Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas on the Plains and Molasses Candy

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Here in Nebraska, we nearly had a white Thanksgiving. The  snow melted before "Turkey-day," but winter storms never fail to set me to thinking about what winter was like for pioneer settlers. And they always make me thankful I live in a day of central heating where all it takes to keep warm is a setting on a thermostat. 

In December of 1866, troops sent to aid the survivors of the Fetterman Massacre "waded or dug their way through snows, knee deep, and often waist deep, while the mercury ranged from 25 to 40 degrees below zero." They arrived at

their destination with frostbitten hands and feet. In January, when some of the women were transported to safety, the mercury on their only thermometer froze in the bulb, so they no longer knew how cold it was. They "sliced" frozen bread with a hatchet. 

Residents of sod houses often mentioned how much warmer the three-foot-thick sod walls kept their homes. In fact, some lamented the loss of that insulation when they moved into their first farmhouse with only boards, plaster, and lathe to hold in the warmth from the wood stove in the kitchen. 

In 1913, when Bert Snyder went for more coal during a blizzard, "his eyes were frozen shut before he'd gone half a dozen steps, and the snow was so fine and thick that he could barely breathe." After the storm when Bert saddled his horse to see about the cattle on his ranch, the drifts were so high and frozen so solid that he rode right over the tops of fences.

What was Christmas like for those pioneers? Jessie Short Segard, author of From Dugout to Mansion wrote this about Christmas, 1886: "...some Christmases we had nothing at all. One Christmas Mother had made sorghum taffy and made some into rings and other things of the taffy. That was the extent of our gifts that year. Here's a recipe I found for molasses candy. Let me know if you try it! 

from Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook 
compiled by Kay Graber

Two cups of molasses, one cup of sugar, tablespoonful of vinegar, small lump of butter. Boil rapidly until it drops brittle into cold water, pour into buttered tins, and when cold pull till it is white.

Jessie's memoir continues, "Another Christmas Aunt Sally had received a barrel of apples from Iowa and brought one apiece for us. What a treat that was, a whole apple for each of us."

When Jessie's family moved from Kansas to the village of Brainard, Nebraska, her father had an idea for decorating a Christmas tree. "Before Christmas that year Father told us children to save all the tissue paper we could find in the street. Everybody was a litterbug then and it was easy to find white, yellow, red and blue tissue where stores tossed their rubbish. Father got a branch limb of a tree. We covered it with strips of those papers and he nailed it to the wall and that was our first and only Christmas tree we ever had. We thought it was very beautiful.

Christmas morning we found on that tree overshoes for Father, I don't remember what for Mother, a wool cap for us two girls, and I forget what for the boys except that we all got a little pocket mirror and a sack of hard candy. The aid society had given us those things and Father had not let us children know about it. Oh! You see, it takes very little to make a real poor family happy."

At Christmas in 1884, Jessie was fourteen and a half. "I wanted so much to buy a Christmas gift for mother but only had one nickel. The only thing I could think of to get her was a spool of sewing thread but to her it was a good useful gift."

What about you? Do you have memories of "lean" Christmases? Do you have a favorite gift that was inexpensive and yet cherished because of the sacrifice made to acquire and give it? 

May God grant us all an attitude of thankfulness for the abundance He supplies. Merry Christmas!


My heroine in Mended Hearts, a novella included in the collection at left, has gone through a rough year. She's felt shunned and abandoned, but as Christmas looms, she hopes a change is on the horizon. 

Learn more here:

To win a free copy of Christmas Stitches, 1) share the link to this blog post with a friend and then  2) e-mail with topic line SHARED and your shipping address in the body of the e-mail. I'll select and notify the winner on December 15. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Christmas Legend

The Night the Animals Talked

When our boys were very young, we bought a set of encyclopedias for them to use to learn more about our world and the things in it. Included in the set were Childcraft volumes. One of those was a volume of myths and legends of the Christmas season. I read these stories and legends to the boys as they grew up. One that always fascinated me was the legend of the animals talking on Christmas Eve.

As I did research on the legend, I discovered many different children’s books written around the tale. That led me to write my own short story about the animals when the boys were older. I hadn’t thought about it for a long while as our children are grown with families of their own, but as I was searching for books for our great-grandchildren, I found children’s books about this legend were still around. That’s when I decided to make it the subject of this blog.

The legend originated in Norway where children were drawn to stables in snow laden fields all around the country on Christmas Eve night. There they hoped to hear the miracle of the animals talking about the birth of Jesus.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, Mary and Joseph were not in some abandoned place but in a working stable or cave filled with animals belonging to the owner. These innocent creatures, in humble surroundings, witnessed the miraculous birth of the Savior of all men as he came into the world as a tiny baby.

The legend tells us that the baby was born at exactly midnight surrounded by the love of Mary and Joseph and God’s animals. Mary lovingly wrapped the baby in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger to sleep.  At this precise moment, God gave a voice to each animal, and they began praising God for the miraculous event they had seen. The animals worshiped the child until the shepherds appeared seeking the baby.

The shepherds had been told of the birth of Christ and made haste to find the child exactly where the angel had said. As they entered the stall, the animals fell silent. The only ones who heard their voices were Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child. 

The story, passed down through the generations, still persists today in Scandinavia, especially Norway. On Christmas Eve, wide-eyed, expectant children leave their warm beds and creep out into the cold to the stables at midnight in hopes of hearing the animals praise God.

Even though adults, grown out of their belief in myths and legends, scoff and complain about the children being out so late, they remember their own childhood. The faith of the children leads them to believe that animals really do praise God every year at exactly midnight. Who are we to say that our all-powerful God couldn’t make this happen? With God all things are possible, so why not have all of God’s creatures rejoice and praise the Savior as humans celebrate the birth?

Through the years, Christmas Eve has evolved into a magical time of year when all kinds of good things can happen. Some even say miracles abound on this special night. Why not? The greatest miracle of all happened on this night. The Bible gives us a beautiful account of an angel announcing the birth on a starry night to a group of shepherds in the fields with their sheep. Then a heavenly host of angels joined in song to praise the child who would bring peace, truth, and light to a darkened world.

Today we see Nativity sets and the larger ones all feature animals. Cows, donkeys, and sheep all represent the animals in the stable that night when Christ was born at midnight. Nativity sets range from very simple with Mary and Joseph and the baby to very elaborate ones, from simple drawings to beautiful paintings. When you see them this year, think of the animals and how they worshiped the Baby in their stable.

Legends abound about the candy cane, poinsettias, Saint Nicholas, the Christmas tree, and other things associated with Christmas. I love these legends as they tell a beautiful story of that blessed, miraculous night in Bethlehem.

 Do you have a favorite legend or story of Christmas? I'd like to hear it, so please share with me.

 My new Christmas book features a children's play about the Christmas story performed by the children at an orphanage.

Wealthy socialite Florence Middleton admired Joel Fowler when she was a senior student at Oak Dale Bible College and he was a teaching assistant. Now that he’s a full professor and she’s worked with him for several years on various projects for the college, she has fallen in love with him. Joe loves her, but her wealth and standing in the community keep him from declaring that love. When they work together at the orphanage to present a children’s Christmas play, they grow closer, but Joel squelches his feelings for her. Will the magic of the Christmas season and the children’s play be the spark that nurtures the seeds of their love and brings them to full bloom at Christmas?

Martha Rogers is a multi-published author and writes a weekly devotional for ACFW. Martha and her husband Rex live in Houston, Texas where they are active members of First Baptist Church. They are the parents of three sons and grandparents to eleven grandchildren and great-grandparents to four, soon to be five. Martha is a retired teacher with twenty-eight years teaching Home Economics and English at the secondary level and eight years at the college level supervising student teachers and teaching freshman English. She is the Director of the Texas Christian Writers Conference held in Houston in August each year, a member of ACFW, ACFW WOTS chapter in Houston, and a member of the writers’ group, Inspirational Writers Alive.
Find Martha at:,
 Twitter: @ martharogers2                                                                                     Facebook: Martha Rogers                                                                                                               

Monday, December 10, 2018


While caroling seems the quintessential Victorian Christmas thing to do, the tradition actually dates back much further, to a practice called wassailing. From at least the times of the Anglo-Saxons, (410 A.D.) wassailing was a holiday custom, but the tradition may date back even farther than that. The earliest wassailing was done in orchards, in a druid-pagan-type ceremony that blessed the trees and prayed to them to produce good fruit the next year. 

This ceremony eventually morphed into the lower classes carrying wassail from house to house, particularly to the houses of the wealthy and singing to get the attention of the landed gentry of the manor. This practice continued for centuries, eventually becoming the modern version, Christmas caroling. But wassailing wasn't just about singing and gathering together. It was about class boundaries, noblesse oblige, and doing right by one's boss and one's employee.

A traditional wassailing song was written sometime in the mid-1800s and published in a Yorkshire broadsheet. The author is unknown. 

Let's take a look at the verses of the song and glean a bit about the tradition of wassailing.

Here We Come a-Wassailing

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Wassailing, the precursor to our modern-day caroling. This song was composed around 1850, but the tradition existed long before that. The singers were bestowing their blessing upon the generous household.

Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.


The wassail bow was wooden, and carved in the shape of a large goblet. The goblet was filled with wassail which is a mixture of mead, spices, cider, and ale (Just alcoholic enough to warm you up.) 

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours' children,
Whom you have seen before.


It was important to note that those who came were not begging. This was recipient-induced gift giving at its finest. The singers came to the landowner's house to remind him that it was Christmas, that Christmas lent itself to generosity, and that it would be nice if gifts were given to the tenants and less-fortunate in the community.

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.


Early tradition says that the wassailers carried the bowl from house to house, but in later times, it was the landowner who had the wassail bowl and shared it with those who came to call.

We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.


A few coins given to the wassailers, as well as sharing a drink with them, would ensure their goodwill and the calling down of blessings upon the house.

Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.


Gifts of food were popular, and the landowners would have it ready for the singers when they ventured out. Often, wassailing was done on Twelfth Night, (January 5-6) as the culmination of the Christmas festivities.

God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.


When the wassail had been shared, the gifts given, and the food partaken of, it was time for the blessing. This was a lovely bit of reciprocity. The landowner gave of his bounty, and the wassailers gave what they had, their goodwill and blessing.

Good master and good mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.


The last is a bit of a reminder to the landowner not to forget the well-wishers the other 11 months of the year.

Wishing you a merry and blessed Christmas!

Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, www.ericavetsch.comwhere you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at where she spends way too much time!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Christmas Traditions in the 1700s

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, I shared about the history of the New York Symphony. If you missed that post, you can read it here:

Now, let's go from the crafted instruments of music to holiday traditions.

* * * * *

Christmas Traditions - 1700s

I wavered and pondered and struggled over the topic I'd select for today's post. With Christmas right around the corner, I didn't want anything to feel "contrived." On the other hand, the theme seemed perfect.

So, today, I'm going to cover Christmas traditions in the 1700's.

Christmas wasn't always celebrated the way it is today. In fact, the Puritans of Massachusetts banned any observance of Christmas, and anyone caught observing the holiday had to pay a fine. Connecticut had a law forbidding the celebration of Christmas and the baking of mincemeat pies! A few of the earliest settlers did celebrate Christmas, but it was far from a common holiday in the colonial era.

The first record of Christmas trees in America was for children in the German Moravian Church's settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Christmas 1747. Actual trees were not decorated, but wooden pyramids covered with evergreen branches were decorated with candles.

The custom of the Christmas tree was introduced in the United States during the War of Independence by Hessian troops. Decorations included lace, ribbon, tin, food items and lit candles. Most other early accounts in the United States were among the German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania. Just as the first trees introduced into Britain did not immediately take off, the early trees introduced into America by the Hessian soldiers were not recorded in any particular quantity. Even so, it is known that the Pennsylvanian German settlements had community trees as early as 1747.

Decorations were still of a 'home-made' variety. Young Ladies spent hours at Christmas Crafts, quilling snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret gifts and paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Small bead decorations, fine drawn out silver tinsel came from Germany together with beautiful Angels to sit at the top of the tree. Candles were often placed into wooden hoops for safety.

One of the primary reasons Christmas wasn't celebrated is due to its pagan association. Puritans and Protestants alike frowned upon any connection to this celebration. Any observance was made primarly by German and Dutch colonists in the Middle Colonies. German gifts such as nuts and apples were given to needy children by St. Martin and St. Nicholas know to be the forefathers of Santa Claus as we know him today. Kris Kringle evolved from the German name for the Christ Child (Christkindlein). Dutch settlers coming to America changed St. Nicholas to Sintr Claes who became the gift giver.

However, as the dawning of a new century approached, we begin to see a greater occurrence of the traditions so many celebrate and enjoy today.

* * * * *


* Do you have any German or Dutch ancestry/roots that have influenced what you do today?

* What traditions are special in your home?

* What traditions did you have a child that you continued with your own family?


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an author and speaker who also works as a force for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. On the side, she dabbles in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and two dogs: Nova, a Shiba-Inu/Besenji mix and Nugget a Corgi/Chihuahua mix, in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on FacebookTwitterGoodReads, and LinkedIn.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Naughty List and the History of That Dreaded Lump of Coal

by Kathleen L. Maher

Last year, I wrote about the legend of Santa Claus and its ties to my home state of New York. This year, I'm taking a departure South, that is to say, the South Pole, to explore the legends of Santa's controversial helpers for those designated to the Naughty List.

Black Pete
Last year I explored the early Dutch legend of Sinterklaas, the saintly night visitor who left treats for the good children in their shoes and stockings. These treats might be toys, fruit, nuts, candy, or even money. But Sinterklaas had a counterpart named Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter. He first appeared in a story in 1850 by schoolteacher Jan Schenkman, but the legend precedes this. Some say this Moorish Spaniard character dressed in Renaissance clothing has its roots as far back as the myth of Odin and his raven helpers Huginn and Muninn. When Odin leads the Wild Hunt, according to the legend, these figures would perch at the chimney and listen in on the mortals below, to report on the good and bad. And so it seems, Black Pete served a parallel role for Sinterklaas.

You wouldn't want to merit a visit from Black Pete at Christmastime. That would mean you were one of the bad children, undeserving of gifts. Instead, it is said Black Pete would leave a dirty lump of charcoal from the fireplace. Or a bundle of birch twigs called a "roe", implying you were due for a "Birching." Yikes! 


If you thought Black Pete was scary, this figure would surely terrify you into being a good little child. In Germany, the benevolent figure of Saint Nicholas apparently wasn't enough incentive for kinderlings to finish their homework, clean their room, say their prayers and brush their teeth. For sass-talkers, slackers and rebels, the naughty list takes a nightmarish twist with the legend of Krampus. 

For starters, Krampus was half goat, and half demon. He is the Norse mythology son of HelThe German word for claw, krampen, describes one of this creature's main attributes. On the night before St. Nicholas Day, Dec 6, or Krampusnacht, a naughty child would be lucky to get a lump of coal in his stocking, or even a whipping with a birch stick. Other versions are more nefarious, and I will leave them from this fun blog post. Shudder!

The pagan legend of Krampus was strictly forbidden by the Catholic Church, but some scholars believe these anti-St. Nicholas figures were created partly to ease the Saint's reputation as the bad guy. Who wants to celebrate a Santa that doles out fear and punishment for Christmas, anyway? 

La Befana
In Italy, the Santa Claus figure was actually an old woman who flew on a broomstick. La Befana wouldfly form house to house and sneak down the fireplace to leave either good gifts for nice children or lumps of coal for the bad. Possibly named for the Feast Day Eve on which she visits, La Festa dell'Epifania, she comes the night of January 5. 

Her legend, though to our modern ears sounding like a Halloween witch, is actually rather sweet. As the story goes, when the Magi left to follow the star to see the King who had been born, many set out to meet them to offer gifts to the baby. Befana was too busy with housework, and stayed behind sweeping. But the next day, after realizing she missed the Three Wise Men, she tried to hurry to catch up so she might give her gifts. She never did catch up to the Magi, so Befana spends every year circling with her broom and distributing her gifts to good children since she couldn't give them to the Christ child. But to the naughty boys and girls she brings cinders, onions and garlic. Blech! I'd rather have chocolate.

These legends were interesting to me as I researched a bit about them. I'm really glad we no longer scare our children with witches, goblins and ghosts at Christmastime. The real story of Jesus, who was born to save us from our sins, is so much more uplifting. I know I haven't always been a perfect angel, either as a child or as an adult. So I'm doubly grateful for the grace and hope that Jesus' birth brings.

With His true story in mind, I wish you all a

Joyeux Noël      Frohe Weinachten      Feliz Navidad         Buon Natale

Feliz Natal            Vrolijk kerstfeest


Kathleen L. Maher has had an infatuation with books and fictional heroes ever since her preschool crush, Peter Rabbit. She is one of nine authors in Barbour's 2018 Victorian Christmas Brides Collection, and her story features her hometown of Elmira, New York. Her debut historical, Bachelor Buttons, blends her Irish heritage and love of the American Civil War. She won the 2012 ACFW Genesis contest for her Civil War story, released this summer under a new title The Abolitionist’s Daughter. Kathleen shares an old farmhouse in upstate New York with her husband, children, and a small zoo of rescued animals.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Rippavilla Plantation, Spring Hill, Tennessee

By Michelle Shocklee

Rippavilla Plantation
I'm so pleased to share the fascinating history of another gorgeous plantation home with you! I'd heard about Rippavilla Plantation, located in Spring Hill, Tennessee, but up until last Sunday had not had a chance to see it in person. When friends invited us to join them on a candlelight tour of Rippavilla to commemorate the Battle of Spring Hill, I couldn't pass it up. I was not disappointed!

Nathaniel Francis Cheairs IV

Built in 1855, Rippavilla was the home of Nathaniel and Susan Cheairs. Nathaniel was the youngest of ten children born to Nathaniel III and Sarah Cheairs. Notice the names of his parents: Nathaniel and Sarah. Guess what his grandparents names were? Yep. Nathaniel and Sarah. And his great grandparents too! The tale goes that there were five generations of Nathaniel Cheairs's who married women named Sarah. So you can imagine what his family, especially his father, thought when Nathaniel IV fell in love with a pretty girl named Susan! When Nathaniel announced their engagement, his father offered him $5,000 to break it off and find a wife named Sarah. Can you imagine? Today that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $230,000.

Susan McKissick Cheairs and daughter
But Nathaniel was very much in love with Susan Peters McKissick, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and married her on September 2, 1841. Mr. McKissick owned a brickyard and offered to supply all the bricks and slave labor needed to build the young couple a beautiful home. Luckily, Nathaniel's father got over his disappointment about Susan and upon his passing left most of his land to Nathaniel. (His siblings and even his mother contested the will, but it held up in court and he kept the property.) His father even gave them the $5,000 in gold as a wedding gift.

Work began on Rippavilla in 1852 and would continue for three years. The family lived in rooms above the kitchen until the mansion was completed in 1855. Susan gave birth to her fourth and last child soon after moving into their new home.

No one is quite sure why Nathaniel named the home Rippavilla (some stories say it was Rippo Villa), but no matter what it's called, it's a grand and beautiful place. The main house is over 10,000 sq. ft, with lovely rooms and a staircase that stirs my imagination. Like many southern plantations--including Rose Hill, the fictional plantation in my historical novels--the porch ceilings at Rippavilla are painted "haint blue." It was believed that painting the ceiling blue would ward off "haints" or haunts and evil spirits by tricking them into believing the blue was water, because apparently evil spirits can't cross water.

Haint Blue porch ceilings at Rippavilla

The music room at Rippavilla

Staircase at Rippavilla

Rippavilla played a role in the American Civil War. At various times during the war, both the Union Army and the Confederate Army commandeered it. Prior to the Battle of Spring Hill on November 29, 1864, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, camped on the grounds of the plantation. After failing to inflict serious damage to the Federal army, the Rebels slept while the Yankees sneaked right past Rippavilla during the night, a tragic mistake that would lead to the Battle of Franklin the following night, resulting in more than 10,000 casualties. After the battle, the house became a temporary hospital and many wounded soldiers were brought there. 

Slave cabin at Rippavilla

Like all southern plantations, Rippavilla has a shameful past involving slaves. I couldn't find any information on the exact number of slaves it took to build Rippavilla nor how many slaves the Cheairs family owned, but it would have probably been in the hundreds. Nathaniel owned more than 1,100 acres at the time and grew all kinds of crops which would have required many, many slaves. A small slave cabin still stands on the land as a reminder that despite the beauty of the grand home, people lived in bondage in its shadow.

If you're ever in the Spring Hill area, I encourage you to stop by Rippavilla and take the tour. It's well worth your time. (As an interesting little side note, Nathaniel Cheairs is buried in Columbia, TN in the Rose Hill cemetery! Sound familiar? 😃 )

My question to you: If you'd been in Nathaniel's shoes, would you have taken the money and found a mate that made your family happy? Or would you have chosen love?

Michelle Shocklee is the award-winning author of The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill. Her historical novella set in the New Mexico Territory is included in The Mail-Order Brides Collection. Michelle and her husband of thirty-one years make their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at


Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. How can she run the plantation without slaves? In order to save her son’s inheritance she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Christmas Traditions in Denmark

Danish Christmas tree with paper ornaments and real candles.
By Malene Thyssen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
One of the first historical short stories I wrote as a young aspiring writer (at least that I’m not embarrassed to think of now—my high school stories were so predictable!)—and my first to actually be published, if only in our hometown newspaper, was about a Danish immigrant girl in 19th century Minnesota who struggled with missing the Christmas traditions of her homeland.

As my family has some Danish heritage, I loved learning about the beautiful Christmas traditions of Denmark in order to write that story, and I thought this month, as we enter the Christmas season, it would be fun to share some of them with you.

Though I’m focusing here on historical traditions that have been around for a while, many of these still hold true in Denmark today.

Before Christmas

Denmark is a place that has preserved the Advent Wreath, traditionally made of real spruce and hung from the ceiling with red ribbons, rather than set on a table like Advent Wreaths often are in America. But the same tradition of lighting one candle each Sunday before Christmas applies.
Furthermore, since the main Danish celebration of Christmas happens on Christmas Eve, the 23rd of December is traditionally a time for visiting friends before the main festivities begin.

Remembering the Animals

In Denmark, all God’s creatures are included in the celebration of Christ’s birth. On Christmas Eve, sheaves of oats or other grain are traditionally stuck in trees for the birds to enjoy, and other animals, wild and domestic, often get a special treat too. This partly comes from the legend of animals being able to talk on Christmas Eve.

The Juletrae

Danes love their Christmas tree, or Juletrae. Real trees are the rule, and even today real candles are often preferred over electric Christmas tree lights, just as they were in the 19th century.
Danish paper heart baskets, or Julehjerter
By Jens Gyldenkærne Clausen - eget billede, Public Domain

The Danish are known for their traditional papercraft, and most famous are the red and white woven paper hearts seen on Danish Christmas trees, as well as hanging on walls and elsewhere. The colors both signify Christmas and mimic the beloved Danish flag. I had fun making a Danish paper heart for our Christmas tree once—though the weaving is a little tricky, it’s very doable! Here's a link if you'd like to give the craft a try yourself: Making Danish Christmas Heart Baskets.


Traditional Danish Christmas meal
Photo by Malene Thyssen, Wikimedia Commons
Of course, Christmas everywhere tends to be accompanied by delicious culinary traditions, and Denmark is no exception. The whole Christmas season is full of treats and home-baked goodies, like pebernodder, small traditional spice cookies. 

On Christmas Eve, families for generations have enjoyed a roast duck or goose stuffed with apples and prunes, accompanied by such delicacies as boiled, carmelized potatoes and pickled red cabbage. Dessert is a scrumptious cold rice pudding, or ris a l'amande, topped with hot cherry sauce. Traditionally an almond is hidden in the pudding for a lucky winner to find.

Christmas Eve – Juleaften

Called Juleaften in Danish, Christmas Eve is the heart of this beloved celebration. After dinner, the family troops in to see the Christmas tree—which traditionally would not be set up until Christmas Eve. As everyone soaks in the wonder of the flickering candles, the family circles the tree singing Christmas carols and hymns together. And then, of course, time for presents!
A 19th century Danish family circles the Juletrae on Christmas Eve.
By Viggo Johansen, 1891 - Den Hirschsprungske Samling, Public Domain

I hope you have enjoyed this little peek into the historical Christmas traditions of one little country in Europe: Denmark. Until the new year, I will now just wish you a Glaedelig Jul—Merry Christmas!

Kiersti Giron holds a life-long passion for history and historical fiction. She loves to write stories that show the intersection of past and present, explore relationships that bridge cultural divides, and probe the healing Jesus can bring out of brokenness. Kiersti has been published in several magazines, won the 2013 ACFW Genesis Award - Historical for her manuscript Beneath a Turquoise Sky, and is currently a 2018 Genesis Finalist. An English teacher and member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kiersti loves learning and growing with other writers penning God's story into theirs, as well as blogging at She lives in California with her wonderful husband, Anthony, and their two kitties.