Festive Traditions

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The Twelve Days of Christmas. By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (Creative Commons)] via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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2015 Advent wreath

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!

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St. Nicholas depicted on the 2006 Christmas stamp of Ukraine.

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!

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A decoration from last year’s tree

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.

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This old (and poor quality) photo shows the Christmas scene one year, when I was probably about seven. 

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.

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The Adoration of the Magi. Licensed under public domain via Commons.

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? 

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16 thoughts on “Festive Traditions

  1. Pingback: December 6th: Saint Nicholas of Bari by Carlo Crivelli | A Scholarly Skater

  2. Great traditions! We also put the tree up on Christmas Eve and took it down for Twelfth Night – I still think doing that makes Christmas more special than having all the decorations up for ages. I wonder if the shoe tradition might be the origin of the saying “little goody two-shoes”…?

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  3. Loved reading about your family traditions! As Christmas is a Western holiday, I’ve always been interested in how other people celebrated it, given that my family isn’t culturally from the West. The few traditions we do have include putting up our dinky old fake tree (which is about as old as me!) and putting up the rag-tag bunch of ornaments we have (most of which were made when my sisters and I were in grade school…. wreaths made of pretzels with our photos in the middle, you know the kind). Oh and we ALWAYS open presents after lunch. 🙂 My sisters insist on being in their pajamas when that happens while my mom typically makes an effort to look nice for photos.

    It’s wonderful to read your blog posts again, Grace. Apologies for being MIA but I’m planning to get to your email later today! Hope you have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, family ornaments with memories attached are lovely, aren’t they? And I understand your sisters wanting to stay in their pajamas! I’m really looking forward to relaxing over the Christmas season too. 🙂

      I got your email…will reply soon. 🙂

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  4. Thank you for sharing your Christmas traditions! Just today I was thinking about how every family celebrates Christmas in different ways and it’s so neat to hear about other people’s traditions. We usually put our tree up after Thanksgiving and take it down shortly after Christmas or the New Year.

    As for present opening, as a child, my siblings and I would open our stockings on Christmas morning and then open presents right afterward. We usually did all of this before we ate breakfast, haha. I can also remember being allowed to pick out one gift from underneath the tree on Christmas Eve that I was allowed to open. My siblings and I always enjoyed that and would sometimes exchange our gifts with each other on Christmas Eve, too.

    We never did anything with Advent calendars or wreaths, nor did we celebrate Saint Nicholas’ Day, or Three Kings’ Day… but I totally wish we would have. I forgot how much I love the We Three Kings Christmas carol. It’s beautiful 🙂

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    • A Christmas Eve gift sounds fun!
      I loved the excitement of hanging my stocking up on Christmas Eve.

      In fact, many countries in Europe (including Italy, Spain, Greece, Poland, Lithuania…) have the main celebration on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. I like learning about other cultural traditions too. 🙂

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  5. I love Christmas traditions, they are what make the holiday so special to me. I love all that you do during the season. When we’ve spent Christmas in Austria, the hotel where we stay doesn’t put up their tree until Christmas eve as well.

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