Cultures from around the world use wheat, hay, or straw as an integral part of their Christmas decorations. For some, bushels of wheat are brought into the house or placed under the tablecloth to represents hope for a good harvest in the coming year. For others, straw is spread as a symbol of the straw that lined the manger of Christ at His birth. In Finland, straw takes on a much more structured form.
On the Fifth Day of Imported Christmas, we made a himmeli, using straw and thread to form geometric shapes that have given our house a beautiful Nordic feel this season.
Himmelis predate the Christmas tree as Finland’s foremost holiday decoration. The word himmel means sky, or heaven, and traditionally, the himmeli was hung over the dining table to ensure a good harvest. Because the straw is dried, himmeli can last for years or even decades.
Rye straw is the widely-accepted standard material, but since we didn’t have access to any rye, we used plastic coffee straws. The key is to have straw grouped by similar diameter and cut to the necessary lengths to create the shapes you want. Himellis can be small and simple, or several feet wide and beautifully elaborate.
Gordon opted to keep our first himmeli simple, but we love the results and will no doubt make more this holiday season and into the future.
Interested in learning about more international Christmas traditions? Follow our 12 Days of Imported Christmas:
Twelve Days of Imported Christmas
- The First Day: Chichilaki—Georgia’s Shaved Christmas Tree
- The Second Day: Lotería de Navidad—Spain’s Communal Christmas Lottery
- The Third Day: Stargazy Pie—Cornwall’s Town-Saving Fish Dish
- The Fourth Day: Rellenong Manok—The Phillipines’ Elaborately Stuffed Christmas Chicken
- The Fifth Day: Himmeli—Finland’s Geometric Straw Ornaments
- The Sixth Day: Figgy Pudding—England’s Fiery Festive Centerpiece
- The Seventh Day: Glückspilz—Germany’s Lucky Mushroom
- The Eighth Day: Pumpple Cake—Philadelphia’s Quadruple Dessert
- The Ninth Day: Porchetta—Italy’s Decadent Pork Centerpiece
- The Tenth Day: Julkalender—Sweden’s Serialized TV Christmas Countdown
- The Eleventh Day: Peppermint Pig—Saratoga’s Shattered Sow
- The Twelfth Day: Ursul—Romania’s Bear Dance Festival