With a history deeply rooted in European culture, Moore County owes its heritage to settlers from Great Britain, Scotland, and Germany. These rich cultures contributed to the many Christmas traditions we observe today. I’m not sure whether these traditions were celebrated by Moore County’s early settlers, but I thought it might be fun to examine some Christmas traditions from the European countries whose immigrants originally settled the county.
In the 1500s, religious feasts at Christmastime were called “Yule Vacations” and were declared illegal in Scotland, remaining so for almost four centuries until 1958, when Christmas was finally declared a holiday. Not to be deterred from celebrating, Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve) gained in popularity, with celebrations lasting for days, especially during the Christmas ban. Today, both Christmas and Hogmanay are celebrated with the festivities like singing “Auld Lang Syne,” written by Scottish poet Robert Burns; the Stonehaven Fireballs Festival, where residents swing giant fireballs to drive away evil spirits; and “’redding,” where participants aim to thoroughly clean their home.
Since the declaration of Christmas as a holiday, Scottish traditions are similar to those we enjoy in the states, such as caroling, decorating, writing letters to Santa, and leaving him a treat and drink on Christmas Eve. Christmas day consists of a large meal, opening crackers (a colorful paper tube that “cracks” when you pull on it, containing a small gift, hat, and corny joke), and watching the Queen’s speech or another holiday program.
Some of the Christmas traditions celebrated by our friends across the pond are the same as the current Scottish traditions. This is no surprise since both countries help comprise the UK. Although the holiday was also once banned in England, some of the Christmas traditions enjoyed today include opening Christmas crackers, wearing a paper Christmas crown throughout the meal, and tuning in to the Queen’s speech. One of the quirkier traditions is “mummering,” which is simply dressing up in costume, knocking on neighbors’ doors, and staging impromptu performances for those who answer. And it wouldn’t be a British Christmas without mince pies. Originally made with beef, suet, fruits, and peels, the recipe has morphed into a sweet fruity concoction of apples, raisins, currants, and candied peels in a sticky, thick, spicy, brandy-spiked sauce. Sometimes drizzled with custard, they are enjoyed at teatime throughout the holiday season. Christmas dinner wouldn’t be complete without the Christmas pudding. Known as figgy or plum pudding, this steamed, spicy, fruity, boozy cake is similar to fruitcake in the US and dates back to medieval times. Other meal items include Brandy Butter to top dessert, bread sauce (a creamy sauce made from breadcrumbs, cream, milk, & butter, seasoned with savory herbs & spices), and Brussels sprouts as a Christmas side dish.
While Superbowl commercials are the highlight of television advertising in the states, the Christmas “adverts” are the yearly highlight in the United Kingdom. Shops & large retailers are expected to go all out with festive, feel-good advertising, which is then applauded or ridiculed by the folks watching. All this leads up to Christmas Eve when families leave a mince pie and something a bit stronger than milk for Father Christmas (aka Santa Clause).
There are many traditions celebrated in the US that originated from Germany. One of these is the Advent Calendar, the customary countdown to Christmas that reveals a little gift, poem, or candy for each day. Alongside that is the Advent wreath, consisting of four candles nestled in a swag of pine branches, pinecones, berries, and dried flowers. The candles are lit one at a time each Sunday leading up to Christmas or brought out on the last Sunday and all four lit for the family to enjoy as they participate in Christmas festivities. The Christmas Tree, or Tannenbaum, dates to Martin Luther and the late 16th century and is decorated on Christmas Eve. Martin Luther was the first to set up a candle-lit tree indoors, inspired by twinkling stars on a walk home one evening.
Other traditions include St. Nicholas Day, the eve of Dec. 6, where children set their shoes outside their door for St. Nick will fill them with treats. Krampus roams on Krampus Night, teaching a well-deserved lesson to naughty children. Adults partake of various alcoholic beverages such as mulled wine and Feuerzangenbowle (a potent mulled rum set on fire). German Stollen, a sweet Christmas cake with candied fruit & nuts, is one of the sweet highlights of the season, as well as Lebkuchen, a Christmas cookie made with honey, spices, and nuts. Christmas shopping is done at large, festive Christmas markets found around the country, where you’ll most likely see a variety of Christmas angels, the beloved German ornament. Another favorite German decoration is hand-carved nutcrackers, which are given for good luck.
While each family’s Christmas traditions are treasured and wonderful, wouldn’t it be fun to add a few more to the mix to celebrate and carry on the heritage of those who settled here so long ago? My family already carries out some of these traditions that are so distinctly from other countries: St. Nicholas Day (though we called it St. Nick’s Eve on Dec. 5), Advent calendars, a Christmas tree, caroling, decorating, and baking family favorites. If I had to choose one tradition I’d like to add, I think it would be Christmas crackers or perhaps a Christmas pudding. There’s always room in the season to carry out one more tradition!