The reason was simple. One year when my brother was little, he tore open all his Christmas gifts within two minutes, asked, “Is that it?!” and burst into tears. My Mom vowed to find a better way to celebrate Christmas. Like a magpie she borrowed shiny traditions from all over the world and assembled them into a cozy set of events for her family.
Here’s the Body Part Family Christmas Manifesto.
- Christmas began the first Sunday of Advent.
- St. Nicholas Day is December 6th.
- OTRsis has a birthday on Dec. 10th. Birthday kid picks the restaurant for dinner.
- Every day of Advent we pinned up a handmade felt decoration to the Advent calendar Mom made.
- To decorate the Christmas tree, each kid selected from their box of St. Nicolas decorations. My favorite year was when each of us received a character from the Wizard of Oz; I loved my Dorothy decoration.
- We set out two Nativity sets. One was a traditional Germanic one of ivory colored ceramic. Mom added various kitschy characters: Winnie the Pooh, Humpty Dumpty, a knight on his steed. The other Nativity set was made of little wooden people handpainted by OTRmama, my Mom’s friend. We had a black Mary and a white Joseph. Joseph held the baby, of course.
- On Christmas Eve we opened one gift after the evening church service.
- Christmas Day we unpacked our stockings and opened one other gift. Then we went to church and had nothing to say while the other kids boasted of their loot. “Um…I got an orange. Like Laura Ingalls on the prarie?”
- For the next 12 days we opened a numbered white envelope to discover the day's family activity. The Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo. Go downtown and visit the model trains at CG&E. Tour other neighborhoods' Christmas Lights. Visit someone at the nursing home. Go to a movie. Open a gift.
- January 6th was Epiphany, or King’s Day. The tradition is that the Wise Men didn’t get to Jesus the night he was born. Christmas Day is the day for the shepherds and angels, while the Wise Men and their gifts arrived later. So, technically, gift giving should come after Christmas, not on the same day. This was the day we opened our big gift/s (which also allowed Mom and Dad to buy at excellent post-Christmas sales). That evening Mom threw a big open house and invited everyone we knew. She made 3 kings’ cakes. In each one was embedded a quarter. Whichever kid (or adult) found the coin in their slice was king for the day (or year, depending on one’s interpretation). Most of the kids gathered around while she cut open the cake, “That one! I got dibs!!” they would cry if they spotted a tiny gleam of silver. We crowned them with paper and sent them forth to lord it over the other guests.
Sometimes the tradition broke down, especially as we left for college. But we always got a St. Nicolas Day package, and Mom always had the King’s Day open house.
All this is wonderful while the tradition lover is alive and well. Since she died, we haven’t done much as a family to maintain it. Poor Mom, she always said she was the only thoughtful one in the family. The only one who made things happen. She was right. Every year I think I’ll do an Epiphany party, but for 7 years after she died, I was too depressed to deal with it. Instead of one day of feeling depressed about missing my Mom, I had a whole month.
I think that’s why our skipping Christmas feels like a relief. I don’t have to feel guilty for not living up to the tradition. I know though, if we ever have kids, I’d want to do it the way my Mom did. I loved having a Christmas filled with meaning and memories and I would want to pass that along. What are you trying to pass along this year? Did you family do anything quirky, or memorable? Or something that just makes you smile when you remember it?