This evening marks the arrival of St. Mikuláš. In Hungary he brings treats to children who leave their boots at the window. In Czech, he brings treats and leaves them in a stocking. If a child is naughty, then coal can and will be left behind. This happened to my husband one year. He felt even more disappointed when his piece of coal went into the fire keeping the house warm.
In Prague where I spent a couple of winters, costumed characters of Mikuláš and his angel and čert travel the streets. The angel gives gifts of clementines or a piece of candy. The čert, or little devil, is said to put the naughty children in his sack and carry them off to Spain.
For me, this holiday helps to launch the advent season. My mood is more hopeful filled with the excitement the children had. To the people of Czech and Hungary, where Mikuláš actually visits, they do not see him connected to Christmas at all. He is separate and maintains his very own day and entity of surprise. What is left in the boots and stockings also is not the same that Americans cram into the stockings at Christmas. Aside from the difference in materialism, the one problem my family typically experienced is that my children weren't raised in the Czech Republic.
While classmates waited till Christmas and discussed Rudolph and Santa, my children sat quietly wondering about their family. I wondered if I did them a disservice not going with the populace. After all of these years, I have decided that traditions are simply what connect the older generations to the younger ones. Quirks in the traditions are what make the family memories special. To be unique and different takes a lot of courage, but the rewards create family ties or threads that help to bind relationships when differences develop gaps in knowing how to relate.
The time spent as a family forges foundations where no one else will know you ever quite the same. The years of working through family jokes and understanding how the strengths of brothers and sisters compliment you own provide an outlet to truly be a side of you that no one else will bring out from you. That's family. My children can always tell when I am talking with my sister on the phone as our voices change. I've noticed the same among them.
When gathered around the table or coming together for a family time, remember you are sharing a side that most will never see. That's the privilege of being born together in one group called a family. When called together, we see a side of ourselves that we never truly understood or accepted. Family does that - they take us as we are and let's us shape a history together. Happy Mikuláš May you open the gift of family this beautiful season of reflection and preparation.