Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Happy Holidays

Today is "St. Nicholas' Day" or Święty Mikołaja. Traditionally, children receive presents from St. Nicholas on this day, and the custom is well-maintained, being driven by retail interests as well as tradition. Every day on the calendar is the name day of some Catholic saint, and pretty much every Polish person is named after a saint (sometimes a middle name rather than a first name). They celebrate their "name days" which are considered more important than birthdays, although often the name day will be close to the birthday on the calendar.

It is not surprising, in view of this custom, that Polish people continue to celebrate St. Nicholas' Day. Giving gifts at Christmas time is actually a little less traditional, but it is pretty widely practiced as well. Adults exchange gifts then, as St. Nicholas' Day is exclusively for children, although most teens I know want to be included in the fun, too.

The traditional Polish St. Nicholas does not look like the English/American version of Santa Claus, whose appearance is based very much on the description in "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

The Polish Święty Mikołaj has a more medieval appearance, and often sports a cloak. He need not be chubby or have a white beard, although the white-trimmed red suit is still his trademark.

We don't really celebrate St. Nicholas' Day at our house, although sometimes Polish friends will give the children candy. However, we had lots of Christmas fun today. Not long ago, I acquired a sewing machine, and with a little trial and error, I have managed to perform the basic operations. (Many thanks to those who offered help and suggestions!) Last year, after Christmas, I purchased Christmas fabric and ribbon when they were deeply discounted.

Today, the girls helped me sew the material into simple draw-string gift bags which I plan to use instead of paper to wrap this year's gifts. And next year's. And the gifts for the year after that. It's not at all uncommon to find me wrapping every single gift for the kids on Christmas Eve after they have gone to bed (and they don't go to bed so early any more). Now I can pop everything into bags, pull the ribbons, and voila! Gifts wrapped. No paper, no tape, no fumbling with ribbons and bows. No mega-ultra-sized trash bag full of paper or snippets all over the carpet on Christmas morning.

It's a great idea, and I'm happy to implement it, but if I have to tell the whole, unvarnished truth, my kids are less than thrilled. E. and K. helped me make them because they wanted to use the new sewing machine (and they did a nice job), but they think I am destroying an important Christmas tradition by trying to avoid paper wrapping. They tell me that the fun and the sound of tearing paper is inimical to the joy of Christmas morning, and I am only slightly less objectionable than Ebenezer himself with this attempt to alter what is clearly a sacred, time-honored tradition.

What do you think? Are reusable cloth bags a viable alternative to paper? Or should I be looking out for mysterious, ghostly visitors on Christmas Eve who will reveal to me a shadowy Christmas Future in which my children have been scarred for life by my egregious neglect of crinkly paper?

7 Comments:

At 3:05 AM , Blogger Donna-Jean said...

You're too funny! If our children were 'scarred for life' for all the things we thought, they'd never grow up at all.

I will tell you one thing I've learned, though. Teens - no matter how "cool," no matter how disconnected they may seem to the whole family scene - are terribly, terribly tied to tradition.

I mentioned this to a woman in my church and she said her granddaughter - a girl who seems not to care about anything - really, really wants the holiday traditions. I think a young person feels change so much, that they love the anchor of tradition.

Now that I've made you feel worse :-) Remember, there's always time for a NEW tradition. Read them from Little Women's Christmas chapter. I always was amazed to realize that gifts years ago weren't wrapped in paper, that would have been so wasteful.

And in the States, the whole 'gift-bag' thing is so popular, there are other families not tearing apart gifts.

BUT - if they protest a lot, maybe a couple of special little wrapped things on the side might help wean them from their paper passion :-)

(Given your steady diet for them of books, did you expect them to NOT love paper?? ;-) Ducking...)

By the way, your bags are really, really lovely. I'm imagining that they will become special treasures, one day, of "Christmas in Poland," and your kids will want them in their own homes, with THEIR kids saying, "Mom, why do we have to have those bags?? Can't we have WRAPPING PAPER like everyone else??" And they'll sigh to themselves and say, "Kids these days..."

 
At 4:46 AM , Blogger Mother Auma said...

Um, well, at first when I thought of all the excess paper waste you are avoiding by using the pretty little sacks, your idea appealed to me a great deal.

But I can see the kids' point. It takes so little to open a drawstring sack. It's kind of like the gift bags with tissue you simply pull out and there is the gift. The anticipation and suspense just isn't as lengthy.

I don't know. As the mom who is going to be continually grabbing bits of paper and stuffing them into garbage bags on Christmas morning in an effort not to lose any actual gifts in the throwing away of wrapping, I really like your drawstring sack idea. They will look charming under the tree, too!

 
At 4:33 PM , Blogger Lady Liberty said...

As one who does not care for Christmas, I think you might be on the end of a lossing battle. Tradition is big. It also depends on what type of openers you have, the tear the thing open or the slowly open so not to tear the paper. I would suggest one of two in the sacks, use them instead of stocking. People reuse thoughs every year.
They are quite lovely. I think they would go over if you use them for gifts for others.

 
At 4:34 PM , Blogger Lady Liberty said...

As one who does not care for Christmas, I think you might be on the end of a lossing battle. Tradition is big. It also depends on what type of openers you have, the tear the thing open or the slowly open so not to tear the paper. I would suggest one of two in the sacks, use them instead of stocking. People reuse thoughs every year.
They are quite lovely. I think they would go over if you use them for gifts for others.

 
At 6:48 PM , Blogger Krakovianka said...

I could tie knots in the strings. It would take a looooong time to open then...I wonder if that would solve the anticipation problem?

 
At 8:32 AM , Blogger Firefly said...

I actually thought it was a lovely idea and was immediately thinking of going about making my own for our Christmas presents. I think my girls would love them. They seem so old-fashioned and even somewhat Victorian.

I have always loved things made out of "real" stuff instead of paper or plastic. I used cloth diapers and wool diaper covers on my babies. I bought them wooden toys and games, cloth dolls, etc. I absolutely loved getting catalogs from "Waldorf" or "Montessori" companies.

It's kind of funny when I think about the fact that my father was a plastics salesman. He used to come home with toys that my friends found awe-inspiring.

I will have to get to our local "Stuff-Mart" and buy some festive cloth and ribbon! Thanks for a great idea.

 
At 1:53 AM , Blogger Doyle Bruce said...

I'm late in reading this, but we've been using cloth bags for about 5 years now. It hasn't been much of a problem, since the children always received gifts from others that were wrapped in paper. I've enjoyed not having to throw away all that paper, but it's also been fun to try to fool them about what's in the package. (Trying to make a book feel like something else!)

 

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