One old Scandinavian Christmas custom is for the birds ... literally. Many Nordic families offer food to the birds at Christmas time. The traditional offering consists of a sheaf of grain placed on a pole, fence, or rooftop. Those who do not have access to cereal stalks may substitute a plate of grain, bread, or seeds. Scandinavians call the bundle of grain stalks a “Christmas sheaf.” They place it outside on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning in order to include the birds in the feasting that is taking place inside the home.
Several other Scandinavian customs encourage the kind treatment of animals at Christmas time. Tradition dictates that farmers give horses and cows extra helpings of food. In NORWAY hunters withdraw snares and traps during the CHRISTMAS SEASON. Some believe that these customs, including the feeding of birds at Christmas time, arose as a way of spreading the spirit of kindness and plenty that infuses human celebrations of Christmas throughout the animal kingdom. Others argue that the Christmas sheaf originally worked as a kind of magic rite. They believe the sheaf may have served as a sacrifice to pre-Christian fertility spirits or as a charm to keep the birds from harming the coming year’s crops. In any case, contemporary Scandinavians delight in the eager pecking and joyous chatter of the birds who find the sheaf on Christmas morning.