Monday, December 3, 2007

Wheat on the table, straw on the floor

I've always admired homes with yards beautifully decorated for Christmas. Pretty lights, wreaths with red bows, even full-fledged nativity scenes...

During this time of year when so many are working on decorating the great outdoors for Christmas, I can't help but think of how many of our beautiful Christmas traditions began by bringing the outdoors in.

The Christmas tree is the biggest example. Nothing can compare to the sweet smell of pine in your living room during the holidays. But even our artificial trees bring a little bit of the natural world to us. And garlands - with berries, fruit, pinecones and so many other reminders of the great outdoors gracing the inside of our homes.

I like the tradition of the Croatian people who hang a kinc made of small pine branches and other decorations on the ceiling during the holidays. What a wonderful place to put a seasonal decoration in a small home. Other items that Croatians traditionally use to "bring the outdoors in" are corn, apples, ivy, holly, and other small tree branches.

The favorite of the small children has to be the large pile of straw placed on the floor on Badnjak (Christmas Eve) in memory of the Holy Infant's birth. Traditionally, most of the straw is placed under the table, but sometimes the table is decorated with it. In some families, it was traditional to sit upon the straw after dinner until it was time to go to Christmas Eve Mass. In some parts of Croatia, children were even known to sleep on straw the night of Christmas Eve. Talk about blurring the lines between the indoors and out!

The Ethnographic Museum of Zagreb has a few nice photos of Croatian Christmas decorations and customs, including the kinc and a table with straw decorating the floor beneath it pictured above.

Probably my favorite Croatian Christmas tradition is the small pot of wheat planted on St. Lucy's Day, December 13. A symbol of life and fertility, the wheat grows in a container that graces the table. Once it grows to a nice height, it is trimmed and decorated with the Croatian trobojnica: red, white and blue ribbon.

Tree branches, ivy, holly, fruit, piles of straw, little pots of wheat - what an aroma of the outdoors begins to scent the Croatian home at Christmastime!

You can learn more about Croatian Christmas traditions at and Andrea Janekovic's article on Christmas in Croatia.

Apologies to Thomas MacEntee and his Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories for taking liberties with the outdoor decorations theme for today and discussing indoor decorations with an outdoor flavor. Check out Thomas' calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Outdoor Decorations on December 5.

1 comment:

  1. My godparents who grew up in Czech and Polish families in Pennsylvania placed straw on the table and under it during Christmas.

    Also, I didn't realize the link with Saint Lucia and wheat. Next Thursday, December 13th is St. Lucia Day and since my neighborhood in Chicago is Swedish, there will be a big parade, girls with crowns and candles, and lots of glog!


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