Christmas, Parenting

St. Nicholas Day

While a friend told me about her daughter’s stolen bike, her five-year-old interrupted. “We don’t need to pray about my bike, Mommy. I’ll ask Santa Claus for one.”

While I was telling my second-grade Sunday School class about the birth of Jesus, little Charlie raised his hand. “Can we talk about what Santa Claus brought us instead?”

Those memories plus my own childhood anxiety of being “good enough” for Santa, kept me from playing the Santa Claus game with my children. I wanted truth. We read The Night Before Christmas, but we treated it as the fiction it was. Edna Barth’s Holly, Reindeer and Colored Lights helped explain cultural Christmas compared to the celebration of Christ’s birth.

However, I didn’t want Santa to seem like forbidden fruit. A friend in college had lamented the lack of Santa in her life. St. Nicholas Day helped bridge that gap.

One year, I surprised the children with filled stockings on December 6th, which was St. Nicholas Day.  We discussed the legends of St. Nicholas. That tradition continued a few years. Later, filled stockings made their way to my sons’ colleges as their exam-time care packages.

How have you handled cultural myths?

Book Recommendations, Christmas, Winter

Jolabokaflod: Christmas Book Flood

Books are not only treasured as Christmas presents in Iceland, they are also given in abundance. For Icelanders, the holiday season begins with the delivery of Bokitidindi, the catalog of the new books published in Iceland that year.  Citizens pour over the catalog for their Christmas selections.

After the books are exchanged on Christmas Eve, everyone snuggles down with hot cocoa and reads the night away. The occasion is called Jolabokaflod which translates roughly to Christmas Book Flood.

The closest our family came to a Jolabokaflod was when my husband unwrapped a Field of Dreams DVD one Christmas Eve and all five us piled into our queen bed to watch it. A favorite memory. Books with hot cocoa would have been even better.

Of all the things I wish I had known—before my children were grown and scattered— Jolabokaflod is probably the most fun and bonding. Christmas Eve is too full with our established traditions, but I would have declared another day,  perhaps New Year’s Book Flood.

Interested in a new tradition?

Christmas, Memories

Christmas Memories

The best Christmas memories frequently originated from easy, spontaneous activities. And free. My youngest son fondly remembers using wrapped presents under the Christmas tree as roads and hills for his matchbox cars. I don’t remember how that activity started, but it continued over several years, even when the boys were so old it was the only time their cars were taken out of their buckets.

Once, I decided to have a picnic lunch under the Christmas tree. The kids were elementary age, and it was fun. I didn’t make it a yearly event. I wish I had because that special memory belongs only to me.

Another favorite tradition was sleeping under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Until the boys were teenagers, the entire family slept on the floor. The boys slept in sleeping bags. My husband and I slept on camping mattresses. My husband eventually opted for his own bed, and as a loyal wife I followed. By the college years, only the middle son carried on the tradition. I hope this tradition is re-instated if we have grandchildren.

Any easy, memory-making activities in your home?

Christmas, Parenting

Gingerbread: A Conversation Starter

I snatch the best ideas of others. One with unexpected results was giving gingerbread kits for Christmas. (For best results, wait until your youngest is at least ten unless your children work in pairs. Building requires skill and patience.)

Gathered around the kitchen table with busy hands, the boys cracked jokes, teased good-naturedly, and supplied us with joy we had not experienced recently. Our busyness and their reticence to share had increased as they aged.

We learned much about our sons. As their tongues loosened, unknown adventures were revealed. Two studied British Literature at a local private school. Ninety minutes of building and decorating gave us a semesters’ worth of funny stories.  The two who shared an art history class entertained us by deliberately attributing erroneous architecture vocabulary to their houses.

What did our sons learn along the way? Aim for the most candy per inch of gingerbread so you have the greatest reward on Demolition Day. Demolition Day was an event itself with special china and hot tea to accompany our gingerbread gluttony.


We continued building and demolishing during the college years until family time was too scarce.

Has a Christmas tradition enhanced your family’s closeness?


Uncle Rich Cookies

These were a favorite cookie named for a favorite uncle. Uncle Rich loved them as much as we did. (Actually, everyone who has eaten one loves them.)

Even better, the youngest child can be involved in breaking pretzels. With our three children, everyone had something to measure and everyone dropped spoonfuls onto waxed paper. 

1 ½ cup Spanish peanuts (Best if not substituted with regular peanuts)

1 ½ cup miniature marshmallows

1 ½ cup rice crispies

1 ½ cup pretzels broken into pieces

24 ounces white almond bark (Can only substitute chocolate almond bark or milk chocolate chips. I learned the hard way.)

Spread sheets of wax paper on a hard surface.

Combine the first four ingredients and set aside.

Melt the almond bark in the microwave. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir, repeat. At the end, you may need to reduce the time to ten second intervals to prevent burning. (You can use a double boiler for melting if you prefer.)

Once the almond bark is melted, QUICKLY stir into the first mixture and QUICKLY drop by spoonfuls on wax paper. Racing to finish before the almond bark thickens is part of the fun.

They should harden in 10-20 minutes. Mails easily, freezes well, and will keep for over a week.