Happy St. Nicholas Day
Today honors the patron saint of children. It is also the birthday of my late grandpa Nick, who was, of course named for the saint as was the Catholic thing to do in his very Catholic family.
Last night the kids put their letters to Santa under their pillows and, magically during the night, they were exchanged with chocolates. The elves that made the switch left a shiny trail of elf dust in their wake, as usual.
This is merely one of the traditions that we practice in my household during the holidays and, since today is countdown day 19 of 24 Days of My Favorite Holiday Things, I will share them.
Don't get too excited, really.
-St. Nick’s day. Duh, I just told you all about it.
-We get new pajamas on Christmas Eve. This tradition started with a precious pair of candy cane striped footie pajamas with a very ruffled butt. The Girl was ten months old and she gnawed her way through that package on December 24, 1996 like the champion present un-wrapper she was destined to become. Since then, we always purchase a new pajama set to be opened on Christmas Eve. Between you and me, I cannot wait for Hugh to see his this year.
-We decorate a gingerbread house. Every year since the kids were old enough to hold a pastry bag, we have decorated some form of gingerbread creation. Last year it was a train and this year it will be Santa’s stable, complete with reindeer and a freaking pond. It’s an illness, remember.
-We read a holiday book. Hugh and I actually started this the year that I was pregnant with The Girl. We read O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi to her; this remains one of my absolute favorite memories of my pregnancy. Last year I introduced the kids to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever which, if you have never had the pleasure, take my word, check it out, it is hilarious. This year we are slowly making our way through Dickens’s Christmas Carol. The kids have a wee bit of trouble following the fancy words but they get the drift of the story so we will soldier on.
-We leave milk and cookies out for Santa. We serve them on a cup and plate set that I bought not long after Hugh and I were married. Each child picks one cookie for Santa with Hugh providing helpful advice about what Santa might be in the mood for that year. Ultimately, the plate will include the most garishly decorated cut sugar cookie from our stock. The kids remember the reindeer as well, with carrots left on the front lawn for their snacking enjoyment.
-We take a driving tour of our community’s Christmas lights. We aim for the coldest night of the season, bundle up warmly and fill a thermos full of hot chocolate. Then, we drive slowly around town, commenting on each display. Afterwards, we rate our favorites. It’s dorky, I know but, my dad started it when my sisters and I were young; apparently the disease is a trait that I inherited from both of my parents, despite the massive amount of Bah-humbugging and grouching that my father managed to do each year.
-Hugh and I engage in a silent war over a treasured holiday ornament. This one requires some back story; one year my aunt sent me a decorative holiday clock. It is shaped like a Victorian clock tower, decked for the Christmas season. Carolers gather at the base of the clock and, every hour on the hour (like, all night long), a new carol plays. Loudly. I love this clock. Every year I install new batteries, set the clock and leave it on prominent display on the mantel and every year, the children and I lay bets on how long it will take their father to turn the music off. It usually doesn’t take long. So, I turn the music back on and go about my business. Inevitably, Hugh will turn the music off, again, I will turn it back on, and so on and so on until the Christmas decorations come down and the clock is tucked back into its box where it will remain until our next go-around the following year.
-We go sledding on New Year’s Day. We started this when the Man-Cub was about two and both children were deemed hardy enough to brave the hills. Every year, without fail, one of us biffs it hard enough to cause tears and every year, we agree that this was the best year yet, the snow was the deepest, our runs the fastest and the weather the most beautiful. I will be so sad when the kids outgrow this tradition. Or, when Hugh and I are too crippled by old age to be able to enjoy it; whichever comes first.
-We take a family photograph. It doesn’t have to be done in a studio, sometimes it is just a snapshot that we take with my camera’s self-timer but, every year since Hugh and I got engaged (on Christmas day, 1992), we have documented our family on film. When I am old and gray(er), I will take down our Christmas photo album and smile at the way my family grew up and changed. I will remember our traditions and how they shaped our relationships with each other and I will be grateful for having had the opportunity to spend this time together, to make these memories.
I can hardly wait.
Well, maybe not for the old and gray part, but, you get my drift.