December 6th is St. Nicholas Day. While not what most would term a 'Major Holiday' by any stretch of the imagination, growing up it was a HUGE day in our home. My Czech grandmother would share her stories of St. Nicholas Day in 'the old country' and we would be mesmerized as she wove her tales of a marvelous man who not only cared for children and the less fortunate, but even dispensed gifts!
Our shoes would go outside our bedroom doors at night and we would fall asleep to thoughts of whether we had been good enough to warrant sweets and if we were truly lucky a big, juicy orange...or if we had been bad would we only find a lump of coal? I can still taste that marvelous midwinter treat of a fresh orange with a peppermint stick 'straw' stuck in it so I could drink the juice right away in the mornings.
Now I am not only a parent, but I am also a grandparenet and my wife and I do our best to continue this tradition. We did it every year for our children and still do. Plus now we are blessed to be able to have our grandchildren to teach in the hopes that they too will carry this family tradition on into the future.
This time of year every genealogist and family historian is blessed to come face-to-face with countless holidays and their historic and traditional trappings, music, stories, and gifts.
I also recall at Christmastime, when I was a boy, my grandfather would gather us all around him while he told us two things: first was how much he loved the Christmas Carol 'Little Drummer Boy' because it reminded him of how poor he was growing up in Cornwall and second was when he got his first job and the company owner would give a goose to every employee on Christmas Eve. I can still remember the sparkle in my grandfather's eyes as he related the generosity of his old boss. Now, decades later we make sure to always play 'Little Drummer Boy' at Christmas for my wife and me, our children, and our grandchildren to remind us all not only of my grandfather, but of how lucky we are.
And my wife, being from a 100% Italian family has brought her own group of wonderful traditions that we now keep and work hard to pass along to the younger generations. I recall very well our first New Year's Eve together while we were dating. Just before the stroke of midnight she ran through my parents' home opening up all the windows and doors. She explained we needed to let the old year out and the New Year in! Mind you, we were in Minnesota and it was well below zero Fahrenheit that night and while my folks thought her more than a bit daft, I still married her and in the 39 New Years since then, no matter where we are, the windows and doors all go open!
Now our children do the same at their homes. Shoes go out for St. Nicholas, the doors and windows get thrown open on New Year's Eve, and every Christmas holds the playing of 'Little Drummer Boy'. Plus they have each added new traditions all their own. Making the past meet the present and create a new future. But no matter what the future holds, it will still be rooted in those who came before and taught us all so much in our lives. We honor those folks by holding their traditions close and making them a part of our lives, even if only once a year. Because isn't this what genealogy and family history is all about? Honoring, preserving, and never forgetting those who came before us and made us who we each are today?
Even though our children and grandchildren are all over a thousand miles away, their special gifts went winging their way to them so they all could celebrate St. Nicholas Day in style...and I am happy to report that there was no need for us to buy any coal!