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.
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 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 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.
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.