Every year my Mom was alive, Christmas began Dec. 6th, St. Nicholas Day. Mom loved traditions and rituals about Christmas and collected them wherever she found them. I always remember the Santa Claus story being one of many stories, never believed in as a mythical present bringer, but rather a derivative legend from that of St. Nicholas. The story is that the good saint would go around the village during the winter and leave candy and treats for good girls and boys, and a coal and a switch for bad ones. On December the 5th we’d carefully select our biggest shoe and leave it ‘outside’ in the hallway. (We lived in a vertical duplex/rowhouse with a shared hallway running up the side of the house.) In the morning, the shoe would be stuffed with a little bag of homemade cookies, maybe some quarters, and a decoration for the tree.
Unfortunately, we always had to wait until Christmas Eve to put the decoration on the tree. We usually waited for last minute tree sales or giveaways (which also meant we only ever had the scratchy kind of tree). We’d all go pick it out together, with Dad-McScrooge muttering all the way about hassles and pine needles. When we got the tree home we’d set it up (more muttering), decorate it, and leave for the Christmas Eve service. When it was over, Dad ran home while we followed more slowly. He’d put on Christmas music and light a bunch of candles (maybe it was his way to make up for the Scrooge routine?). When we got home, Mom would serve us hot cider as we carefully selected one gift to open that night.
Since Mom died, each December 6th I’ve received a St. Nicholas greeting from her best friend. This morning she sent an e-card. I’d forgotten all about what day it was. What with sunshine all the time, doing swim-team in an outdoor pool, and walking the dog in just a fleece jacket at night, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas here.
Despite all that, OTRmama’s e-greeting gave me a warm, Christmasy feeling. So, Happy St. Nicholas Day to all of you!