a time when we sing carols,” Kingstedt said. “Students in the schools sing carols and religious songs.

“Usually there is a girl that portrays St. Lucia. She wears a halo with candles in it. She sings in the middle of the stage with a choir behind her. One girl is picked to be part of a national live television show. As far as I know, St. Lucia was burned at the stake.”

Christmas is basically a religious holiday in Sweden. Christmas trees are usually put in place around 10 days before Christmas Eve.

“In Sweden the celebrations are on Christmas Eve,” Kingstedt said. “That is the main holiday. Advent is a big thing that starts the first Sunday of December. Each Sunday you light candles so by Christmas Eve you have four candles going.

“Santa hands out presents on Christmas Eve directly to the kids. He usually visits at night after all of the meals are finished. Christmas Day is very mellow with people sleeping late.”


Ireland, John Tougher, sophomore, tennis

In Ireland Santa Claus is known as either Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas.  The Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve and ends with the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. 

“We put more emphasis on Christmas Day and the following day which we call St. Stephen’s Day,” Tougher said. “Back home we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving but, Dec. 25 and Dec. 26 are our big family days.

“There is always soccer on television on St. Stephen’s Day. I always end up watching soccer and eating too much food. It is not like a day in Ireland. It is like a Christmas period of celebration.”

Santa Claus arrives the night of Dec. 24 and places presents under the tree. 

“Our trees are a little bit lower key than the trees in the United States,” Tougher said. “There are more real trees in Ireland than artificial trees. We decorate our trees on Dec. 8 and take them down Jan. 8.

“Our Santa Claus is exactly the same as here in the U.S. He has the red suit, the white beard and the sack on his back. My little brothers used to track Santa online and see what country he was in.”

Christmas dinner is usually served to around 20-30 people at the Tougher house.

“We have all of our extended family,” Tougher said. “We have turkey and ham and all of the trimmings. Brussels sprouts are the Christmas vegetable. I don’t know why. Some people hate them. Some people love them.

“For dessert you have a Christmas pudding. It is like a fruit cake. My grandmother makes it months in advance. By the time Christmas rolls around she has a perfect pudding. We also have a Christmas cake which is like a fruit cake but it has icing on it.”

The Tougher family also spends some time singing during the Christmas celebration.

“My family has this weird tradition where we always end up doing karaoke,” Tougher said. “I don’t know if it is good or bad or normal, but that is what we end up doing.”


New Zealand, Jolene Muir, freshman, soccer

There is no threat of a white Christmas in New Zealand since it is the middle of the summer.

“When we were younger I would be outside with my cousins playing sports like cricket, rugby or soccer,” Muir said. “My brother was born on Christmas Day so we celebrate his birthday as well in the morning.

“On Christmas Eve we have a chapel service. Santa Claus comes over night on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is a lot like it is in the United States with families getting together and eating. We serve turkey and roast. It is an excuse for a family get together. We usually go to the park or the beach.”

In New Zealand, like many European countries, “Boxing Day” is celebrated on Dec. 26.

“It is like `Black Friday” at Thanksgiving in the United States,” Muir said. “There are big sales. All of the shops open early in the morning.”


Spain, Nacor Ibanez, freshman, tennis

Presents are part of the Christmas Day traditions in Spain, but Jan. 6, known as the Epiphany or Kings Day, is when the greatest number of presents is given by the Three Kings who bring presents to children.

“Children leave buckets of water and hay for the camels and food or gifts for the Wise Men on the night before,” Ibanez said. “January 6 is the last day of the Christmas celebration. Children go back to school the next day.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the times for a traditional Christmas dinner with different types of seafood as the centerpiece.

“Seafood is expensive so it is a special meal for Christmas,” Ibanez said. “It is a time for families.”