USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘christmas’
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Reading of the Christmas Story

A father has implemented a tradition in his family that the eldest family member present reads the “Christmas Story” as recorded in the book of the Bible, Luke. This occurs before any Christmas presents are opened, he explains:

“I started this tradition as a way of reminding everyone what Christmas truly means without getting too wrapped up in the excitement of the holiday and the gift aspect. Christmas to me is a true celebration of life and having the oldest family member read the story is another way of celebrating life itself.

This version of the Christmas story text reads as follows (Luke Chapter 2: 1-21, NIV edition):

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the         Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.”



Background:He is 53 years old and raised in Los Gatos, CA. He was raised in a Catholic home and began to strongly identify in the Christian faith after college and into his years as a father. He attended Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley.

Context:He shared this tradition with me at a dinner we had just the two of us. His mother had just passed away, and he was reflecting on his fondest memories of her.

Analysis: Family traditions, particularly those linked to particular holidays or particular people, is a really emotional form of folklore. There is something about a holiday ritual that evokes such a strong sense of family unity and solidarity that I think is very unique. In terms of the Christmas tradition explained above, the most captivating element is that the reading is done by the eldest family member every year. This is really emotional to think about, as the eldest family member could potentially change every year depending on family members who pass on. For the person who shared this story, his mom was the one reading the Christmas story for many years, until this Christmas, when the tradition had to be passed on to someone new. The tradition becomes heavy in this sense, but also a really beautiful way to continue someone’s legacy and memory within one family unit.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Santa Lucia/Swedish Christmas Traditions

Main Piece:


The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as PG. I am marked as DG.


PG: Every Christmas on like, I think it was December 6th something like that, the uhh the daughter in the house would put on a ring of candles on her head and bring in breakfast to the mom, and it was Santa Lucia day, which frankly I didn’t know much about, but we did it every Christmas. It was a Swedish tradition, and I learned it from my mom. Another one is we opened our presents the night before Christmas. She swore it was a tradition! She might have just been impatient. And every year I try to get you guys to do it but you always say no (laughs).





The conversation was recorded while sitting on a patio in Glendora, CA. The sun is setting and a group of us are sitting around all sharing folklore. The context for the tradition is that these are to be performed in the house of the family. The Santa Lucia one is performed in the morning, by the daughter, and the gift tradition was performed in the living room.




The interviewee is a 53-year-old father of two, who is married. He grew up in Los Angeles, before moving around, and finally ending up back in Los Angeles. He was raised by his mother alone, who is from Sweden. He comes from a religious background.




This is a tradition from Sweden. I find it interesting because although the interviewee’s mother is from Sweden, PG was born in America, so his only experience with Swedish traditions has been the same few that have been carried over by his mother from Sweden. These are not traditions that have been passed down to his children, showing the power of region for folklore. These traditions are fascinating because they are strictly part of the Swedish culture–it’s not like a more popular folklore item that is seen in most places by most cultures.


For another version of the Saint Lucia tradition, see Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker (2014).

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Christmas Pickle

Title: The Christmas Pickle

Category: Ceremonial Object

Informant: Kurt A. Gabbard

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 50s

Occupation: Princeton Seminary—Vice President of Business Affairs/Financial Consultant/CPA/CFO

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18


The Christmas Pickle is a tradition that takes place on the eve of Christmas. After returning from Christmas eve mass, the children are sent upstairs while the parents hide the pickle within the branches of the Christmas tree. The ornament in the shape and color of a normal pickle. After the pickle has been hidden in the tree, the children are then called downstairs to search for it. The first child to discover the pickle is then granted the first gift of Christmas.


The Christmas pickle is believed to be a German Christmas tradition but has recently been proven to have originated in the United States sometime around the late nineteenth century. The tradition is for a specific child to win the first gift of Christmas. The gift is usually a smaller preemptive Christmas gift that can usually be shared between children (i.e. a coloring book, or family board game). The tradition was passed down from my Father’s side of the family and our family has participated in the tradition for at least the past twenty four years.

Personal Thoughts:

My family has been involved with the tradition ever since my eldest brother’s birth and has evolved with our ages. When we were younger, the pickle was usually on the lower branches of the Christmas tree and was more easily located. As my brothers and I have gotten older, and since my family did not want to abandon the tradition, my parents have begun to hide the pickle more strategically to make the game more difficult to win. In recent years, the pickle has been found in the Christmas tree, in both indoor/outdoor wreaths, outdoor trees/bushes, and hidden within Christmas garland or within our Department 56 Christmas village.

Additionally, the Christmas gift has evolved into more adult items that we would like, for example: a gift card, a DVD, etc.




Christmas Cinnamon Rolls


In Tucson, Arizona, a family passes down the tradition of making a very specific recipe on Christmas. This recipe has been passed down for so many generations, the actual author of the recipe is unknown. The source has said that it traces back to their Mennonite and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. The recipe was given to the daughters and daughters-in-law of each generation as a rite of passage for becoming the official “woman of the household”. Every Christmas morning, those with the recipe would cook these cinnamon rolls for the entire family and those celebrating the holiday with them.


Unfortunately, when asked to record the recipe for documentation, my source refused to even let me see it. The secrecy behind this recipe is extremely important to the family and is viewed as a way of creating a bond between the women of the family and a true acceptance into the family. Me seeing this would be devaluing its importance.


I think this is a really unique coming of age tradition. Not only is it a way of cementing blood relatives as officially women, but it’s also a creative way of welcoming those who have married into the family. Because of this, I completely understand my source’s hesitance in letting me see the actual recipe.




A family in Santa Ana, California celebrate the unique holiday of “Ricksmas” in which the extended family and family friends gather to celebrate a sort of counter-culture Christmas. The holiday is celebrated similarly to the American traditions of the Christmas in that there is an exchange of gifts, a Christmas tree, and a grand dinner to round out the night. Unlike Christmas, however, each gift has to follow a designated theme that changes from year to year. The holiday is also not celebrated on December 25th, but rather (like the theme) changes from year to year.


My talk with my source, R, is as follows:

R: My dad’s name is Rick and the whole extended family on his side has kind of like a strange bond cause we’re all a little weird. Basically like a couple weeks before, a couple weeks after we have kind of a Christmas celebration called Ricksmas, cause that’s my dad’s name. Um… and so all the people on my dads side congregate and like some family friends and we have themed gifts every year; like it’s really weird how democratic it is like there’s a different person each year and then they cycle out for each year and they have a certain number of topics they’ll choose. Like sometimes its like… Oh god one time it was just X, like a gift could be something 10 like the roman numeral 10 or it could be like X the Ed Sheeran album. That’s kind of the whole thing I mean the rest is kind of like Christmas with a tree and a dinner but there’s like little tweaks to everything. But yeah that’s Ricksmas.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Christmas Pickle

“So what it is, is like, every Christmas on Christmas Eve, um, my family, like, after we go to Christmas Mass (unintelligible) my family does it personally, I don’t know if it has to be like after mass, but like, that’s just what we do. ‘Cause we always go to the midnight mass too, so we come back like super early in the morning. And, I think the reason we do that, honestly, is because my mom has been, like, has been Santa growing up, so she hasn’t gone to Christmas Mass. So, like, I think that’s probably why it happens. Um…so family, whole thing there. But, um, what happens is, like, all of the kids like go upstairs, and it’s like me and my…my brothers. Um, so we all go upstairs, and while we’re up there, my mom, like, and dad like hide this green pickle ornament – in the tree, is what it used to be. Um, and, so it’s like, it’s hard to find, right? ‘Cause you have all the other ornaments there, and it’s, like, deep in this, like, green tree and it’s, like, reflective, so you just, like, you’re going around this tree for like…a while trying to find it. Um, and so…yeah, so like, after they end up hiding it, um, there…the (unintelligible) and stuff, they like run down, they tell us to come down. And, um, whoever finds the pickle first gets the first gift of Christmas. Um, and then there’s kind of a competition ‘cause there’s three kids, and so, like, we all want this, like, gift. Um, so it’s pretty much what I was – I think it’s like – I think it’s a German tradition. From what I, like I’ve heard it’s supposed to symbolize, like, the first gift of Christmas.”

This tradition was described by a classmate after class ended.


German Christmas Traditions

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as SH.

SH: It’s a German thing to open presents on the evening of the 24th. Christmas in Germany isn’t the 25th—the 25th is nothing. My family celebrates in the morning of the 25th because my brother and I grew up in here—Christmas is at its peak when you’re young, and my brother and I lived in Michigan, and I feel like it’s more exciting to wake up as a kid and think “There are presents!” as opposed to like, seeing them there the entire evening.

With Germans, it’s the thing where you go to church and then come back, and the presents have magically appeared. But like, if you don’t go to church, like my family, the presents would have have just kinda been… sitting there.

I guess it’s also a family tradition that my father always tries to force us to go to church, and the rest of my family always resists. Didn’t happen this year though, my dad gave in. He didn’t even mention church. He was like: “It’s fine, it’s whatever. We aren’t doing it.” I’ve found that a lot of other families make a big deal out of doing like—a home cooked meal for Christmas eve, or Christmas dinner, you know. We usually go out.

BD: But not to church?

SH: Nope.


Analysis: The German tradition to open presents the night before Christmas Day reminds me of a tradition my family celebrates, called Noche Buena—celebrated in Spain, the Philippines, and some places in Latin America, this holiday also puts more of the emphasis on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. I was unaware that Germany had a similar idea, and I find it interesting that my informant’s family changed their traditions upon being in America. Though she did not consider her family to be “very German” to begin with, the ease with which they adopted a more “Americanized” tradition for Christmas is very interesting. It helps to show what their family values as well—the excitement of Christmas for the younger generation is emphasized, and in a way, the children are prioritized.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Traditions

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as NC.

NC: Another tradition we have is Christmas morning. We have a very specific routine on how to like—attack the day. So first, everyone had to, like, wait for everyone else to get up. We normally had a preassigned time when we allowed to wake up the parents. Normally—I’m the youngest—normally I’d wake up first, then I’d wake up my brother, and then we would wake up my sister. Then, after that, we would wait, and all go down at the same time. No one was allowed downstairs before everyone’s allowed downstairs, so we’d all go down together. This includes parents. No one was allowed downstairs until the whole family was ready. And then we would go into the kitchen, and we would let my mom start preparing the coffee cake, because we would always have a coffee cake for breakfast. And once she had put that in the oven—she had already set up all the ingredients the night before, so she just had to mix them together and put it in the oven, we were then allowed to open the stockings. After that, once the coffee cake was done, we would eat breakfast and clean the dishes, and then we could open the presents around the tree. And we did this one by one, looking and commenting on each present, telling stories why we gave the present to each other, or why Santa gave it. And that was our day. I think this is funny because we’re actually Jewish, so this has nothing to do with anything that we believe in. It was just like, a fun tradition, that became very systematic.

BD: Who set this tradition? Your parents?

NC: I guess—my mom is Jewish, and my dad is Catholic, but he doesn’t celebrate Christmas. He’s from Spain, and they celebrate Three Kings’ Day, not Christmas in the same way. So I don’t really know, I guess it evolved as we got older.

BD: Where’s your mom from?

NC: She’s from New York.

Analysis: The thoroughness of this holiday tradition was both startling and quite entertaining. It reminds me also of another Christmas tradition I had listened to, and I am surprised at the ease with which immigrants to the United States adopt some very American traditions. As the informant said, his family is Jewish, so Christmas Day should not be that big of a deal. However, his dad is Catholic, though this does not seem to affect their traditions very much. Perhaps it is explained by his mom’s background—she is not first generation, and perhaps helped to start what the informant thinks is a more “American” Christmas tradition.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition of Gift Giving- Christmas (Cali, Colombia)

During Christmas, it is, really common for people to make a lot of breads and pastries in Columbia to just give to surrounding neighbors. The more popular treats would be empanadas which are a pastry in which the inside is filled with different type of sweet pastes. The sweet pastries are a form of telling your neighbors to enjoy the festivities and have a great time, basically a good omen for the holidays. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people. This seems like a great way to start the holidays with gifts, as how usual Christmas goes in the United States.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ferias De Cali

Cities are important to the location, each city has its own party, they call it ferias, the feria de Cali just happens to be during Christmas time , the carnivals are in Barranquilla Carnival. These carnivals are huge festivals in which the Colombian people showcase different sets of parades and a lot of other different stands just to show off their different type of foods or even toys for the kids to have fun with.These carnivals last for many weeks sometimes in order to celebrate through the time change of the seasons.Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people