Posted by: Drew Bury, Management Officer
Every holiday season I find myself struggling to recreate the family traditions with which I grew up. For the better part of the last eight years, I succumbed to my laziness and Christmas entailed drinking a beer and watching television. That has drastically changed since I got married. The traditions previously swept under the rug quickly resurfaced, and instead of laziness, I found myself hauling a 10 foot Christmas tree up four flights of stairs and spending untold hours at Epicenter picking out Christmas tree decorations. Resting after I learned that the tree I had procured was too tall for my apartment’s ceilings, I started reflecting on my earlier Christmases, and how they might change now that I have my own family.
Like most families in the United States, the Christmas season starts once Thanksgiving ends. All of a sudden, vendors line the streets offering Douglas firs, Virginia pines, and blue spruces and families with eager young children search for the perfect tree. Once at home, the tree is decorated in lights and ornaments; Christmas villages, nutcrackers, caroling figurines, and Santas adorn every inch of available space; and the scent of cinnamon and clove abound. All of this feeds the anticipation. Children open advent calendars, systematically counting down the days until Santa arrives, until finally it’s Christmas Eve.
In our family, each child was afforded the luxury of opening one decoratively wrapped gift on Christmas Eve, and was then sent away to a labored sleep. My brother and I swore that we would remain awake—a task that our excitement facilitated; but eventually we capitulated, awakened from our slumber by a doting parent, informing us that Santa had, indeed, visited our house and that presents await. We would then run down to the living room with its lit up tree, decoratively wrapped gifts, nutcrackers, Christmas villages, and caroling figurines to find that something new had arrived—unwrapped gifts. For our family, gifts under the tree that weren’t wrapped were those that Santa brought; a sign that we had been good children for the past year.
My wife is from Austria. Her traditions vary greatly from my own. Instead of setting up a tree in November, their Tannenbaums aren’t erected until a couple of days before Christmas. Their version of Santa enters the scene in early December as St. Nicolas and his counterpart Krampus, a devilish creature that scares children and steals their toys replacing them with coal and screws. For Christmas, the family doesn’t work together to decorate the house, but rather an angel known as the Christkind decorates and fills the house with Christmas cheer while the children are out for a walk. They return to find a complete transformation. The tree is decorated, gifts magically appear, and if lucky, a lock of the angel’s hair can be found near the windowsill from which the Christkind fled.
In Ukraine, we are attempting to combine my wife’s Christmas traditions with my own. When I realized that my children will grow up accustomed to different Christmas traditions, I started contemplating what factors went into creating the American Christmas. The United States is a land of immigrants, each of whom contributed their own traditions to create the American Christmas as we know it today. I’m proud of that, and am happy to see that within the American Christmas are traces of my wife’s Austrian traditions, my mother’s parents’ British traditions, and my father’s parents’ Polish and Slovak traditions. I’m also happy to know that my family will be continuing that custom. Another inheritance we’ve picked up since living in Ukraine: carved wood Santas. You’ll find those next to the nutcrackers, Christmas Villages, and caroling figurines.