Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Recollections of a Childhood Christmas

2018 Nativity Scene at Our House

I can still remember some of the earliest holiday celebrations as a child in Holland. First came Saint Nicholas.  He began to show up in parades and parties in mid-November.  I remember how for a few years my dad’s employer would throw a party where all the children were treated with a gift and candy, particularly “speculaas”, some form of ginger bread, “pepernoten”  or peppernuts  “taaj-taaj”, chewy spiced honey cake dolls,  “marsepijn”, marzipan. The gift was usually something  that would seem insignificant today but was huge back then.  The festivities would end the night of December 5th, when St Nicholas visited each home while we were sleeping and dropped off gifts .  We would always leave our shoes by the fire stove, hoping that Saint Nicholas would fill them with extra treats.  One of the biggest treats each year was chocolate in the shape of the first alphabet letter of your first name. For many years, we looked forward to something special, a Hershey candy bar for us kids mailed to us by a Canadian soldier that befriended my parents during the liberation of occupied Holland.  This I will never forget.  It was from someone we as children never met.  Nor will I forget the one year when someone left a care package at our door steps. My parents wondered for many years who that generous person could have been, and it had a large impact on me.  

When December 6th rolled around, the gift exchanges and festivities were over, well in advance of Christmas.The focus of Christmas was on the birth of Christ.  It was celebrated in many fashions.  My dad reluctantly bought a Christmas tree, and it was decorated with real candles.  Our catholic neighbors had a nativity display in their living room, and us kids were invited to come over and look at it.  While my dad allowed us to go, we were well reminded that such a display was idolatry, as was the display of any picture or statue of Jesus.  There was no adoration of baby Jesus in our celebration.  There were very few Christmas hymns that we sang in church, the main one I remember was “Glory to God In the highest!  Peace on the earth, peace on the earth to the people who have God’s favor”. Looking back, it was more of a solemn festivity than a celebration.
These are my recollections.  Many people have different recollections, including younger members of my family.  Some of the practices and beliefs have changed.  One thing we have learned is that God’s  grace extends far beyond one’s particular faith. Today there is some opposition to greeting people with “Happy Holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas”  As children, we were not allowed to say ”Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year”  It was “Zalig Kerstfeest” (Blessed Christmas) and “Veel Heil en Zegen” (Wishing you much goodness and blessings this coming year).Happy Holidays, everyone!