Monday, December 20, 2010

How we do Christmas: Faith, Family Traditions & Santa


My husband and I are both Christian. It plays an important role in our family and how we are raising our children, despite us coming from different churches. Having grown up in very different homes with those differing faiths we have had to carve our own traditions and rituals for our family into the holiday season.

This was in no means an easy process. There were lots of bumps, fights, hurt feelings, and tears shed along the way. I can honestly say that last year was the first year I felt like “we got it”. Like all families were honored and respected and our traditions were being built. I was thinking about it this morning and I was washed over with peace. I no longer dread the holidays. I no longer stress about what we are going to do or how we are going to please everyone. It's a great feeling.

The two things that I want to share with you are the two that we have struggled with the most; Santa and Wigilia (Christmas Eve).

In Poland, Christmas Eve is a big deal. My family is third generation Polish. My grandpa was born here, his parents were not, so we are very much American-Polish. From most outward appearances we are a typical American family. We do still celebrate a semi-traditional Wigilia on Christmas eve, with no meat, traditional foods, and the breaking of the oplatek. The last one used to cause my husband to be the most uncomfortable.

It didn’t help that in my family traditions were passed not explained. So I couldn’t explain to my husband the meaning behind why we did things, we just did it. I have since learned a lot, and that goes a long way both in deepening the meaning for me and the understanding from him. We are actually looking forward to the day when we can take over the celebration and prepare the meal ourselves. My husband is looking forward to mixing in some of the Italian La Vigilia tradition in with our Polish traditions (no my husband is not Italian, but he bonds with Italian Catholics over food).

So with a better understanding of the why behind the traditions came acceptance and comfort. Since Christmas Eve is the more important day in my family we celebrate that with them. There is no more alternating one Eve with one family, the next Eve with the other. It’s just accepted and understood Christmas Eve will be Polish.

Santa was the other sticky issue in our marriage.

Despite the above Polish traditions Santa played a very big part in Christmas growing up thanks to my mom (who is not Catholic, or very religious at all). We wrote and visited him every year. Our biggest gifts were from him. He was ever present in the celebration. However, being that my dad was Catholic we also celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. I don’t remember as a child being confused, St Nicholas was real and brought candy (or coal, oh yes he did, I got it.) and Santa was a character, though very real to a child. In my husband’s house Santa was no big deal. They knew who he was and he brought them a small gift but that was the extent of his involvement in the holiday.

We didn’t want to do away with Santa all together, as I read many Christian families do. We just have never emphasized him. He was in stories and we would see him once a year for a photo (mostly in the those early years to send to Grandma).

To keep my traditions alive every December 5th we read the story of St. Nicholas  he was real and he was a good man. My kids would learn about his charitable character and put out their shoes and get candy and a book. However my son is very cerebral and last year (at 4.5) started asking why Santa came twice (someone told him that Santa and St. Nicholas are the same person).

So this year we struggled with what to do. I’ve read other bloggers struggles and opinions.  I have seen many tweets on the subject. This is what we have resolved to do, and it incorporates all our traditions

That ornament sums up a lot of our belief.

Santa, St. Nicholas, was a man, a man that worshiped Jesus just as we do. Sometime in the evolving history of the holiday (one year I will thoroughly research this because I am sure it’s interesting) the character of Santa developed. I am guessing, it is based on the spirit of giving from St. Nicholas and was moved to Christmas Eve as a way to secularize a very Christian holiday (similar to the Easter Bunny on Easter).

We have decided as parents that Santa will live in our house, he will visit, he will bring gifts. They will not be the biggest, best gifts, they will be a small gift and the stockings. We are basically moving our celebration of St. Nicolas to Christmas Eve. Instead of reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” we will read the story of St. Nicholas. Our children will learn that Santa is not just a commercial figure that eats too many cookies and indulges children in every wish they have but that he was a saint that helped those in need.

We still don’t emphasize him. He is around our house in stories and decorations. We do go see him and get a picture. He is however more in the background, another character in the celebration of the story of Jesus’ birth and the holiday.

This all came from my husband and I having an open and frank conversation on the subject. I was torn and saddened at the thought of not celebrating St. Nicholas. I’m still a little sad about not doing the shoes and chocolate coins. Ultimately tough it’s about our family and building traditions that honor both my history and past and my husbands.


I think we are finally starting to get it and I can’t wait for the celebrations to begin.

How do you celebrate the holidays? Is Santa in your home?


Unknown said...

It's beautiful that you're celebrating the old Polish traditions while building new ones. It's all about what fits your own family.

From my family on The Avenue to yours I wish you Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia i Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku

Dawn said...

oh the journey! i find myself struggling, too, and i loved realding your take on it. my kids are older, and i find we are much more about the manger than santa now... but i still love both, will always believe in the spirit of santa claus. how special that you have incorporated your polish traditions!! and so good to come to resolutions. i think i always thought traditions just happened... but i have come to kow that they are a lot of work to solve and carry out year to year!!

Michelle said...

It's funny how you never really question anything until someone else comes into the picture. I am glad that you are creating your own traditions and learning about why you have the traditions you do.

Hyacynth said...

We have Santa as a contributor but Jesus as the star. As you said, Santa bows to Jesus, too. :) So does Greg want to come over to my house for Italian Catholic Christmas to observe and take notes? ;)