Tag Archives: gifts

Advent Calendar

An advent calendar is a folk object typically used around Christmas time in between family members. It is a physical calendar with doors numbered 1 through 24, each representing a day up until Christmas Day. The subject used two different types of advent calendars. The first was a personal calendar that featured one chocolate a day. The second was a recurring wooden calendar featuring a house, significantly larger than the chocolate calendar. The doors were still labeled 1 through 24 but were not prefilled. Family members would get gifts for each other and place them in the days and the members would take turns opening the doors on the corresponding date of December.

The subject was taught this folk practice by their mother. Her mother would buy these advent calendars while they lived in Scotland together when the subject was younger. The subject remembers it because of the enjoyment she found when she was a little girl. She then introduced the tradition to her own family, and now they do it every year together. They think that it is a fun way to show appreciation and give smaller gifts to other family members. In addition, it gets everyone prepared for the Christmas season and keeps everyone in the holiday spirit, much like Christmas songs.

I think that folk practices such as the advent calendar are used to embody the intended spirit of Christmas more successfully. The idea of Christmas is to spend time with loved ones like friends and family and to give gifts and spread joy. In my opinion, acts like these are less about the gifts and more about the comradery and kindness, further spreading the sentiment of Christmas. It allows Christmas to be less of a build-up towards the monetary gifts one receives at the end, and more of a drawn-out feeling for people to share. Other similar things to this would be Christmas lights or carolers during the Christmas season. Although vastly different forms of folklore, both are about mood and time rather than one big buildup.

Advent

  • Context: The following informant, S, is a 59 yr. old man with three kids and a wife. Though the family does not identify as Christian, they celebrate Christmas and participate in the Christian tradition of Advent. This conversation took place when the informant was asked about any specific family traditions surrounding holidays. 
  • Text:

S: “So… for those who don’t know… Advent is a Christian celebration… uh… I think it’s tied in to the Twelve Days of Christmas too when you add it up, but I could be wrong… I don’t know about that… but, basically it’s the entire month of December it starts on December 1st and the day is December 25th… where you actually don’t get an advent… oh and each day you get a little… a little gift… sort of leading up to Christmas. But on Christmas day, you don’t get a little gift for Advent, you get your Christmas gifts. Um… and that… for me at least, started when I was… well as long as I can remember with my mom. And she would have an Advent calendar and we would open that up and… I think she had clues for us, if I’m not mistaken… and we would go find the little gift. It was was usually like a piece of chocolate for each of the three of us, I had two brothers… uh… nothing big… and maybe on the weekend a toy… but you know, nothing massive.

And that carried over when I first had, at least for me, I don’t know about my brothers, I’m sure it did, knowing my mom… but when I had my first kids, I started to get a box in November… from my mom… around Thanksgiving time… with all of the gifts and clues to go with them for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. So all I had to do was put the clues in the Advent calendar and run the process, and all my kids loved it… well of course my mom passes away a few years ago and… a couple years before that, I think actually, I started doing the clues myself and getting the gifts and what not.

Me: “What are the clues like?”

S: “Well, it’s a shame, I don’t remember what they were like as a kid. But what I do now… um… I either do a little sort of rhyming scheme sort of couplet thing… or I do a riddle… or I do something to do with the number of the day… umm or some combination of that stuff. Plays on words all the time ‘cus that’s sort of riddling. As [my kids] have gotten older I’ve tried to make it a little more challenging to figure out what it is and hidden them a little bit more… they used to be in plain sight way more often than they are now.”

Me: “And is it like each kid gets a clue or…?”

S: “One clue for the three [kids]. And [my kids] actually rotate, [they] decided to go youngest to oldest… uh [the youngest] does the first, [the middle] does the second, [the oldest] does the third and then [they] rotate through. Uhh…”

Me: “Reading the clues?”

S: “Reading the clues out loud. And then everybody… well it depends what kind of mood people are in… some days [my kids] decide to sit and not participate and sulk, but most days all three of [my kids] go and look, and of course mom, when she figures out the clue, can’t hold herself back and has to yell out where it is ‘cus she’s so proud of herself for figuring it out.”

  • Analysis: This version of Advent is similar to other versions I have heard of. Mainly, I have heard of pre-made Advent calendars with chocolates or small gifts inside each day. The main difference between this version of Advent and others is the addition of clues and hiding the presents. This type of Advent is more of a game, that includes riddles and rhyme schemes that lead to the hidden presents. This is the Advent I grew up knowing, and until I began to go over to my friends houses around the holidays I was unaware that Advent was not a game in all other households as well.

German Advent Calendar

Context: The informant was talking about differences in American and German culture. This is one of the major differences she saw with American Christmas and German Christmas

 

Piece: Another thing Germans do is the called an advent calendar so like you can buy one with chocolates from um like Trader Joe’s like 25 to 1 and it like counts down to Christmas, but what my family did is like they had this really big one actually like that was just like a bunch of pouches so it was like reusable. And so my grandparents would ship a package like 2 months before Christmas and we fill it up and like they’d putting numbers like little napkins wrap candy with it and we’d like fill it and like every day unwrap one. Sometimes they’d have an ornament, sometimes it’d have like five bucks in it, sometimes it’d have like a couple candies And it was like a family thing so there’d always be stuff in the pouches and we’d open it together and even now I buy the chocolate ones even though it’s not the same, but it’s like such a big part of the countdown.

 

Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent. Her family practices this tradition every year.

Analysis: This piece demonstrates how German culture created the advent calendar and how it has morphed in American culture. The German tradition is a personalized set of gifts for a family in order to count down for Christmas. There is an element of surprise that creates anticipation and helps preserve the tradition. But in America, the usual advent calendar sold is a chocolate calendar where each chocolate that counts down to Christmas has a different shape or flavor. American culture has commercialized and mass produced this tradition that originated in the individualized German version. It shows how American ideals have shifted the tradition and created a new version. The personalized version in German tradition creates more of a sense of community and gift giving, in the spirit of Christmas ideals, rather than the manufactured American version.

For another version of the German advent calendar, see: Haring, Carol. “Christmas Activity: Create an Advent Calendar.” Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German, vol. 25, no. 2, 1992, pp. 191–192. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3531917.

 

Birthday Traditions

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. The tradition of giving special foods or sweets as gifts is interesting because it reflects the family’s emphasis on not valuing material goods over kindness. The tradition of wrapping their birthday presents in comics is also a reflection of the family’s income level and how fiscally conservative they were in order to have enough money to send all of their kids to college.

Main Piece

“When we had birthdays we—my mom we didn’t have a lot of money first of all, so my mom would just get stuff that we could share ‘cus she wanted to teach us that we could share our gifts. So they would give us candy like licorice, cashews, Andes mints, or sometimes a box of sugar cereal—like cookie crunch or something like that—‘cus we usually didn’t get sugar cereal so we would get, like, candy or something like that that we could share and we could keep it in our room, but after dinner we would have to bring it out and share and the birthday person would bring it out and, um, it was always wrapped in the comic section from the Sunday paper which was always colorful ‘cus my mom didn’t want to spend money on wrapping paper that would be ripped off and thrown away [laughs] so it was always wrapped in the comics.”

A Portland Christmas (Childhood)

Informant Info: The informant is a 22-year-old male who was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and comes from a Catholic family. He currently is a senior at USC and is very into half-marathon and marathon racing.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: Growing up, did you have any big holiday traditions?

 

Interviewee: I would say my mom is the biggest proponent of like keeping the traditions strong in our family. I would also say that Christmas is definitely the one that has most traditions surrounding it. When I was a kid we had ones that would be like kind of like silly now. We would we all do the mass on Christmas Eve together to a Catholic Mass. Before that we always went off to a nice dinner. And at that point nice was Olive Garden for me. So that’s what I though was a nice dinner (laughter). That was a joy. But I think later on I realized that Olive Garden was not indeed a nice dinner, so we changed it up a little bit. But up until I was probably in like the seventh or eighth grade, I uh – We did that as a tradition. So, would go out, we’d have the same waitress at the Olive Garden and we’d have our same meals. I would always order the same thing you know like a fettuccine alfredo and a raspberry lemonade. I remember that very clearly. And then after that I would go to Mass. I think it used to be at 10:00. And then we come home, and we do our little rituals….we had a very set routine before we go to bed on Christmas Eve. We would come around, my mom would have the cookies that she would have out, uhh she’d bring a variety of cookies into the living room and then be laid and

we would each have one or two of those. And then we would read a book. So, we’d have like a massive stack of Christmas books in our living room. And you choose two to three for people to read and at that everyone would be getting pretty tired, so my mom would usually read it and we kind of like were falling asleep. But before that we actually would write a letter to Santa. So, one interesting thing about my parents is that they still will not openly admit that there is no Santa. So even though it’s all kind of like tongue and cheek at this point… Like it’s a bit silly that we still have to write a letter to Santa even though you know as the youngest I’m 22 years old and so that’s kind of like I would say had an example of like the emphasis my mom has on tradition. And so we always write a letter to Santa and maybe cookies and a beer at this point. Uh and so, in the morning, Santa has written back and has eaten the cookies and has drank some of the beer as well. But then in the evening what we do is we have the cookies then we have my mom read the story and then we write a letter to Santa and then we open one present. When I was a kid that was like what I really looked forward to and now as the presents dwindle underneath the tree…We’re like kind of like “Well I really don’t need to because that’d be opening like half of my presents under the tree!”

So we still most of that, I still have like that tradition of it. And then we go to bed. Usually right around midnight. When I was a kid I would always try and stay up as late as I could, as always, and try and listen for Santa coming in. And now I’m like just like a homebody. So I’m like already so exhausted and like “I’m going to sleep, I’ll get up in the morning” and then I would say like in the morning it always would be I would be the first one up. So I would be because I was young as I was usually the one to get up and like my brothers and sisters who are teenagers they would sleep in later. I would always get up and I would try and run to the kitchen and my parents would get up and grab me and not let them go in there quite yet because whenever we wanted to open our presents or see our stuff from Santa we would always have to be there together so I would just sit in parents room and I’d be like sitting from 6:30 to 8 just waiting for everyone to get up and it was the longest hour of my life. Eventually it’d get later and later the older we got.

Anyways, then we would go into the living room together and our presents from Santa wouldn’t be wrapped, they’d be in or by our stocking, so we’d go and see if we got what we wanted and them we went. Then all the other presents would be wrapped so we would do our Santa stuff at first and then my mom would start making breakfast and she’d made most of breakfast the day before. We have really big, really big breakfast with like a casserole and bacon and grapefruit and cinnamon rolls and stuff like that. And that’s something I always look forward to and it was like the calm before the storm of seeing what our Santa presents were and opening the wrapped presents. Instead of just going in and ripping them open, my mom always made sure we had always taken turns, or all had one at a time to open. Afterwards, she’d make sure you wrote thank you notes afterwards. When I was a kid, I was kind of impatient but now I appreciate it. So that was like when I was a kid and those were my habits and traditions. As I’ve gotten older, they’ve changed and adapted slightly but not by much.

Analysis:

The informant’s family Christmas seems to be a very traditional American and Catholic Christmas. On a religious level, it is one of the most important holidays, and he holds Christmas Mass to be very dear to him. On the other end of the spectrum, it seems extremely traditional in terms of it being a time that the family can be very close together. His family traditions of having a large Christmas eve dinner, opening one present at a time, and having a large meal on Christmas align with my own family’s traditions and shares similarities with many other Christmas collections.

A Texan Christmas

Informant Info: The informant is a 20-year-old female who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her mother is Caucasian, and her father is Hispanic. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and works for Walt Disney World.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: Do you have any major holidays that you celebrate? How do you celebrate it?

 

Interviewee: My family has celebrated Christmas the same every year since my brother was born almost 25 years ago. We start Christmas Eve as you would any holiday by prepping “dinner” for around 3 o’clock. We all get in our Sunday best and eat Christmas Eve dinner as a family. After dinner, dessert, and a lot of laughs we sit in the living room reminiscing old Christmas memories. My personal favorite is the one my Grandaddy used to tell about how ecstatic I was to receive a hot wheels toy at a mere 3 years old. After story time we each open a few presents which are the same every year. We start with our matching Christmas jammies and we all change into them immediately. Then my grandma hands us each three boxes. One has pistachios (And uhh..I don’t know the origin of that one). One has a check. And the last has an ornament she found earlier in the year that reminds her of us. After we hang our ornaments on the tree we write our letter to Santa. Each sibling alternates writing it each year and since there’s 4 of us we get a pretty decent break! Last we set out milk and gingerbread cookies for Santa and hang up our stocking, including ones for our fur babies. Then we all go to sleep and wake up not so bright and early Christmas morning!

 

 

Analysis:

Within this one family, there are several interesting pieces of folklore, that I was unfortunately not able to fully get out of the informant. Her family seems to hold on to old traditions and memories, yet the origin is unclear. She says that her family has been doing this for at least 25 years. By the sounds of it, many of the traditions, such as the matching pajamas or the pistachios, fall into the genre of practical jokes. She claims that she loves everything about her Christmas and plans on doing the same thing for her kids, once she has a family of her own. In addition, this tradition seems to share similarities on a macro level, such as a large family dinner on Christmas Eve, writing letters to Santa (a common folk tradition), hanging ornaments, and leaving out milk and cookies.

 

The Christmas Pickle

Title: The Christmas Pickle

Category: Ceremonial Object

Informant: Kurt A. Gabbard

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 50s

Occupation: Princeton Seminary—Vice President of Business Affairs/Financial Consultant/CPA/CFO

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18

Description:

The Christmas Pickle is a tradition that takes place on the eve of Christmas. After returning from Christmas eve mass, the children are sent upstairs while the parents hide the pickle within the branches of the Christmas tree. The ornament in the shape and color of a normal pickle. After the pickle has been hidden in the tree, the children are then called downstairs to search for it. The first child to discover the pickle is then granted the first gift of Christmas.

Context/Significance:

The Christmas pickle is believed to be a German Christmas tradition but has recently been proven to have originated in the United States sometime around the late nineteenth century. The tradition is for a specific child to win the first gift of Christmas. The gift is usually a smaller preemptive Christmas gift that can usually be shared between children (i.e. a coloring book, or family board game). The tradition was passed down from my Father’s side of the family and our family has participated in the tradition for at least the past twenty four years.

Personal Thoughts:

My family has been involved with the tradition ever since my eldest brother’s birth and has evolved with our ages. When we were younger, the pickle was usually on the lower branches of the Christmas tree and was more easily located. As my brothers and I have gotten older, and since my family did not want to abandon the tradition, my parents have begun to hide the pickle more strategically to make the game more difficult to win. In recent years, the pickle has been found in the Christmas tree, in both indoor/outdoor wreaths, outdoor trees/bushes, and hidden within Christmas garland or within our Department 56 Christmas village.

Additionally, the Christmas gift has evolved into more adult items that we would like, for example: a gift card, a DVD, etc.

Image: 

Unknown

The Baby Jesus gave me my presents

Background

The informant spent the early years of her life in Venezuela, but her family moved to the United States when she was 9 years old. She only remembers some of her life in Venezuela.

Context

The informant shared this story while having a lunch break during a leadership retreat. People were discussing when and how they discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real and she laughed and explained that at the age we were finding out that Santa wasn’t real, she was just learning that the idea of Santa even existed.

Text

[I was unable to get a direct transcription of what was said]

The informant said that she had never heard of Santa Claus until she got older when talking to other American children. Instead, on Christmas, her parents told her that her presents were given to her by the Baby Jesus himself (Niño Jesús). She would have to place her shoes in front of the nativity scene, and the next morning her presents would be on top of them.

Thoughts

The informant talked about this tradition as if it was humorous because of how different it is from American tradition, but in a way that celebrated that difference rather than making fun of it. It seemed like she is able to use her Venezuelan Christmas traditions as a way differentiate herself from her purely American peers and connect herself with her Venezuelan upbringing, even though she seems very much American now, having spent over half of her life in the U.S.

La Befana

The legend: “In Italy theres this old woman called La Befana who has magical powers and she gives children gifts on January 5th. If you’re nice you get gifts but if you’re mean you get coal. January 5th is the Epiphany Day, I don’t know what it is but it’s some type of like God revelation or something.”

The informant is half-Italian (mom) and half-German (dad) and grew up in Belgium. She moved to the United States at 11 years old, and now resides in Canada where she attends a university. She heard this legend growing up from her mom and Nonna (her grandmother). I asked her if she ever believed in La Befana’s existence, and she said that she “did at one point because once Nonna brought it up and I was scared of her because she’s a scary old woman witch.” La Befana sounds like other gift-giving figures around the Winter Solstice, such as Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, etc. January 5th is just around Christmas, so it matches with other Winter Solstice celebrations. People already celebrated the Winter Solstice, before Christianity made it a Christian holiday, so it makes sense for Italy to have its own version of the celebration. It’s also just after New Year’s Day, which means that Epiphany Day also represents a celebration of new beginnings; good children can celebrate the past year by receiving gifts and going forward into the next year being good again. Bad children can reflect on their bad decisions in the past year in order to strive for better in the coming year. Although La Befana can be a benevolent figure, she is presented as an old witch, which scares children into being “good,” reflected by the informant’s fear of the witch.

CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS

ABOUT THE INFORMANT:

My informant is a mother of three who lives just outside of Boston with her husband of over 30 years. She is originally from Cape Cod, the part of Massachusetts that is full of beaches and is a world known tourist destination. She is a lover of all thing water; she has worked extensively in water policy and water pollution as an environmentalist.

EXAMPLE:

Interviewee: My dad never did any Christmas shopping for anybody. He always left it all to Mom. As he got older, I guess he got much more free time. He would spend all year going to flea markets. Just searching for Christmas gifts. Sometimes something would catch his eye and he would not even know what it was. The year I ruptured my Achilles tendon playing tennis, I got Tennis For Dummies.

He would just give everyone a massive bag full of stuff. A bag for each person. All this cheap stuff he found at these yard sales and Salvation Armies; sometimes it was thoughtful, but most of it was crap.

It was the worst for the people dating into the family. When Lynn, my sister-in-law, first starting coming to the family Christmas, she got all these random things that no one knew anything about. Weird pieces of wood. A styrofoam ball. But she just took it and said thank you, trying to be polite, while he was just laughing because he knew that he gave crap. But then she surprised us all one year when she turned around and glued it together and created a figurine. Then she gave it to him.

We would come home with so much crap, we couldn’t keep it all, but I do have a farting Santa doll.

Interviewer: What about when he got sick?

Interviewee: When he passed away, we wanted to keep it alive. It was so much fun. We couldn’t all give everyone presents; that was just too much. But we all picked names and gave personalized stockings with funny and outrageous, sometimes nice, gifts to the person.

Interviewer: And you still do it?

Interviewee: Yeah, I mean, no one wanted to give it up. It is hard though. It is all tailored to them. There are no gift certificates. You have to really go out and think about them. It’s nice, even if it is crap. It’s crap tailored for them. Thoughtful crap.

ANALYSIS:

There is so much stress around Christmas. It clearly has become so overwhelmingly commercial and impersonal, that I feel like what her father was doing was almost the anti-version of that. Not to be a hipster or part of a counter culture or whatever, but because that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to give hand picked crap. Just for the joke or shock. Because he was such a strong figure in this family and because he would not stop doing it, it became a tradition.

When he died, that is when it took on a whole new dimension. Not wanting to give him or it up they modified it, so that people kept getting these personalized stockings. Even though he was gone, the stockings and laughter did not have to go. That is most likely the sentimental aspect of it. On a practical level, it is a really good way to make sure that people get gifts for Christmas that feel as though they were personally chosen for them. An added benefit.