Christmas Around the World

Sweden

God ul! Like most of the world, Sweden starts its Christmas traditions early. Saint Lucia's Day happens on the morning of December 13, in honor of Lucia, a Christian martyr from the fourth century. The oldest daughter of the family wears a white robe, a red sash, and an evergreen crown with candles in it, and serves her parents breakfast. The other children accompany her, boys dressed as "star boys" - wearing pointed hats and carrying star wands. Sometimes processions are held, with "Lucia" leading a procession of women, each with a single lit candle representing the fire that could not burn Lucia after she was sentenced to death by the Romans.

Christmas Eve dinner usually has ham, pickled pigs feet, or dried codfish, and special treats are goat-shaped gingerbread cookies. A rice porridge called risgrynsgröt has a hidden almond; the person who finds it will supposedly get married in the next year. Some of this porridge must be left for the jultomte, or Christmas Gnome, who brings presents.

A more recent tradition is watching Donald Duck and Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas on Christmas Eve. In Sweden, Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) is the principal Disney character, not Mickey Mouse. Millions of people tune in to watch it every year.

"Santa Lucia (Saint Lucia) is a Swedish tradition that is celebrated on one of the darkest nights in Sweden," says Lisa Henrichs. "The oldest daughter in each family wears a crown of candles to bring the light into the dark morning and carries a tray of Lussekatter (saffron-flavored buns). This was one of my favorite holidays as I was growing up in Sweden."

Lussekatter

  • 1 3/4 sticks butter, melted
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 6 packets yeast
  • 1 cup milk, warm
  • 2 eggs, beaten separately
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 1/2 cups flour, divided
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup raisins
Combine melted butter and cream. Crush saffron with 1 tablespoon sugar in a mortar until very fine; set aside. Combine yeast, milk, and 2 tablespoons sugar; let stand 10 minutes or until mixture is foamy. Add butter mixture, saffron mixture, 1 of the beaten eggs, and salt to yeast mixture. Stir well. Add remaining sugar. Add 6 cups flour; stir until a stiff dough forms. Turn mixture out onto a floured surface; knead about 10 minutes, adding additional flour 1/2 cup at a time, until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a large bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Boil water and pour over raisins; let sit until raisins are plump. Preheat the oven to 475° F. Knead dough and divide into 24 pieces. Shape each into an S shape. Place 2 raisins at ends of buns. Let rise 1 hour. Brush with remaining beaten egg. Bake 8-10 minutes or until browned. Makes 2 dozen.

Lisa Henrichs BYU 86th Ward BYU 18th Stake Provo, Utah


Israel

Mo'adim Lesimkha. Shanah Tova! Many Christians in Israel, natives or tourists, make pilgrimages at this time to the grotto believed to be the location of Christ's birth, now enclosed in the Church of the Nativity (which is actually a combination of two churches - Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic). On Christmas Eve, they gather in Manger Square, the courtyard in front of the Church, to sing Christmas carols before midnight mass.

Church member Ann Hansen describes what it is like to celebrate Christmas in Israel. "Ironically, in this area where Jesus grew to adulthood and where He spent much of His mortal ministry, Christmas is celebrated by only a very few. For the adult members of the Galilee Branch, Christmas is a regular workday; for the children it is a regular school day.

"As a branch," she continues, "we usually hold one sacrament meeting in December on the Mount of Beatitudes. It is a beautiful place and invites the Spirit. . . . The poinsettias, which can be ten to fifteen feet tall, are in full bloom all over the gardens. [Last] year [for our branch party] we went out onto the dark balcony and, with the lights around the Sea of Galilee in front of us, we sang Christmas carols."

Hansen said she used to take here children to Nazareth every year for the Christmas Eve Parade. "The parade features the Boy Scout bagpipe bands, lots of floats carrying Santa Claus and children dressed as angels, tons of balloons, and a weird but exciting blend of western Christmas carols being sung in Arabic," she says. "Then, as night approached, we would watch the fireworks light up the skies over Nazareth."

Lentil Soup

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 2 tablespoons rice
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, butter, or shortening
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 pita bread, cut into cubes, triangles, or small strips, and toasted
Rinse lentils and rice, then place in soup pot with the water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer about 1 1/2 hours. For a smoother soup, at this stage place soup and 1 more cup of water in a blender and process until smooth. Return soup to pot. Add spices and simmer over low heat. In a separate pan, saute onion in vegetable oil until soft. Add to soup. Boil 10 minutes. Stir in parsley. Serve hot with the toasted pita. Makes 4 servings.

Since our Christmas celebrations usually take us out of the house and we're never sure when we will get back, we like to make soup so that it is ready for whomever is home at whatever time they get home.

Ann Hansen Galilee Branch Israel District Hatzor HaGlilit, Israel


Philippines

Maligayan Pasko! The Philippines have the longest Christmas season of any country in the world. Caroling often starts in September, and the season doesn't end until January. Even though they do decorate Christmas trees and string lights, the big decoration of the season is the parol, a star lantern representing the Star of Bethlehem. Sometimes the star is left up year-round!

The Philippines is the only Asian country that is primarily Christian, so a large focus of the holiday is on Jesus Christ. On Christmas Eve, they hold their own Panunuluyan pageant, where they reenact Joseph and Mary's search for shelter. On Christmas Day, they have a Nativity pageant, which ends with the hanging of a star.

"In 1966 my mother, sister, and I, along with my children, Jay and Darlene, were among the early converts to the LDS Church in Manila," says Aurora Suntay. "We call the eve before Christmas Noche Buena ("good night"). We spend the day cooking and preparing for the night's meal. Being a Catholic country, [many] go to church for the midnight Mass."

She continues, "The road to the church is lined with vendors dressed up in beautiful costumes of different towns in the Philippines. The air is perfumed with all kinds of foods being sold by the vendors. . . . The path is lighted by flickering candles. After church, the festivities start at home. The menu is usually arroz caldo (chicken soup), slices of ham and cheese on large platters with pan de sal (homemade rolls), pancit (noodles), and various desserts, such as bibingka. . . . The night ends with gift wrappers all over the house, children hugging their gifts, and the buffet table almost empty."


Pancit Guisado

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup sliced chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup peeled shrimp
  • 1/2 cabbage, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 carrots, sliced thin
  • 1 celery stalk, sliced thin
  • handful of green beans, julienned
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1 (8-ounce) package rice sticks (Bihon) or Canton noodles (available in Asian markets)
  • soy sauce
  • lemon or lime, sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large frying pan, saute garlic and onion, then add chicken and shrimp. Add cabbage, carrots, celery, and beans. Pour in half of the chicken broth and simmer until vegetables are crisp.

If using rice sticks: Soak sticks in water to soften. In a wok or similar pan, add a little oil and saute the drained rice sticks. Add 1/4 cup or less of soy sauce to give color. Using 1/2 of the vegetable mixture, mix with the noodles. Cook about 10 more minutes on low heat. On a big platter, pour and spread noodle mixture and top with the rest of the vegetables. Serve warm. Arrange slices of lemon or lime on platter. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If using Canton noodles: Soak noodles in the remaining broth. There is no need to drain; mix with vegetables as is. To make more elaborate, you can add slices of ham, pork, sausage, or tofu. You can also add other items, such as mango, sprouts, cauliflower, or bokchoy (Chinese cabbage). Reminder: if you increase the amount of vegetables, you must also increase the amount of noodles. Makes 4 servings.

Aurora Suntay American Fork 2nd Ward American Fork Utah Stake Pleasant Grove, Utah


Mexico

¡Feliz Navidad! Mexico has a special affinity to the most recognizable Christmas shrub - the pointsettia. It comes from Mexico, and it comes with a legend. When Jesus was born, a little boy named Pablo wanted to give Him a gift, but he had nothing, so he gathered up sticks. Other children made fun of him, but when he placed the sticks near the manger, they bloomed to form bright red, star-shaped flowers.

A big Christmas tradition unique to Mexico is called Las Posadas - a reenactment of Joseph and Mary's search for shelter in Bethlehem. For nine days before Christmas, friends and family divide up into two groups - the pilgrims and the innkeepers - and each day the pilgrims go from house to house in their neighborhood with figurines of Joseph and Mary, asking for a place to stay. They are not admitted anywhere until they reach the house where a Nativity scene has been set up. Here the pilgrims enter, they say a prayer, and the party begins! Each house in the neighborhood takes a turn being the host house. The last party is held Christmas Eve.

Children get gifts on Christmas Day by breaking open a piñata. Good children also receive a gift from the Three Wise Men on January 6, Dia de los Reyes, or Day of the Kings.

Another Mexican Christmas tradition is the rosca. This ring of bread hides a doll inside. When the family cuts it to eat it, everyone has to cut their own piece. If you get the doll, you are assigned to bring tamales to a party they have in February.

Christmas Mexican Stuffed Chicken Chicken:

  • 12 California peppers, boiled (remove seeds first)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 whole chickens
Stuffing:
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 2 cups diced potatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup chopped onions
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup whole green olives
  • 1/3 cup sliced green olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/3 cup almonds, peeled and minced
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • salt to taste
Blend peppers, garlic, vinegar, and salt. Puncture chickens with a fork all over and smear with pepper blend. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

To prepare stuffing, cook stuffing ingredients in a skillet, adding ingredients one by one in the order listed, allowing each to cook before adding the next.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Stuff chickens with stuffing, place in a baking dish, and cover with foil. Bake for approximately 90 minutes. Uncover for the last 10 minutes to brown the chickens. Place on a serving dish and enjoy! Serves about 20.

Notes: We are from Mexico, and this is my husband's family recipe. This is a very traditional Christmas recipe in the southern region of Mexico. My husband loves this dish and waits anxiously to be able to eat it and lick his fingers!

Lucy Madrid Battlecreek 10th Ward Pleasant Grove Utah East Stake Pleasant Grove, Utah


Russia

S Rozhdestvom Kristovym! Russia has a rich history of Christmas gift-givers. St. Nicholas is Grandfather Christmas was just one of many Christmas personages, including Babushka, which means grandmother, who gives presents as well. The legend is that Babushka decided to not go with the Three Wise Men to find the Christ Child because of the cold weather. She ended up regretting her choice, so she tried to catch up, and filled her bag with presents on the way. She never found Jesus, so now she leaves gifts to good children.

During the time of communism in Russia, depictions of both St. Nicholas and Babushka were outlawed because of their religious ties. Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), with his granddaughter Snegurochka, was the gift giver. On New Year's Eve, children would hold hands around the "New Year's tree" (Christmas trees were not allowed) and ask Grandfather Frost to come; when the lights on the tree lit up, it meant that he was coming.

Since the end of communism, many Christmas traditions have been revived. In one, Christmas Eve (January 6) is centered around a twelve-course meal, representing each of the twelve apostles. Some of these courses include borsch and kutya, a porridge that is supposed to bring good luck.

Ukrainischer Borsch

  • 1 1/2 pounds soup meat
  • 10-12 cups cold water
  • salt to taste
  • 6 potatoes, diced
  • 2-3 cups shredded cabbage
  • butter or oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, cut in strips
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 3 beets, peeled and cut in thin strips
  • parsley to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup tomatoes or juice
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1 red bell pepper, shredded
  • paprika
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • fresh dill
  • chives
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • sour cream
Put soup meat with approximately 3 liters of water in a big pot. Bring to a boil. Remove foam as it accumulates. Add salt, but not too much, because the vegetable bouillon cube will add some salt. Add the potatoes. Then after about 10 minutes, add the cabbage. Sear the remaining vegetables in a large frying pan in butter or oil (no olive oil!) in this order: onions, carrot, celery, beets, parsley, garlic, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Cook briefly so that the vegetables remain crisp. Add vegetables to the soup with the vegetable bouillon cube, pepper, paprika, and mustard. In the end, add the fresh dill, chives, and lemon juice to the soup. The soup is served with a dab of sour cream or crème Fraîche. Makes 8 servings.

Notes: It is important to put a spoonful of sour cream on the soup in each bowl and stir it in a little. This soup is a true vitamin bomb. Even the children love it, and we serve it regularly.

Anya Bibkbaova Kolpino Branch St. Petersburg Stake Kolpino, St. Petersburg, Russia


South Africa

Geseënde Kersfees! Merry Christmas! In South Africa, Christmas is at the peak of summer, so it's sunny outside and flowers are in full bloom. Since it's the summer, students are on a month-long break from school, and many businesses shut down for a month as well. In South Africa, relaxing is an important part of the Christmas holiday, so it's common to picnic, barbecue, camp, or head to the beaches. However, many South Africans still decorate fir trees and sing Christmas carols.

Because of South Africa's European ties, the South African Christmas dinner is similar to the traditional English Christmas dinner. Typically it's a big meal with turkey, ham, mince meat pies, and plum pudding, although some South Africans celebrate with an open-air picnic lunch.

Melktert

  • 1 (14-ounce) package puff pastry or flaky pastry
  • 4 cups milk, divided
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon corn flour (cornstarch)
  • 2 tablespoons castor sugar (superfine sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400° F. Lightly grease a 9-inch shallow enamel plate, quiche tin, or pie plate. Roll out the pastry and place in baking dish. Press a piece of oiled foil over the pastry and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake the crust for about 5 minutes more, until crisp and golden. Allow to cool. Measure 3 cups milk into a saucepan; add cinnamon stick and heat to just below boiling. Set aside to infuse for about 15 minutes. Mix the remaining milk, egg yolks, flour, corn flour, castor sugar, and baking powder. Strain cinnamon-flavored milk into milk and egg mixture, pour into a clean saucepan, and cook, stirring, until the custard thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla. Cool to room temperature. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, and fold into the custard. Pour into the pastry shell and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325° F and bake for about 30 minutes more, until the filling is set. Slide the hot tart onto a plate, sprinkle with ground cinnamon, and serve warm. Makes 8 servings.

Notes: This recipe has its origins in Holland. The Afrikaner people in South Africa make this recipe for every occasion, including Christmas.

Louise Futter Pretoria Ward Pretoria Stake Houghton, Gouteng, South Africa


-- Recipes and experiences excerpted from Worldwide Ward Christmas Cookbook, Covenant, 2009. Now available at Deseret Book.

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