We’re at that time of year again- when you can’t enter a shop without being assaulted by festive music, the waft of cinnamon-infused everything, and hungry shoppers desperate for that last-minute bargain. Ahh, Christmas. How I have missed you.
Can I still call this time of year Christmas though? With friends from all over the world who celebrate different things from me I don’t want to insult anyone. I have even started saying ‘Happy Holidays!’ to my friends and students, complete with an American accent and lop-sided grin to go with it, as it feels so far removed from what I was brought up with and actually feel as the right expression for this season. If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings’ Day, you have a right to have it recognised. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or happy holidays are all pleasantries. There’s nothing remotely hostile in those words. Sure, they may not be the words that some would choose to receive, but they’re far from insults.
But I’m missing my own point… I’m confused about Christmas! Take my situation here in Austria: we already celebrated St. Nicholas on 5th or 6th December, with Krampus in tow to threaten our littlies with (and yes, I milked that one with the 4-year old). I had never heard of this celebration before coming to Austria and sending my children to Kindergarten here: now we have a day off (grr!), and a little feast pack to bring home full of goodies- like a pre- Christmas stocking. Next is the ‘actual’ day” all my daughter’s Austrian friends will celebrate Christmas on the 24th, as is the norm for German/ Austrian and many more countries. We on the other hand will celebrate on the 25th- the usual day for British, Australian and American families. And then in Orthodox countries like Greece and Russia, Santa comes a week later, on the 31st December, to leave presents for the children to open the next day. Then we also have Three Kings’ day, or Epiphany on the 6th January, which is traditionally the gift- giving day for Spanish and Latin American families. So which should I choose? Or does she just luck out and get something every day?!
And then the names… Santa Claus (or Sinterklaas)/ Father Christmas/ Père Noël/ Christkind/ Kris Kringle/ the Weihnachtsmann… so confusing for me, let alone little children. Many are derivations from one original name: Saint Nicholas became Sinterklaas in Dutch, Sinteklaas in Frisian, and Kleeschen or Zinniklos in Luxembourgish. The modern figure of Santa Claus is actually derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas, whose name is a dialectal pronunciation of Saint Nicholas, the historical Greek bishop of Myra. Although he has a quite different origin, in the English-speaking world Father Christmas is now associated with the Santa Claus in the United States, and most people consider them to be different names for the same figure. Wherever you are from in the world you will have your own name, pronunciation and idea of exactly who this jolly, fat, bearded figure is. None of them are as delightful as “Caga Tio” though… although my kids would love the idea of a “shitting uncle” you can rest assured though that he doesn’t enter into it- at least not yet!
So many dates; so many people; so many options. In our multi- cultural environment our children are being brought up with plenty of options, and the luckiest are those who get the best of every world- bi-cultural parents, living in yet another culture, and who are happy to include it all: they can celebrate 3 or 4 times during the festive holiday season (see- I’ve done it again!). We all want to be inclusive, and allow our children to learn and understand different cultures and ways of doing things. Aside from the fact that it can get a bit expensive for the parents, it’s fun to open children to the varieties that there are, and even more fun to open presents on multiple dates!
Something I read recently made me smile and decide that this is what I will tell my children, should they ever ask: that Father Christmas/ Santa/ the Weihnachtsmann has so many deliveries to make that he needs both the 24th and 25th to get around the whole world. He can have a break and then go again- if they ask about the Orthodox version, that is!