I know, I know, Christmas is over, but I have been looking through the photos and enjoying the memories. This lovely Nativity of my mothers set me to thinking about my Christmas traditions.
My mother would always bring out a Nativity set of some sort on the first Sunday of Advent, along with the Advent wreath with the purple candles to light each week, while saving the pink one for Christmas Day. My family still practices this with an added twist, we light the candle, or candles, and sing a Christmas hymn before our meals for the blessing, however, sometimes if I am hungry, and they start in on the third verse I question myself on this one, I am kidding, I love this new tradition.
There were many more traditions, one that I was quite fond of was the oats in our shoes on St. Nicholas Eve for St. Nicholas’s horse, and in the morning there would be candy in place of the oats. This practice did morph, perhaps for sanitary reasons, into a cascade of candy which flew in through the suddenly flung open door, followed by a swarm of children running outside to try and catch sight of the St Nick and his stealthy horse; we all swore that we heard the steeds galloping hooves, and of course my eldest brother would have caught a glimpse of the Bishop’s mitered hat.
Anyway, back to the Nativity, it came out in pieces, well not in pieces actually, just not put up all in one place. On the first day we would place the manager and the animals in the alcove set in the wall, the wise men would go to the far reaches of the house to begin their travels towards Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary would begin from the far side of the room, while the angels, star, and of course baby Jesus were held in reserve somewhere out of sight. Then everyday leading up to Christmas the wise men would travel closer, along with Joseph and Mary, so that by Christmas Eve, Joseph and Mary would be to the manager, while the wise men still had thirteen days of travel ahead of them. Then the best part, waking up on Christmas morning with baby Jesus safe in the manager, surrounded by the angels, underneath the shinning star. Now that my mom is enjoying this solo, she puts up the angels, star, and Joseph and Mary with the manager, but she still waits for Jesus until Christmas, and moves the wise men until Epiphany, unless of course her grandchildren beat her to it.
We did not get a tree or decorate it until Christmas Eve, and I knew that this was a big change for my mother, because in her family the children did not decorate the tree, they woke up on Christmas morning and it was mysteriously there in all its splendor, but instead of carrying on with this tradition, she let her children decorate the tree however we wanted. We would spend the weeks leading up to Christmas making chains and ornaments, there were candy canes and gingerbread, and someone would always be creative for a topper. Oh and I must not forget the oodles and oodles of tinsel. Then in a flurry on Christmas Eve we would smother the tree in love.
The activities did not end on Christmas Day, truly in some ways they were only beginning, for my mother had drawn and cut out all the figures from the twelve days of Christmas along with pear tree leaves galore so that everyday we would gather around the bulletin board wall in the kitchen, which typically was covered with our artwork, and pin the appropriate figures to a large cleared space on the wall, along with as many leaves as it took to satisfy everyone’s desire to pin, and then we would sing together the twelve days of Christmas, with a catch, on the first day we would only sing about the partridge in a pear tree, the second day, the partridge and the turtle doves, and so on and so forth until we came to the twelve day and then together, with glee built from many days of expectation, we would belt out all twelve verses, and of course, this is the day the wise men would arrive at the manager, and the holidays concluded.
I could go on and on about the time she spent helping us make gifts for our grandparents and aunts and uncles, so we would learn the joy of giving, the pots and pans band she would help us put together and let’s us practice all day in preparation to ring in the New Year. I am amazed and humbled as I think back how much thought and effort my mother put into making sure that a poor household celebrated the season with joy and togetherness without having to spend oodles of money on the trappings associated with it. I was so busy, and having so much fun, I don’t think I realized we didn’t have mountains of gifts under the tree, I never expected them, that was not what Christmas was all about for me. In hindsight I can see that we were making do with what we had, however, I would say we were the richest children that there could possibly be, because we were given the gift of time and love and traditions to carry on into our future, and that has lasted far beyond whatever gift I might have received from Santa. Thanks Mom.