Traditions are important touchstones in families. They connect us to family values, morals, beliefs. They keep us attuned to our ancestors. When it becomes our turn to pass the torch, it is heartwarming to witness the tradition continue in the next generation. But have you ever found that some of the old traditions no longer carry as much meaning in a modern world? Or they're just no longer practical? Imagine trying to light real candles on our trees, as my father had done. Call me scandalous, but I like to tweak old traditions for my own family. Or even create new ones!
Today is St. Nicholas Day--celebrated in Germany and other European countries, as well as many American cities with German roots. My father was born and raised in his early years in Germany. thus my family has always treasured this holiday. When I was little, my ten brothers and sisters and I polished our shoes in anticipation. Picture a hoard of children kneeling on newspapers spread out on the kitchen floor, covered in polish as we shined our shoes. Delightful mayhem. That night we set them outside our bedroom door and when we woke in the morning we discovered St. Nicholas had come and found candy in them! Sure, my parents missed a few years. There's nothing worse than waking up on December 6th and realizing, oops--I missed it. But the good years....those are the ones we remember.
Years later, when I had three children of my own, I changed it up a bit. I told Claire, Gretta, and Zack that the reason St. Nicholas came on the night of the 5th was to check on how well they took care of their toys. If he'd found them in bad shape, uh oh. Santa wouldn't be happy. The best part about being a parent at Christmas is that you can relish telling your children the classic Santa warnings-- and they believe them. Just this year, my son in law, John, and I told 4 year old Jack that he had to be good because Santa was watching. How if he was bad, he'd get a rock or coal in his stocking. Even today, in this age of computers, tv, and instant gratification, his eyes were as round as saucers! They want to believe.
So it was that my children utterly believed my warning about St. Nicholas and scurried off. The girls brushed the hair of their dolls while my son labored with chubby fingers to put all the pieces of his scattered toys back together. Then, when it was time to put something outside their bedroom door, I had to punt. They couldn't put all their toys out. I told them to put their favorite outside their door. In the morning, when they rushed to see what St. Nicholas has left them, they found a bit of candy or a stuffed animal, and an ornament for the tree. A little something to get them in the Christmas spirit.
What is your favorite Christmas tradition?