Christmas Traditions and Memories
I recently asked my adult Sunday School class about the Christmas traditions they remembered from childhood. Geographically, we are a pretty diverse group so it was interesting to hear the differences as well as the commonalities we shared.
The discussion certainly brought back many memories for me.
I asked this group if their families celebrated St. Nicholas on the 6th of December. No one had, but the person who grew up Catholic was not there that day. Traditional celebrations of St. Nick include placing children’s shoes outside and getting small gifts during the night. I think it tends to be more of a German/Polish celebration as well as Catholic.
Growing up, my family celebrated St. Nick’s Day (when my mother remembered!) She was Polish and had grown up Catholic, so it was a fond, familiar memory for her. My siblings and I deviated from tradition by decorating paper plates rather than putting our shoes outside where scorpions could seek shelter. Of course, I see the wisdom on her part by having us do this—it occupied much more of our time to color a plate than it did to put shoes outside the door. In the morning, we would find a treat on our paper plate.
A common remembrance for my class, and me, was the church Christmas pageant. I can think of a few ladies in my childhood church who deserved sainthood of their own for organizing and directing those pageants. You know what I’m talking about—12-year-old boys dressed in their dad’s bathrobe playing wisemen and 4-year-olds sporting cotton balls and baa-ing like sheep. And the incredible pressure to memorize a line that needed to be recited on cue. I remember my age-group being stars one year and, even though we couldn’t read, my friend had her memorized verse printed on the back of her star as a safety net. Then there was the year our pastor had a young daughter who was terrified of snakes. The older “wisemen” whispered to her that there was a snake in the church and she ran down the aisle and out the front door screaming “Nake! Nake!” I know my parents laughed about that for years; still makes me giggle 50+ years later.
Of course, following the pageant there would be time around the Christmas tree as a church family. Sometimes Santa would be there—still can’t believe my father put on the suit more than once. Under the tree there would ALWAYS be paper lunch bags with an orange, apple, some nuts, and maybe a little hard candy like peppermint. It was a hard visual lesson for a young child to grasp but as I matured I recognized how extremely important this was for our parents and the older generation of our church. They had spent their childhoods rarely getting more on Christmas morning than the contents of that bag—maybe one other simple toy. This was their way of passing those values down to their children or grandchildren. Over the next weeks, the fruit may have ripened and been eaten by the adults in the house, but the value of the lesson never spoiled. I have found that this is a common remembrance of many people my age regardless where they grew up.
I don’t remember ever meeting Santa as a child and sitting on his lap. There is no photographic evidence of this ever happening either. Frankly, the mall (JC Penny and a few attached stores) was too far away and my mother didn’t have a driver’s license anyway. But I do remember my wife and I taking our sons to meet Santa when they were growing up in Conway, SC. The downtown businesses did an incredible job celebrating Christmas; the local telephone/cable co-operative (HTC) sponsored Santa and even provided a VHS tape of the visit. Our youngest had great disdain for amusement park characters and we wondered if the same would be true with Santa, but he bravely sat in the sleigh with his older brother who had brought a green-bar sheet of printer paper with their list half drawn, half written. Older brother did the talking for both! It was a moment still cherished.
And then there are newer traditions. In our church (Travelers Rest United Methodist Church), we start the Advent season with a church-wide Hanging of the Greens. As scriptures are read, and folklore recited, the sanctuary is transformed with greenery, poinsettias, and Chrismons (Christian symbols made into tree ornaments) by the entire congregation. A nativity scene (creche) is brought to the altar but it is bare—only the stable. Each Sunday of Advent, the children add more characters to the scene: shepherds and their flocks, then Mary and Joseph, angels, the Christ-child, the townspeople, and eventually the wise men. About seven or eight years ago, a little boy placed a goat on the ROOF of the stable. After a couple years, that boy no longer came forward during the children’s time but the goat still managed to find its way onto the roof. In fact, the nativity scene is decorated by the children at two separate services and this past Sunday the goat landed on the roof at each service (along with a shepherd)!
I like to imagine that fifty years from now, a grandpa will be telling his grandson about the time he placed a goat on the roof of the stable.
I hope you will recall a few of your fondest memories and traditions of Christmas and share them with someone you love this season.