By Corey Heller
Photo credit: angelocesare
Mum on the Brink got me thinking with her post Marrying traditions- Santa Claus, Sinterklaas and Mikulás. She discusses the trials and tribulations of combining the myriad of Christmas beliefs for her multicultural children. One traditional story says one thing while and another story stays something completely different. How in the world can we fit these all together so that it makes sense for our children?
The truth is, my husband and I have a tendency to kind of work off the cuff. We go with what makes most sense at the moment (while also following a generally agreed upon underlying framework). Basically it comes down to inertia: laziness, procrastination and avoidance. Or: We aim to resolve situations as efficiently as possible.
For example, months before our first child arrived, my husband and I purchased a gorgeous, top-of-the-line white crib. We had planned on co-sleeping but we couldn’t pass up a such great deal (a family was selling it on craigslist) and figured we’d take off the side and saddle it up next to our bed. We put it together as soon as we got home, oohed and ahhed at it, made sure we couldn’t fit a cola can between the bars (safety check), and then we took it apart and put it into the basement to await the big day.
Months later Patrick arrived and it was clear that he would not be sleeping in a crib. We said we’d put it up when Patrick was six months old. When he was six months old, we said we’d put it up when he was a year old. Then we decided on two years old. Finally we put the crib up for sale on craigslist for the price we paid for it and that was that. We simply procrastinated long enough for the issue to resolve itself: co-sleeping was clearly where it was at in our family.
Course, by the time our third arrived, we’d become nothing short of nonchalant: While counting contractions on Easter Sunday with my mother-in-law, my husband was painting the bathroom. I called out, “It is really time to go now!” and my husband answered: “Honey, can you wait just a few more minutes? I’d love to finish up this paint so it doesn’t dry out.” What is that? Inertia, procrastination or German efficiency to the very end?
The Jolly Guy with Gifts
“Santa, allow me to introduce you to Weihnachtsmann.”
“Weihnachtsmann, darf ich vorstellen, das ist Santa.”
I do remember my husband and I talking about the whole Santa vs Weihnachtsmann categorization. Patrick was getting older and started doing what kids do: asking questions. My answers of “Hmmm, I don’t know. What do you think?” weren’t getting me very far anymore. Gifts appearing in the middle of the night were something to be investigated: “Where, exactly, mama, did these gifts come from and who brought them?”
Let me just stop here to say that if we look at these little stories that we tell our children purely from a subjective position, they are nothing short of ridiculous. I have often had to keep myself from laughing while explaining some minute detail to my children about who brought what and how. Yet I realize now that this story telling is what makes the whole thing so magical and special. As we spin and weave our own stories into the traditional ones, we make them our own; they become unique and personal for us and our family.
Being that my husband and I are practical folk, we followed the path of least resistance: Santa and der Weihnachtsmann were one in the same, they just had different names in different countries. It seemed totally plausible since my son was quickly learning that there were German and English words for everything in his life.
Logistics were the stickler: Did Santa/Weihnachtsmann come in through the door or did he come down the chimney? Did he leave gifts under the tree or in stockings hung with care on the fireplace? Did he leave gifts the evening of the 24th or in the middle of the night to be found the morning of the 25th?
I’ll just put it bluntly: there was no way we were doing away with stockings hung with care on the fireplace and the excitement of waking up to Santa’s middle-of-the-night visit. No way. Never. Need I say more?
Thus, as my children will tell you: even though der Weihnachtsmann doesn’t go down chimneys in Germany, he does in America. End of story.
Nikolaus: The Happy Outsider
Nikolaus has his own place in our family’s merry wanderers. He comes before anyone is really ready for gifts. He gets the ball rolling, so to speak. Not quite sure Christmas is really on its way? On December 6th you know it is here. Plus, in our home he comes every night bearing goodies from December 6th until December 25th. It’s no wonder my children think he rules!
In our family’s traditions, Nikolaus is completely separate from Santa/Weihnachtsmann. He’s his own man. We aren’t particularly religious so stories about Saint Nikolaus are purely historical and secular (with a little mythology thrown in to boot). We’ve never included Knecht Ruprecht (Nikolaus’ bad-guy alter-ego) in the Nikolaus story with our children and so far no questions have been asked. Being that we live in the States, there aren’t really many other families that my children can compare notes with when it comes to Nikolaus, so we have been able to just say whatever we’d like.
However, my children wanted to know why Nikolaus didn’t come to all their friends. He seemed to only visit the other German-speaking kids that they knew. Hmm, isn’t that curious?
Our take is this: Nikolaus only comes to kids who know about him. He doesn’t want to be pestering families who don’t even know who he is. How would we like it if someone came into the house uninvited and started leaving goodies in our boots? (To this my kids said that they thought it would be fantastic!) Therefore, Nikolaus visits my children simply because they know about him and want him to sneak into our home in the middle of the night and fill their little plastic boots from Germany with goodies.
Silly explanation? Maybe.
Does it get the job done? Yes.
The thing is, I don’t think that Nikolaus has minded being in a category of his own. I think he appreciates the more consistent attention that he gets from my kids, separate from the all-at-once wild hoopla around Santa/Weihnachtsmann. Nikolaus is dependable. He just does his things quietly and peacefully, leaving goodies with a gentle smile.
Breaking the News
A few weeks ago I broke the Santa/Weihnachtsmann/Nikolaus story wide open for my kids. They were getting older, becoming more suspicious, and it just felt like the right time. I was going to show them photos of their uncle dressed up as Santa. He’d stand under their window and ring bells and yell, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas.” Oddly, my children never asked why he only spoke English. But my oldest did once say under his breath, “Boy, Santa sure looks like Uncle Thomas!”. After that Santa kept his distance and didn’t say so much. We have some great photos of my brother all dressed up handing my mother-in-law a bottle of schnapps. The looks on their faces are hilarious! I laughed so hard at that photo it brought me to tears. But I couldn’t find these photos to show my kids. So, we just had “the talk” instead.
I was worried that my children would be upset about the whole thing but instead they weren’t at all. In fact, it all finally started to make sense. Immediately they started asking questions about the logistical details:
“But what about when Santa/Weihnachtsmann called Papa on his cell phone?”
“That was actually Papa. He called his cell phone from the landline phone and pretended to talk to Santa/Weihnachtsmann.”
“Yep. What do you think about that?”
“That sneaky guy!”
“And what about…”
The conversation went on for hours.
After breaking the story to our children, I was told that Nikolaus was the one they believed in the most simply because they had actually seen him each year at their German Language School‘s holiday event (and he looked like the real deal – he even spoke German!). He was sitting right there in that big chair on stage. How could he not be real? My kids even got a bag of sweets from him (which looked similar to what he left for them in their little boots on the mantel). What about those mall Santas? Forget it, they never had a chance with my kids.
Even though my children know the whole truth and nothing but the truth about their holiday visitors, the magic still continues. We all still talk as if these magical figures exist and I love it that way.
Looking back at it now, I think everything worked out just fine. Santa and der Weihnachtsmann simply merged into one jolly multilingual guy. Nikolaus, the monolingual German speaker, came and went on his own terms. We’ve somehow created a magical and fun-filled holiday season incorporating in each of them.
The only question that still remains this year are which cookies we should we leave out for Santa/Weihnachtsmann. I think Mandelhörnchen are his favorite.
Have you had to combine traditions for your children? How did you go about it? Or did you choose to stick with one cultural tradition completely?