Residents around the region share their Christmas traditions

Published 12:35 am Saturday, December 31, 2022

FARMVILLE – Just before Christmas, we started asking residents to share their holiday traditions. Even though Christmas Day has come and gone, we’re still in the middle of Christmastide, so we posed a question. If you could sum up Christmas in one photo, what would it be? 

For Buckingham County resident Andrew Caden, the holiday is summed up with three wood-carved images that have been in his family for decades. The three carvings are of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus, created more than 40 years ago by his grandfather, Davis Caden. 

“He’s no longer with us, so every year when we bring out the nativity, it helps us feel like he’s still with us, like he’s still a part of the celebration,” Caden said. “It’s also the first thing we put out when setting out Christmas decorations, to help remind us all of the reason we’re celebrating.” 

If it seems like nativity scenes have been around forever, that’s not entirely wrong. The concept, celebrating Christmas through images of the Holy Family, stretches back to the 1200s. Specifically, Saint Francis of Assisi is considered the designer of the first nativity scene. In 1223, he became inspired by his recent visit to the Holy Land, where he had seen what’s believed to be Jesus’ birthplace. He decided to carve a wooden version of the stable and the Holy Family to encourage Christians to worship. As people heard about what he did, they decided to try out carvings of their own, wanting to do the same thing. 

Stories of Nisse and sugar cookies

Leading up to the big day, there’s a good chance you’ve seen stuffed gnomes popping up all over the place. These tiny guys typically have a long beard, long legs and a hat pulled over their eyes. Between the hat and beard, you can’t really see much of its actual body. These gnomes have a tie to winter celebrations that dates back centuries, as Prince Edward County resident Ashley Hope explains. 

“My grandma’s family came from Norway,” Hope said. “They would tell stories of the Nisse and that’s become a tradition here at Christmas time. When we get together as a family, there’s always a time when one or two start telling stories of the Nisse.” 

The Nisse are house gnomes in Scandinavian folklore. They typically live in or under the house, protecting the children and animals from anything evil. In Norway, they play a role very similar to Santa. The idea is if you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice back. In other words, if children clean their rooms (so the Nisse don’t trip), chop firewood (so the Nisse stay warm) or do similar chores, they’ll end up with some gifts.

But what about the smells of Christmas? Debbie Marley said the smell of sugar cookies always makes her think of Christmas. 

“We have two parties in my family,” Marley said. “There’s the Christmas Day get-together and one on Epiphany (Jan. 6). We always have sugar cookies on Christmas Day. My grandma, my mom and now me, we’ve all made cookies, with help from any younger ones in the family who want to learn.” 

Sugar cookies even have a historical name that remind people of Christmas. In the 1700s, they were called “Nazareth Cookies”, coming from a German Protestant settlement in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. 

A bit of nutcracker luck

Buckingham County resident Brandon Huxley’s family has a specific tradition. For a person’s first Christmas, either by birth, marriage or however they’ve become part of the family, the new member is given a nutcracker. 

“My great-grandpa would tell us all stories when we were kids,” Huxley said. “He said that nutcrackers were good luck, and after he married great-grandma, he decided that he would start a tradition to share that luck, so a new family member is blessed, going into the New Year. We still do that today and keep telling that story to our kids, about good luck from nutcrackers.” 

The idea of nutcrackers being a source of good luck goes back centuries in Germany. There’s an old folktale that talks about a puppet maker who won a nutcracker challenge by making a puppet with a mouth for a lever to crack the nuts. In Germany, you’d see nutcrackers in the form of a soldier, a knight or a king, with this practice dating all the way back to the 15th century.