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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Choosing a Christmas tradition

Well this has been an interesting month. First, our grandchild is born a month early. Then, my book is ready months ahead of schedule. Two babies in one month. I’m so excited my head might explode.
This Christmas, as we sit down with family and friends over a meal cooked with love, we have so much to celebrate. But as we pull the same decorations out of the closet year after year to hang on the tree, we are reminded of Christmases past.
One Christmas in particular comes to mind for me, as I watch my daughter with her new baby and wonder what traditions she will keep, and what new ones they will develop as a family.
It was somewhere around 1993 or ’94, and I was living with my first husband in a subdivision just outside Kemptville. He was raised in the Czech tradition at Christmas, where “the angels” bring the tree, fully decorated and laden with gifts, while the family is eating their holiday meal in the next room. Now let the logistics of that endeavour soak into your mind for a minute.
While I suppose it is possible to drag a fully decorated tree into the house and install it, with presents beneath, all while curious children are in the next room, I don’t imagine it is easy. The kids are supposed to be kept out of the “Christmas room” for about a week leading up to the big day. In the time of larger houses and formal living rooms or sitting parlours, this may have been somehow possible. The door was closed, or a blanket hung as a curtain to block the view of the goings-on on the other side.
The children did not peek, because they were threatened with the possibility of being discovered and scaring the angels away. Much like the North American version, you don’t want to get caught spying on Santa Claus. You’re supposed to be tucked up in your beds, fast asleep while he is doing his work.
Back to the angels. They work behind the curtain for days, adding to their decorations, and occasionally making noises that only add to the excitement when heard by the children. Finally, during the holiday meal that is always held on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, a bell is rung. That is when the children know it is time to go and discover what the angels have been up to in the other room. The angels ring the bell when they are finished their work.
Well, that Christmas in the early ‘90s, my three little girls were eating their breaded filet-of-sole and delicious, addictive potato salad (the traditional Czech holiday meal) when they heard the bell. Their forks stopped in mid-air and their eyes grew wide.
“Mom…” my eldest whispered. “Is that….the angels?!”
“I think so,” I answered, smiling. I told the girls they could get up and see what was in the other room. The room they had been forbidden to enter for nearly a week. The room that they swear they could hear angels working in. (I use the term “they” loosely. My eldest was four or five, my middle one was one or two, and we had a new baby.)
Just as we got up from the table and I pulled the baby out of her high chair, their grandfather rounded the corner of the room, a big smile on his face.
My eldest, 5-year-old Milena, stopped in her tracks and looked at him in horror. He was still holding the bell. I looked at my husband. He smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand and shook his head. Then I looked at Milena. I could actually see the wheels turning in her head.
“Jedda (spelled “Dede; Czech for grandfather)….did the angels leave their bell?”
“Yes! Yes! I found their bell!” yelled her grandfather, relief and joy on his red face, redeemed by the innocence of youth.
I can’t remember how many more Christmases the angels visited our home while the girls were young. Santa came too, and left a stuffed stocking for each girl as his calling card. We had a mixed-culture Christmas tradition and somehow, it worked.
Here’s wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas. Good luck keeping Santa and the angels and any of your other traditions as secret and magical as they were always meant to be.

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