When I was growing up, family traditions made Christmas special, and we still continue many of these traditions.
On Christmas Day, we always unwrap our gifts in the afternoon, after lunch. When I was a child, on Christmas morning I was occupied with gifts from the stockings that had been hung up the night before. These gifts were delivered by Mother Christmas, not Santa Claus. And our Christmas lunch was — and still is — vegetarian. No turkey in sight!
Every Sunday of Advent, we light a candle on the Advent wreath — four red candles in a wreath made from fir branches and holly, decorated with orange and cinnamon.
And when I was a child, on the night of December 5th, I would polish my shoes and leave them out in readiness for Saint Nicholas — the real predecessor of Santa Claus and the patron saint of children.
Today, December 6th, is Saint Nicholas’ Day and I would wake to find my shoes filled with goodies, little lebkuchen hearts in red foil and other small gifts. Magical!
These articles, Who is St. Nicholas? and Why St. Nicholas puts candy in boots and stole our hearts, explain more about this tradition. Saint Nicholas’ Day is widely celebrated in Europe, especially countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.
Legend has it that children who have been bad can expect to find a twig or coal in their shoes. Some years, I found a few pieces of coal outside on the path, where they had fallen out of St. Nicholas’ bag on his way to the next house. But I never received coal in my shoes!
Later in the month, we decorate the Christmas tree — a real tree that we bring into the house on Christmas Eve, much later than most people. Our family tradition is to keep the tree up for the twelve days of Christmas, no earlier, no later. On Twelfth Night, January 5th, the decorations must be taken down or else you should expect bad luck!
As well as the Christmas tree and Advent wreath to make the house look festive, my mother created a tableau of the Nativity. Every December, a blue cloth studded with stars formed the background, together with a blue ribbon with one star for each day leading up to Christmas. Cloth figures of Mary, Joseph, the three kings, and shepherds were set out in front of a stable filled with hay.
The last tradition in the festive season was Three Kings’ Day on January 6th. Figures of the three kings were set out on a simple table to mark the day. My favourite Christmas carol has always been We Three Kings.
What are your festive traditions? Do you unwrap your presents before or after lunch? Did St. Nicholas visit your house when you were a child?