“It’s true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.” ~ Caroline Kennedy
I remember jumping out of bed at some ridiculous hour and screaming and shaking my brother and sister awake. “It is here! It is here!” I would exclaim excitedly. “Shhh Mom and Dad are sleeping” They would say before we would perhaps try to peek into the living room and unable to see anything scurry up to the attic where we would watch a Christmas movie until the rents woke up.
We always did stockings first. And Jimmy Skunk, a tradition that my dad started, dating back to when he grew up in the woods of the upper most Northern part of New Hampshire. Then we would see what “Santa” brought us. As a child, “He” always left the presents unwrapped. it literally felt like walking into a children’s store seeing American Girl doll stuff (mine) to musical instruments (my sisters) to sports stuff (my brother). It was magical.
Afterwards we would eat breakfast. A breakfast I had been looking forward too since the beginning of December when my mom would make the Kolache.
See for me it wasn’t Christmas day itself that was exciting. Oh yes I loved playing with my new American Girl Doll stuff, (my obsession back in the day. I never played with Barbie it was all about Molly and Co) but the true memories started weeks before.
My mom’s family is Eastern European. She and my grandmother use to regale us with stories of the glory days and the “Old country.” Some how it seemed to always revolve around food, with delicacies like Čeregy and Valassky Trdelnik. Every so often we would get a taste of our roots despite the older generations americanizing themselves.
We could always count on those roots coming to life around Christmas and Easter.
Every year around Christmas and Easter, the women in my family would make a filled pastry, some call it a cake, some call it bread, my ancestors called it kolache. It was an intensive process, entailing pounds of flour, butter and sugar. Letting the dough rise. On the day my mom would bake it, she could have recorded herself with the amount of times she said not to slam the door. Oh yes there were superstitions involved with this cake.
It was so incredibly worth it though. Because on Christmas morning my mom would lay a feast out where even a Russian Czar would have been impressed. Klobasa (also spelled kielbasa), eggs (in the olden days boiled, but my mother would always cook them to our preferences) beets, horseradish, meatloaf, and of course the Kolache. Traditionally filled with prune or apricot preserves, my mom usually made it with sweet nuts and raisins. It wouldn’t even be the afternoon and already we would be stuffing our mouths on this delicious pastry. Those who were lucky to have spent Christmas morning at our house would rave about it. I still have friends who to this day reverently praise this pastry.
There were other traditions too. Growing up, in a predominantly Irish and Dutch town. Kid’s use to always look at me like I was crazy when I went into class the morning of December sixth tales of Saint Nicholas or sv. Mikalus coming to visit and filling my shoes with small presents and sweet treats. I remember as a child, being upset because my shoes were always the smallest. Yet somehow he didn’t seem to notice and usually they would be overflowing.
It was only when I got older, that I realized not many cultures celebrated that feast day, and it was predominantly a Catholic tradition. I remember reading a book about Josefina (Yes American Girl again!) and getting all excited when her shoes were filled January 6. Someone who knew what I was talking about. Even if it was in a book.
My mom would always put up her Christmas village, sometimes even starting before Thanksgiving. And as years passed and I grew up and moved on from American Girl dolls, she started me on my own Christmas Village.
We would have countless crafts from handmade paper snowflakes, which would leave their own “snow” everywhere to Kris Kringles where we would draw names out of a hat and leave each other gifts until the big reveal Christmas Eve night. Somehow my sister and I would always pick each others names out of the hat. Not that we cheated or anything. We would think of creative ways to hide things so we would find them, and even on Christmas eve we would empty our bags in each others rooms.
There was also the tree decorating. One of my favorite memories. My Great grandmother had handmade wooden ornaments that I thought of us “my own” It was always my job to hang them. We would grab chairs and set them around the tree, so we could reach the top or at least the middle half in my case. We would walk from chair to chair and I would always feel like an acrobat. if my brother and sister were nice they would let me hang the stars, two handmade ones made each by my brother and sister. the two use to fight about whose would be on top that year. It was all in good fun. Many times we would be belting out Christmas songs at the top of our lungs and if mother nature was really cooperative it would be snowing out when we did it.
I am getting nostalgic as I write this. Smiling at the memories. The many memories of Christmas the traditions we had, that I see my siblings passing on to their own kids, and one day I hope to pass onto mine. For me it wasn’t about the presents or even Santa. It was about the memories I have with my family. Memories that are even more precious now as we get older and deal with the upheaval of life. Those are what get us through. Holding on to the smiles and traditions of what made us who we are today.
What are some traditions you had as a child?