Holiday Traditions

by Sasha

I felt pretty lucky as a kid.  The way I saw it, we got to celebrate Christmas (read: open presents) no less than four times.

December 6: St. Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas was known, among other things, for leaving gold in the shoes of young girls who could not afford dowries.  This odd little habit made him the model for the modern-day Santa Claus.  When we were kids, this meant that the Christmas season began on the night of December 5, when we would put out our shoes for St. Nicholas to fill with candies, trinkets, and gold-wrapped chocolate coins. Those coins were simply awful, I don’t know how anyone could justify calling them chocolate, but we cheerfully ate them anyways.

December 24: Christmas Eve

December 24 is the ‘big day’ in the German tradition, so after a candlelight Christmas service, it was off to Oma’s and Opa’s for knackwurst (yum!), boiled cabbage (umm, yeah, we’ll just skip that, shall we?), and Oh Joy! Presents!

December 24: Christmas Day

December 25 was, of course, the day Santa worked his magic under the tree.  We weren’t allowed out of our bedrooms until some impossible hour (8am?). Rather than have to wait it out alone, my sisters and I started the tradition of camping out on the floor together in one bedroom.  As we got older (and lazier), this also meant that we could send our baby sister out at the appointed time to retrieve our stockings for us.  Then, after gift opening and a breakfast of peameal bacon and pancakes, it was off to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s for the traditional Christmas dinner. Oh, and more presents.

January 6: Epiphany

Epiphany, in the Christian calendar, is the day the 3 Magi arrived in Bethlehem to pay homage to the baby Jesus. In our house, it was the last day of the Christmas season, and the day the tree came down.  And somehow, there were always a few ‘missed’ presents hiding under the tree skirt, wrapped in distictive Magi paper.

Today, of course, presents aren’t nearly as important to me – but traditions are. I have been thinking a lot about Christmas traditions and how to adapt those of our childhood for our new family. I would like to keep the ‘4 Christmases’ I remember, but I also want to make sure the season is not entirely about material things.  Some of the traditions we’re planning on keeping (or starting) include:

Christmas starts on Dec 6. More or less. I don’t want to get too fussed (or stressed) about dates.  But we’ll let St. Nicholas herald the start of our (roughly) 25 days of Christmas, try to get a decoration or two up that day, and open the Christmas music floodgates. Boney M will definitely be making an appearance.

Live Tree. Real Candles. I love this tradition. There’s nothing like the smell of a live tree, or the look of real candles. Tree lighting becomes a very special time: nothing else goes on while the tree is lit – partly for safety – so it becomes a quiet moment in the middle of the hustle and bustle.

Understanding holiday traditions. We’re not a religious family.  But I think it’s important that my kids understand where Christmas comes from, including both it’s Christian and pagan roots (there’s nothing Christian about a Christmas tree). I’d also like them to understand some of the practices of other religions and cultures.  And I dearly miss the candle-lit reading of the biblical Christmas story – the poetic King James version – that I can probably still recite even now. I’m still struggling with how I’m going to do this meaningfully and respectfully.  I expect there will be readings from several different texts.  And I’m definitely going to need to do some research.

Santa Sacks. For several years I’ve been making gift bags for as many gifts as possible, both to cut down on paper and because, once they start to come back, wrapping becomes a breeze. I recently wrote a letter to Santa asking him if he’d start doing this too. I still need to figure out how to get St. Nicholas and the Magi to go green.

Christmas ends on January 6.Many years ago, DH and I started exchanging our gifts on January 6.  This is all about destressing the holidays: we can do our shopping during our time off between Christmas and New Years, and then exchange them at our leisure after all the Christmas travelling is done.

What are some of your holiday traditions?

Sasha is mom to 2-year-old Miss Bea, and 4 month old Baby Em.  Her ramblings can also be found on her blog, The Rambling Stroller.

6 Responses to Holiday Traditions

  1. Sasha, this was lovely! I didn’t “celebrate” the Feast of St. Nicholas growing up, but that is a tradition I’ve been longing to introduce to my now family. Not sure if we’ll do it this year, but it’s definitely on the list. My favourite family tradition was always going to Mass on Christmas Eve, coming home and opening one gift each (always an ornament for the tree) and then staying up late and watching the Muppet’s Christmas Carol with my brother. Traditions are wonderful and I really enjoyed reading about yours!

  2. Thanks Carly! I attended a Christmas Eve Mass once with a Catholic friend, it was beautiful. I like the idea of opening one gift that night – we also got an ornament each year, with the idea that we would have a nice collection for our own trees when we grew up and moved out. Planning the same with our girls, perhaps we’ll make that our Christmas Eve present, too.

  3. Let’s see:

    We always get a real tree for our house. I’m scandalized at the suggestion of doing any different.

    A couple of years ago the kids and I started baking chocolate chip cookies together Christmas Eve to leave out for Santa that night, and we hang up stockings at our place now that we have kids. (In our family Santa fills stockings only. All wrapped gifts come from personally-known people.) In the morning we open the kids’ stockings and our gifts to each other at our place, then head to my mom’s. We always do stockings and present opening at my mom’s Christmas morning, followed by a breakfast that includes bacon.

    Turkey and trifle are de riguer at my mom’s Christmas dinner, but she trades the night between Christmas night and Boxing Day with my dad, depending on everyone’s schedules.

    As an adult, we started a new tradition of going to Christmas brunch on the 23rd or 24th at my dad’s club with him and my stepmother, and we’ve continued this now that the kids are here so it’s always the six of us.

    And that’s pretty much it for our family traditions. We don’t go to church; we exchange presents, eats lots of good food, and spend time together. It’s low-key unless you’re doing the lion’s share of the cooking, and at this point that’s still mostly handled by my mom, grandmother, and stepmother. Lucky me!

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