Tag Archives: christmas customs

Czech Christmas Tradition

Background Information: 

The informant was born and raised in Australia, but has roots in the Czechia. She is describing her childhood in Sydney.

Main Content: 

ME: Hey can you tell me about your experiences during Christmas. 

SP: So on Christmas Eve instead of Santa Clause coming St. Nicholas comes and if you are a really good child you get an orange or an apple from him, and if you are a really bad child the equivalent of Satan comes and basically kidnaps you forever, and if your orange or apple is really sweet that is like the best present you could’ve gotten from Saint Nick and it means that you are gonna have a really good year. 

ME: Does the apple or orange specifically have any significance?

SP: Umm, Oh! Its actually an apple, orange, or golden pig. The golden pig is actually the one that has the most significance and basically when I was little, ummm,  on Christmas eve my grandma would sprinkle golden fairy dust to make the trail of a golden pig, and then that would lead to our stockings which would have either an apple or an orange in them, and that was basically our parents way of telling us that we were good children that year. 

ME: Who started introduced this tradition to you?

SP: So basically my mom’s family is Czech, so my grandparents on my mom’s side and I just got brought up with it. 


This conversation happened in-person. 


I think it is really interesting to see different Christmas traditions from different backgrounds. It’s interesting that the children receive gifts on Christmas Eve, instead of Christmas morning. This tradition is very different from the modern American gift-giving. Considering that on Christmas Eve, the two outcomes for a child in this tradition is either receiving a fruit or being kidnapped by the devil, it is very different from the conventional American tradition of receiving exuberant gifts if you were good, or getting a piece of coal if you were bad. 

Christmas Tree Tradition – Star Topper

Main Piece:

SE: “When I was a kid, every Christmas, we’d have the Christmas tree set out and all decorated. But instead of having a normal angel on the top, we have an angel with the head of an airedale terrier.”

Me: “A dog?”

SE: “Yeah, it was the first kind of dog we had. The star actually has a name that my sister gave it. We call it the ‘Guinness’ angel named after our first dog. And we have a rotation between us kids of who gets to put Guinness up each year.”


The informant, SE, was raised Catholic and grew up in Pasadena. He’s been celebrating Christmas his whole life, and the dog angel has always been a part of the holiday for him.


We were exchanging Christmas traditions amongst our friends and SE explained his family’s unique ornament ritual. Important to note, their dog Guinness has since passed away, but they still put up this star topper as their angel.


My family also has a tradition around who gets to put up certain ornaments on the tree, and a rotating system for how that is decided… but I’ve never heard of the dog star topper. The style of object significance is much alike how tourismus can garner a much greater value despite being of such cheap materials. Having the knowledge that Guinness is no longer alive almost makes the star have even more spiritual value, as the family’s own animal watches over their home when the holidays come around.

Christmas Present Map

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my mother/informant (SW).

HS: When I was young, you would make a map of our home with presents marked as x’s scattered throughout the house. Where did you get this tradition from?

SW: From what I can remember, my mom would make Christmas maps for us when we were kids. Particularly for my brother, because he was always super adventurous. My mom may have gotten it from her family, but I’m not 100% sure. Anyways, I remember the first time I did it for you so well. You totally lit up and got super excited, and so I would make a map of our house every year and hide presents in obscure places. At first, I would hide the presents in pretty easy-to-find places, but as you got older I had to get a lot more creative so that you wouldn’t find them in 30 seconds.


My informant is my mother. She was raised in Huntington Beach, California, but she moved to Kansas with her family when she was 16 because a majority of her family was living there and in Missouri. She always dreamed of coming back to California and took the first opportunity she could get to come back. She now lives in Dana Point.


I was sitting at dinner with my parents and was talking to my mom about how she had gotten the idea to make a Christmas present map.


I have always been curious about this tradition within my family, particularly because I often wonder whether it is unique to us or not. If there is one thing that I have learned from taking ANTH 333, it is that a lot of traditions that people think are unique to them are in fact not and in some cases actually very widespread.

The Fjøsnisse


My informant for this piece is an American of Scandinavian descent. He lived in Norway for a time during high school and learned the language while he was there. He also still keeps in contact with his host family from his time living there, and his son recently spent a year abroad there as well. His family participates in this tradition every year and has neighbors do it for them when they leave town for the holidays.


The legends and myths of trolls are very strong in Norway. They’re supposed to be tiny little tricksters, like gremlins. They live in barns–specifically red barns–so you’ll see a lot of red barns in Norway and Sweden because they bring good luck.

Main Piece:

“On Christmas Eve you’re supposed to leave out what’s called ‘rømme grøt’ which is a porridge made with butter, cinnamon, and sometimes brown sugar. So on Christmas Eve the Fjøsnisse is supposed to come and eat it. If he eats it that means he’s happy with the rømme grøt you brought him, and he’ll bring you good luck–protect your livestock and barn for the year. But if he isn’t satisfied, he’ll cause mischief in your life for the whole next year!”


While this tradition is based around a belief in trolls, it also follows the principles of homeopathic magic. In leaving a bowl of porridge out for the Fjøsnisse, one is using the foods their farm produces in order to protect the sanctity of the farm itself. By using a part to protect the whole, believers in the Fjøsnisse practice homeopathic magic.

The Yulenissa


The interviewee is one of my housemates and we often engage in conversation about his Danish heritage. This folklore is a myth that he continues to practice as part of a family tradition.



The following is transcribed from the story told by the interviewee.

“On Christmas growing up, we have this thing called the Yulenissa, they are these gnome things in Scandinavia. Kind of these small creatures. So every Christmas they visit and we have to leave a bowl of porridge out before night. And in the morning, we would see their footprints outside the house and there will be this whole set-up of how they snuck in. There’s a string down the fireplace and you’ll see ashes of small footprints around the house or something like that. And the Yulenissa is this trickster that’s meant to do tricks and he’ll bring presents but he’s not meant to be Santa. He doesn’t do nice things, you’re meant to put the porridge out or he would trick you. My mom did this when she was growing up with her Danish Dad and so it became a thing that we did in the family.”



This story feels very familiar perhaps because it closely resembles the myth of Santa Claus. But unlike Santa Claus, the Yulenissa is known to be a trickster. Because the Yulenissa is a trickster, there are specific steps one must take in order to ensure that their family is kept safe, which is seen in putting the porridge out. On a personal level, I think the Yulenissa is important in upholding tradition. In this myth, there are consequences if the members of that culture do not uphold the tradition. This Danish tradition is seen to have been passed down from one member of the family to another, and the spirit of bringing the family together to thwart the trickster remains.