I’ve decided to start writing a daily post from now until Christmas. Why? The short version is that I want to push my creativity. Forcing myself to write more is one way (and right now seems to be the least complicated way) to do it. Another reason is that I have so many learning moments every day. I’m learning from Olivia, learning from Luka, learning from my mistakes, and often I think, “Oh, I should share this.” but by the next day I’m thinking, “What was it I was going to write about?” Call it pregnancy brain, mom brain, or whatever, but I feel like I’m forgetting more than I care to admit. Sharing a little something positive every day will hopefully lock in some of these memories and life lessons.
Luka and I had a discussion about our starting our family’s holiday traditions. Our relationship does contain a lot of cultural, traditional diversity. His family has European Catholic traditions, I come from a non-denominational Christian home. Our childhood traditions were very different. He is Slovene, I am American. His native language and mine are as different as two languages can be. His native culture and mine are equally contrastive. How do we merge the two to create our own traditions according to our own beliefs? What do we hold onto and what do we let go? Until now we didn’t have any definitive plans because for Olivia it didn’t matter. For this year also, it’s not so important. She is only 2, but we feel this is the year to decide and begin our traditions.
When I was a kid Advent was just a word that didn’t have meaning for me. I think once in my childhood I remember a calendar thing that opened with chocolates inside. There was nothing special nor religious about it. For Luka, and Catholic tradition, the Advent is an important and beautiful tradition. On each Sunday of the month of December you gather around the Advent wreath, light a candle, and pray. We decided to adopt this version. Yesterday I bought a lovely advent wreath with four red candles. I also bought a kid’s advent calendar for Olivia. I know she won’t fully understand everything we’re doing and why, but I like to make it exciting and fun for her nonetheless.
In Europe, and probably some other places in the world, on the 6th of December they celebrate Saint Nicholas. This was Luka’s family tradition as well. On the 6th of December St. Nicholas, or Sveti Miklavž as it is in Slovene, brings gifts. The night before you leave out baskets and in the morning you find them overflowing with gifts. But isn’t that just Santa Claus? Yes and no. In America, we have Santa Claus, who is also St. Nicholas, but not really. Santa Claus has become more of a spin off of St. Nicholas. He’s a jolly fellow who does in fact bring all the good children gifts, but there’s no religious meaning attached to him anymore (he was popularized by Dutch protestants in America). On the other hand, St. Nicholas is an actual Saint. He is a historical figure who was full of goodness and generosity. In Catholic tradition (in Europe anyway because I had never heard of this in America) families celebrate gift giving on December 6th and then on Christmas Day they don’t give gifts to one another because they spend the day together in gratitude and recognition that Jesus Christ was the greatest gift of all. Now, I had never experienced any of this in my life before moving to Slovenia. In fact, I got quite a laugh out of how everyone here seemed to think that St. Nicholas was not Santa. In my own family’s tradition the 6th of December meant nothing and gift giving was always on Christmas Day. In fact, my parents went as far out of their way as they needed to ensure we knew Santa was fake and not real. He didn’t bring gifts, he was nothing more than a man in a costume. Looking back, it really takes some of the magic away from your childhood. When Luka and I talked about our own experiences his feelings about Sveti Miklavž were much like mine about Disneyland. There’s something absolutely magical about it for a child. Did he actually bring those gifts? No. Are those actually princesses? No. But you don’t tell your kids that. You let them believe in the magic because it makes them happy and it makes you happy to see them happy in all their innocence. That magic holds such good feelings and memories. For this occasion we decided for a little of this and a little of that. To us, it doesn’t make sense not to celebrate gift giving on the 25th if we will be in America where everyone else is celebrating it. It is nice also to celebrate the traditions here with Luka’s family. So this year we will fully embrace celebrating Sveti Miklavž on the 6th of December and since we are going to America we will also celebrate on Christmas Day with my family. I have no intention of persuading Olivia that Santa Claus is real or fake. If someone says, “Olivia, I got you a present!” or “Olivia, look what Santa brought you!” it’s fine with me. When we will be in Slovenia for the 25th we will keep it simple and perhaps not give any gifts. One thing they don’t do on the 6th is stockings, which I love. We’ll have to figure that one out for when we’re not in America.
Christmas Tree and Nativity
Part of my family’s tradition is the Christmas Tree. We usually got it on the week after Thanksgiving. This has to be one of the best traditions in my memories. My dad always insisted on a real tree, which I’m glad of. It was so exciting to go out in the cold, hunt down what you thought was the most beautiful tree, which was a task with 6 kids, and decide which tree was the best. The smell of the freshly cut wood and falling needles, that truly started the Christmas spirit. Then we would go home and spend the rest of the evening decorating the tree, listening to Christmas music, and probably end up having hot chocolate and toast. In Slovenia a real tree is almost unheard of. Last year was the first year I ever saw a real tree for sale. Everyone just has artificial and very small trees. I’m guessing a big reason is due to the tiny living spaces in Europe. Truly, there is no way we could fit a tree in our apartment. I would have to shuffle it around every day just to do daily activities. That’s just how people live here. Luka’s family always had a little artificial tree, about 2-3 feet tall, that always goes along with the Nativity. There isn’t one without the other. In his family, they would set up the tree, then lay moss all over the ground around it (that was odd for me), then set up the Nativity, except for the baby Jesus who would be placed in the scene on Christmas Day. We usually had a Nativity set, but it was just set up with the rest of the decorations, Jesus and all. Sadly, we cannot fulfill the tree traditions from my side while were are in Slovenia and when we are in America for Christmas, by the time we get there everyone already has their tree. So while we’re here, we’ll do it the Slovene way.
Growing up we always had a Christmas Eve party and had everyone we knew invited. When I was really young we would go to my grandparents’ home in Alameda (probably my favorite childhood house) and my mom’s family would gather in their numerous ways. My mom is one of 7 children and you can imagine when all the aunts and uncles and cousins got into one living room what kind of chaos would ensue. I swear, I’m laughing right now just thinking about it. Add to that image that we’re all Sicilian and you get the picture. Loud and laughing all night. It really was like merry chaos. I can remember feeling like I was wading through packaging and wrapping paper up to my chest. It was glorious. Luka’s family went to midnight mass. When they were young they may have gone to an earlier mass, but that was very important to go to on Christmas Eve. If we would be here in Slovenia we would probably go to mass or another service, but since we’ll be in America we’ll be with the Nestore family. I’m looking forward to that a lot.
When I was young I always wanted to have the kind of Christmas morning that you see in the movies: kids thundering down the stairs at 5 in the morning to tear open presents in a frenzy of excitement. Ours was quite different and, in hindsight, is probably for the better. We would always first have a big Christmas breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, pancakes with syrup, and orange juice. Then we would get one gift at a time. Usually we alternated years doing stockings first or presents first. Our stockings always had cocktail onions and a mandarin orange along with all the little odds and ends. As we got older we would give each other the gifts we got each other. The siblings and spouses draw names because, let’s be real, you can’t buy something for 6 people and their spouses unless you’re getting them all a $5 gift card. As I said before, Luka’s family just celebrated modestly together. When we’ve been here in Slovenia, I’ve always made our traditional breakfast on Christmas morning. Last year we did stockings and a gift. This year we’ll be in America with my family so we’ll lean more towards their traditions. We’ll have to see for next year. In some ways we’re still making this up as we go along.
It was honestly hard for me to feel like it was actually Christmas without my own traditions. It was sad for me much of the time. When you’re having Christmas without your home, your family, your traditions, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. This year I am really looking forward to that again. People are complaining about Christmas music and decorations before Thanksgiving and that used to be me too, especially when I worked in retail. Now that I’ve been without it, I am all on board. Bring on the Christmas music!
Merging two lives in never an easy thing, even when there is a great deal of love between them. You expect to have to get through differences when you marry someone from another country, but you don’t usually think it will still take work 5 years later. The good thing is there are no rules to this. You can decide to do whatever you two want. It’s your life and you make the decisions. With love and communication you can create the best traditions for your own family.