Family Traditions

Yesterday, when my boys got home from school, my oldest said, “Mom, I’m leaving my shoes outside my room tonight.” Then he stood there, waiting for me to ask, “Why?” But I didn’t have to ask.

It was December 5 and, good German descendant that I am, I know what shoes-outside-your-door means. My son is taking German I this year and learning about German traditions during Advent and Christmas, so I figured he must know what it means, too.

December 6 is St. Nicholas Day and, if you leave your shoes outside your door (or on your hearth) the night before, gifts and candy will be left for you by the next morning. In our case, my boys got chocolate coins, some spending money, and new socks (which they needed so much, they actually said – and meant – “Yay! Socks!”) Ideally, St. Nicholas Day would include our doing something Santa-like for someone else – gifting someone in secret – but considering my son announced this new tradition at 4:30 pm the night before, I was pretty happy with what I was able to pull off.

Do you know what made me even happier? This was my son’s idea and not mine.

Fifteen years ago, the December before we became parents, my husband and I made all sorts of plans about how we’d celebrate the season of Christmas once we had children. We talked about the family traditions we’d pass down, the ways we’d teach our children both the cultural and the Christian context for Christmas, and all the things we’d do to make December fun and memorable, instead of stressful and expensive. But, like annual family photos or taking one bite of a new food, these ideas became one more thing I had to cheer-lead everyone through. By last Christmas, my rah-rah had run out and I stopped trying to cajole everyone into enjoying everything. I decorated the tree alone. I didn’t bother with a Christmas letter, just a family photo. And I told myself this is what happens when you have a tween and a teen, and a husband who’s depressed during months that end in R.

When I flipped the calendar to December a few days ago, I started bracing myself for more lost traditions – lost because our tween is a month away from becoming a teen, and our teen is pretty sure he’s almost a man; plus our shift from party-of-four to party-of-three puts a damper on most everything else. Why should Christmas be different? Besides, I didn’t have to wait for the boys to let me down, I was already slacking. I almost forgot to get out the Advent calendars, until I saw a friend post a picture on Facebook of her daughter prepping hers, and I think I still had a pumpkin on my front porch on December 1.

Then my boys left their shoes outside their bedrooms. This year, of all years, they decide to start a new tradition and remind me their childhood isn’t over yet.

Maybe St. Nicholas is real?

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