One difficult aspect of the holidays in early parenthood is figuring out how to blend the traditions of two different families. I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to do this is not to adopt traditions of the mother’s or father’s family of origin, but to start brand new traditions for your own young family. There are many holiday traditions that families create that are unique to their families but I am attracted to old traditions that are rich in meaning but have largely gone by the wayside in our modern culture. During the holiday season, my husband and I have decided to “bring back” two old cultural traditions with our family:
St. Nicholas Day – Largely abandoned in favor of Santa Claus visiting on Christmas Eve, St. Nicolas traditionally left gifts in children’s shoes on the eve of his feast day, Dec. 6th. This was the second year St. Nicholas brought small gifts to Lucia (this year, gifts consisted of a book and felt St. Nicholas doll, last year was a felt Advent wreath).
We also read The Baker’s Dozen and in the future I hope to incorporate even more into the celebration in the form of speculaas cookies, movies about St. Nicholas (I’m thinking this one may be Lucia’s St. Nicholas gift next year), and volunteering/donating on or around his feast day in honor of the generosity of this early Bishop. If you would like more examples of St. Nicholas celebrations or the reasons behind why many families are bringing back this celebration, here are a few other references and blog posts to refer to:
The St. Nicholas Center
New Shoes and St. Nicholas Day – Carrots for Michaelmas
St Nicholas Day is tomorrow, and why it’s worth adopting (or inventing) family traditions – Modern Mrs. Darcy
Celebrating St. Nicholas, the real Santa Claus – The Art of Simple
La Befana – A friend first introduced me to the Italian custom of La Befana but it wasn’t until I read Tomie dePaola’s book, The Legend of Old Befana that I saw the simple beauty of the old woman who left gifts in children’s stockings.
As the legend goes, La Befana set out to bring homemade cookies and sweets to the Christ Child since, as a poor woman, this was all she could afford. She never found him though and every year still searches for him on the night of Jan. 5th, eve of the Epiphany. Since she doesn’t know which child might be the Christ, she leaves sweets for all children. The Epiphany is the feast celebrating the visit of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus and wraps up the twelve days of Christmas in the Christian liturgical calendar. I love the idea of a small treat for children on this day in the tradition of the Wise Men and also to keep the joy of Christmas and anticipation alive after Christmas Day. This will be our first year celebrating it and we will be doing it simply with a few of Lucia’s favorite snacks left out for her. We haven’t done much to celebrate the Epiphany in the past and are hoping that this will be a small step toward a larger celebration.
Mandi is a 20-something trying to live out her vocations of marriage, motherhood, and womanhood with the help of a glass of cheap red wine, a few good books, and an afternoon nap. She blogs at Messy Wife, Blessed Life and is pleased as punch to help her dear friend Jen during her blogging sabbatical.