whether it’s food, songs, dance, decorations, travel or even jokes, my favorite part of the holidays are the traditions. simple things that serve as touchstones, moments that connect you with others and all of you with the generations.
we grew up celebrating st. nicholas day on december 6th. (my mother was from austria where they celebrate st. nicholas day and my father’s name was nicholas) on the night of december 5th, we would raid dad’s sock drawer for the biggest sock we could find and lay it out by the fireplace for st. nicholas to fill. (in austria, they use a shoe, but we always used a sock) in the morning we’d find the sock stuffed the same way: an orange in the toe, some nuts, some chocolate, a candy cane and a small toy or two, maybe some other kind of funny gift.
it was like a christmas hors d’oeuvre, just a taste of what was to come in just a few short weeks.
in some ways it was better than christmas (yeah, i say this as an adult…) because it was just a little nibble, not an all-out banquet.
aside: as a kid, i was a huge fan of laura ingalls wilder’s little house on the prairie books. in one book, laura describes a christmas when they got an orange and a candy cane (and i think something pa carved) and i remember being amazed that laura got the same kind of things that i got in my st. nicholas stocking. (we didn’t get stockings at christmas)
st. nicholas day kind of marked the real beginning of the christmas season. after december 6th, we would start cracking the walnuts for mom to make the potica (a bread with a filling made of walnuts, raisins, honey, cinnamon and butter) and look forward to our annual shopping trip into los angeles.
c and i continued the tradition of st. nicholas day with our three children. c got a kick out the kids raiding his sock drawer (i swear he even bought certain pairs so that that kids would have the perfect st. nick sock) there’s a great train/toy/hobby store near us (nicholas smith www.nicholassmithtrains.com – unfortunately you can only buy train related products on-line but the store has so much more) where c and i would find the best tiny toys, stocking stuffer items for the kids. yep, you guess it, picking them out was as much fun as they had playing with them.
i went to catholic school as a kid, so it wasn’t unusual to find other kids who also celebrated st. nicholas day. not so for our three, so i’m pretty sure they didn’t much talk about it with friends. (i remember one teacher telling j that he wasn’t allowed to share that he got a visit from st. nick because not everyone else in the class got one. hmmm.)
everybody’s grown now and there are no little ones for st. nick to visit, so our tradition is dormant for now. it’ll be back again. with the simple pleasures of an orange, some nuts, a candy cane and a small treasure.