A beautiful Hungarian and Croatian custom on the feast of St. Lucy (December 13) is to plant the "Christmas wheat" on that day. It will be sprouted and ready to add to the manger as a soft bed for the Baby Jesus by December 24. The new green shoots are also a reminder of the new life born in Bethlehem.
If you don’t normally keep wheat berries on hand this is a chance to get some before the 13th. You can purchase them at most health food stores. And if any one couldn't do wheat other grain berries such as rye or barley, or even grass seed could be substituted. Choose a container - tray, shallow round dish, flower pot, basket. Line the bottom of your growing container/basket with approx. 2 inches of potting soil (or vermiculite mixed with soil). Sprinkle wheat berries over the soil in a single layer. Cover with a very light layer of soil. Lightly water the seeds with a spray bottle. To speed the growing you can pre-soak the seeds for 6-12 hours until they have started to sprout slightly, then plant.
Place container in a warm area but not in direct sunlight. Cover it with newspaper or paper towel. Each day mist the seeds with water. Do not use too much water – just keep moist. Remove the newspaper once the leaves start to sprout (usually a couple of days). By Christmas Eve you'll have several inches of lovely green "Christmas grass". Then the children may carry it to the creche as a gift for the Child Jesus, symbolic of the Eucharistic bread by which He feeds our souls at the altar as well as of the staff of life by which His Father keeps life in our bodies. It also reminds us Christ, the Bread of Life, was born in Bethlehem, whose name means "House of Bread." They could be tied with a ribbon and a candle may be placed near them as a symbol of the Light of Christ, as is suggested in a couple sources.
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. ~John 12:24
In researching I found other cultures (France, Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia) where setting out seeds to sprout before Christmas was a tradition - some associated with the Feast of St. Barbara, December 4 instead of St. Lucy. In this recollection of a Danube Swabian celebration, it describes how the Christmas ritual began on December 4, St. Barbara Day. A drinking glass was placed up-side-down in the center of a shallow bowl or plate. Grains of wheat would be planted around the outside. On Christmas Eve this would be the centerpiece on the table. The glass was removed and a candle was put in its place. A bright red ribbon was tied round the bowl and the candle was lit.
In France on the feast of Sainte-Barbe, children plant wheat or lentils, barley, chickpeas, or any seed that sprouts quickly, in a saucer: providing some greenery in the cold winter days, a precursor of the spring. These seeds are described as being sown on a piece of cotton wool, kept moist with water. Tradition says that when the seeds show a healthy growth by Christmas, the new year will be prosperous.
Another association of wheat with St. Lucy is an Italian tradition of eating bowls of a cooked wheat porridge known as cuccia. The tradition comes from a time when during a famine, the people of Syracuse prayer to St. Lucy, who interceded and a ship arrived laden with grain.
Too late for this year, but the Confraternity of Penitents also will provide St. Lucy Wheat Kits to those who request them - donations accepted.