Christmas Traditions

“We have a lot of Christmas traditions in our household. First, the kids are not allowed to open anything under the tree, but they are allowed to get into their stockings while the parents are still sleeping, because the parents were most likely up all night wrapping packages.  There is an orange in each stocking for good luck—a Chinese traditional offering to Buddha.  We added the clever little trick of stuffing the stockings with time-consuming diversions, such as games, art supplies, and favorite movies on DVD, and most importantly, cooking utensils, such as a mini-frying pan and spatula, and the kids “bought in” to the idea of making breakfast in bed for the parents.  The parents act surprised, of course, when the kids come upstairs with the tray, singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.  We, then, dutifully feed the kids bites from our breakfast trays, until there is no breakfast left at all, and no excuses remain—the parents emerge sleepily out of bed, stumble downstairs, and we all enjoy the goodies under the tree.  My husband’s preference, which I happily adopted, is to take turns opening packages, one person at a time, slowly, appreciatively.  My other Christmas tradition is decorating with the little Swedish folding paper-dolls, called Tomten, on the bookshelves, mantel, and window sills.  These mischievous cheerful characters are ubiquitous in Scandinavian households at Christmas time.  There is not a drop of Swedish blood in my veins, but there was a Swedish woman who lived down the street from my mother, who regularly and reliably protected her from a terribly abusive alcoholic step-father when she was a young girl living in Maine.  The Tomten were playful figures, who could be depended upon to come out and dance every Christmas, even when life was otherwise scary and painful—and so these colorful little folding paper-dolls symbolize the power of love for children,  security and resilience in this harsh world, simple magic and good humor!”

The informant told me all of the traditions she can remember that take place on Christmas. Some of the traditions are practiced elsewhere, such as putting an orange in the stocking (which, as the informant said, is a Chinese tradition). Some however, may be unique to the informant’s family. Bringing the parents breakfast in bed, the specific order for opening the presents, and the parents feeding the children may or may not be practiced in other households, for similar or different reasons. The informant talked about the Tomten, Swedish paper dolls, which remind her of her of her mother and protect the house. Celebrations and festivals always involve many smaller details. For the informant, these details all add up to create a meaningful tradition for Christmas.

I thought it was interesting that the informant combined several diverse cultures in her own American traditions. First, she puts oranges in the stockings, which is “a Chinese traditional offering to the Buddha”. Despite the fact that the informant has no Chinese heritage, she still practices on of their traditions. Second, she decorates the house with Swedish dolls, Tomten, not because she is Swedish, but because her mother had a strong connection with a Swedish woman, and the informant wants to honor that connection. I think this shows how easily culture can be appropriated and interpreted. Furthermore, it shows that no one can own culture, because it crosses physical and psychological boundaries.

I think the informant’s Christmas sounds fun and sweet. I like that it is centered on family and the various interactions between family members that Christmas necessitates. The children bring the parents breakfast in bed is a nice addition to the holiday, especially for the parents. I have some Tomten of my own, and they are very playful and a good holiday decoration. My family celebrates Christmas with the extended family, but we do have nuclear family events in the morning, like eating pancakes for breakfast! Family traditions help to cement Christmas as a time for family, love, reflection, and appreciation.