21/12/2012 09:08 GMT | Updated 20/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Christmas and Genealogy: What a Wonderful Time of the Year!

While I work on genealogy year-round, there is certainly something special about genealogy at Christmas and Hanukkah holiday times!

These holidays are filled with tradition, family, stories, and gatherings. What better time to do some serious collecting of stories, photographs, memories, and traditions!


When I was growing up my family had many wonderful Christmas traditions that were followed. As I have gotten ever deeper into my family history, I have come to understand, connect with, and love even more these cherished family traditions - and of course there are still others to fully understand.

The first tradition in our family that I had an 'ah-ha moment' with was that every Christmas we had Christmas Eve with my Dad's parents and Christmas Day with my Mom's parents. It only took me until my first Christmas as a married man to understand the importance of striking and maintaining the often delicate balance between parents and in-laws! It was a blessing how my folks did it and I must admit to be all the richer for it as it was the stories I often heard at these gathering that initially ignited the fire of genealogy in me.

The earliest family Christmas tradition that I became aware of is really a tie between two. One was that if you weren't on Santa's 'good' list you could expect a lump of coal or a potato in your stocking. The other was that not only did Santa bring gifts for Christmas morning, but he also brought the tree! Yep! We went to bed listening for those elusive sleigh bells, and would wake to a house transformed! Not only gifts, but a sparking, beautiful Christmas tree as well. To this day I marvel that my folks got us to bed, assembled toys, put out gifts, AND managed to get the tree in the house, put the lights on and decorate it! Amazing and it certainly made for magical Christmas mornings.

It wasn't until my wife taught me about St. Nicholas Day that I delved into the traditions of this day and discovered that my Bohemian (Czech) heritage played a large part in my Christmas traditions since in Bohemia (now Czech Republic) St. Nicholas gave out treats, but his evil counterpart gave out only lumps of coal or potatoes to those who didn't deserve the treats and St. Nicholas brought Christmas trees in his sack as well.


My grandfather, 'Gramps' Phillips, always loved certain Christmas carols. "Little Drummer Boy" and "Christmas is Coming". He would always say, and I usually ignored, that he liked these because they showed that Christmas was about more than money and gifts. As I worked on my Gramps Cornish heritage I came to realize just how poor a family he came from. He had a grandfather who was blind from age 18 and yet walked a postal route to keep the family from the poorhouse and lost his own father at age two. So now those carols are some of my favorites and take on a much deeper meaning to me, and infuse me with a totally different Christmas spirit and focus.

In my wife's Italian family, the tradition still holds that we have fish for Christmas Eve dinner. Always have and always will, however I will admit to a bit of a 'cheat' by moving to shellfish every so often.

Also in my wife's family the Christmas tree was always topped by a mouse! 'Our' trees were always topped by an angel. Haven't quite got to the root of this tradition, but until I do, just to be careful, our tree now sports both!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a very happy holiday season!