January 02, 2013
For me, Christmas, especially Christmas Eve, may be the time of year when I feel most connected with my ancestors. I remember them through the traditions that I brought to my own household from my dear childhood. I try to keep these traditions alive to honor my parents.
When I was a child, preparations started weeks before Christmas: from the thorough cleaning of the entire house to the baking of many various Christmas cookies and desserts. Early on in the season, there was also another December day special to children, Mikulas Day on the 5th. In the evening, St. Mikulas and Cert (a horned creature symbolically accompanying St. Mikulas to give coal to ‘bad’ children) would visit households, and we, the children, recited a poem, sang a song, or said something that we were nice and good. St. Mikulas would reward us with goodie bags full of fruit and sweets. Some years we put out clean shoes by the door and Mikulas came when we were sleeping to leave the goodie bags inside the shoes. Of course, it would be our parents who left the sweets, but for us, it was a very exciting experience.
Then came Silver Sunday followed by Golden Sunday, when a lot of merchandise was sold outdoors in the snowy streets with the beautiful smell of Christmas pastries, trees, books, and every delightful scent accompanying the Christmas season. One could also observe fish swimming in big barrels, ready to be sold as traditional Christmas Eve dinner.
For us as kids, Christmas Eve truly was the most magical day of the year. Everyone would be looking forward to the evening. Christmas Eve Supper was a big festive feast. We ate Christmas Wafers with honey (Vianocne Oplatky), then Christmas Sauerkraut Soup with Mushrooms (Kapustnica), followed by fried fish with homemade potato salad. After supper, the surprise would come. The gifts were waiting for us under the Christmas tree. Yes, we received our gifts on Christmas Eve. The living room would be dark, only dimly lit by the lights of the Christmas tree. Our father secretly rang a tiny bell, and we knew the gifts arrived.
On the following day, the First Christmas Day, the tradition called for everyone to just relax and enjoy the company of loved ones. The next day, the Second Christmas Day, was a holiday as well. It is called Stephan’s Day, and people visit family and friends to wish each other a Happy Christmas.
The last day of the year is called Silvester (Sylvester). The name comes from the calendar, as men named Silvester also get to celebrate their Name Day in this same day. This was a day to be merry, happy, and celebrate large: people would go to parties, retreat to their cabins in the mountains, or celebrate at home with immediate family.
New Year’s Day was another festive day. As a young adult, I was an avid hiker and cross country skier. In the hiking community, it was a New Year’s tradition to climb the highest peak in the area. After braving the snow, it made for a rewarding experience to reach the top where people would already be gathered around bonfires, being merry, and wishing each all the best in the coming year. The frosty air and joyful atmosphere was always a great beginning to the New Year.
My parents usually kept the Christmas tree up until the 6th of January, when all our family came to visit due to it being my mom’s name day. This day is also called The Day of The Three Kings. We would enjoy the holiday season one more time, complete with my father beautifully playing Christmas carols on his favorite harmonica just as he would do on Christmas Eve.
Whether the holidays are spent in a cozy living room, a mountain resort, or somewhere else, what matters is that one spends them surrounded by people they love, enjoying each other’s presence and possibly keeping some family traditions alive to stay connected with generations past, and maybe even passing them onto generations to come.
Iveta is wishing you all Happy Holidays!
Midwest Genealogy Center