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Scandinavian Tradition for the Birds

Scandinavian bird design

A Holiday Act of Kindness Towards Birds

The Scandinavian countries have a beautiful tradition of encouraging the kind treatment of birds at Christmas time. They believe that if you spread birdseed outside your doorstep on Christmas morning, thus including the birds in the feasting that takes place inside your home, you will have good luck in the coming year.

This tradition has practical and symbolic origins. Swedes would put aside the last sheaves of grain from the harvest and hang out a bundle for the birds on Christmas (called a julkarve), hoping the birds would stay out of the barn where their harvest was stored.

Norwegians call the sheaf a julenek. An anonymous poem beautifully describes the tradition (source:

The Julenek (Christmas Sheaf)

Far over in Norway’s distant realm,
That land of ice and snow,
Where the winter nights are long and drear,
And the north winds fiercely blow,
From many a low-thatched cottage roof,
On Christmas eve, ’tis said,
A sheaf of grain (julenek) is hung on high,
To feed the birds o’erhead.

In years gone by, on Christmas eve,
When the day was nearly o’er,
Two desolate, starving birds flew past
A humble peasant’s door.
“Look! Look!” cried one, with joyful voice
And a piping tone of glee:
“In that sheaf there is plenteous food and cheer,
And the peasant had but three.
One he hath given to us for food,
And he hath but two for bread,
But he gave it with smiles and blessings,
‘For the Christ-child’s sake,’ he said.”

Anonymous Norwegian poem

Extending Kindness to Animals, Too

In Denmark and Norway farmers would give their animals extra food on Christmas Day. They would take their last sheaf of wheat brought in during the last harvest to use as decorations on the gates and outside doorways so that the birds might eat it. This older tradition, known as The Remembrance of Birds, was to honor the birds and beasts that were the witnesses to Christ’s birth.