I’ve recently had this discussion several times: which tradition do you maintain around Christmas, especially when you have a multicultural family or are living in a place where “things are done differently” from what you were used to when you were a child.
I must confess that it would never have crossed my mind to actually start doing anything related to Christmas already mid November before moving to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the most important celebration during this part of the year is Sinterklaas, not Christmas. And it starts with his arrival mid November, and goes on with his visits all over the country during the following weeks, until Pakjesavond on December the 5th.
In our family we decided to adopt this tradition as our aim is to integrate and embrace the culture of our host country. But we also wanted to maintain some of the traditions we liked from our childhood. So we ended up practically celebrating this season from mid November until the 6th of January. – It’s a long time…
So, every year we are excited upon Sinterklaas’ arrival, our children put their shoes near the chimney, hoping that some of the Zwarte Pieten will fill them over night with pepernoten or other delicacies, sometimes small cadautjes.
As we also want to keep some of the traditions my husband and I know and cherish from our childhood, we like to put up the Adventskalender. Each child usually gets one and opens a door every day starting from December 1rst.
40px|border|Flag Deutsch: Adventszeit in Luzern: Adventskalender bei der Reussbrücke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
These two traditions are quite similar, both, the shoes and the advent calendar will give our children a surprise in the morning. – Will the shoe be filled? What am I going to receive or read (if it’s not a calendar filled with toys, sweets etc.) in my calendar? – If you combine them both, your children will get two “surprises” per day until Sinterklaas Pakjesavond, and then carry on with the Adventscalendar only until Christmas.
We will also celebrate Christmas on the 24th (and 25th-26th December), and, of course, La Befana or Heilige Dreikönige on the 6th of January.
The historical center of Schöckingen in Baden-Württemberg in Germany, with christmas illuminations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Usually our children receive the bigger presents at Sinterklaas and this for very obvious reasons: as we tend to travel and meet family at Christmas, we soon decided not to overload our car for those days and therefore we decided to offer our children the bigger presents at Sinterklaas and give them the opportunity to already play with them before Christmas. At Christmas then, they would receive books, clothes or items they “need” – which made more sense to me and is more the way I celebrated Christmas as a child.
As for the celebration of Sinterklaas, whose German/Swiss/Austrian equivalent Sankt Nikolaus is celebrated on the 6th, we decided to shift the celebration to the5th December, as this is the pakjesavond celebrated here in the Netherlands.
Then we celebrate Christmas on the 24th and 25th with family, with a great combination of different traditional meals, depending on where and with whom we’re celebrating.
And in January another celebration will close this festive season: on the 6th of January one would celebrate La Befana in Italy. When I was a child, this was the day when my fellow Italian friends would receive presents. Not at Christmas because that was the day where family would gather together and share festuous meals. The 6th of January was the day children would simmer with excitement – and a bit of fear as la Befana would bring choal to those children who were not so kind… And this is very similar to Sankt Nikolaus in Germany, whose partner, the Knecht Ruprecht or Schmutzli in Switzerland, would give them a rod (and sometimes “hit” them… ) if they weren’t behaving well the weeks before…
On the 6th of January we now celebrate the Heilige Drei Könige, the Three Wise Men, with sharing a cake with the typical Dreikönigskuchen or Gallette des Rois – like our Belgian and French neighbours.
What are the traditions you’re maintaining or adopting in your family?