Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Traditions and Memories

As the years go by, I find I have largely forgotten many of the old traditions my Mother kept alive for her children.  Yet I have remembered St. Nicholas Day on December 6 for ever...and I believe it was because my Mother, by her awesome storytelling ability, ingrained this one very deeply within me.

December 6 was more fun for me than Christmas. Perhaps it was because it began the Christmas season and the lovely attendant  anticipation, way back when I was small.

My mother would begin by reminding me that St. Nicholas was on his way, about two weeks before the actual date.  She would tell me our home would have to be sparkling clean...and that included my room.

I was notorious for stuffing clothing, books, shoes and toys under my bed. This was the one time of the year when I made sure to drag each item out from under the bed and put them in their proper place. I recall so well feeling as if St. Nicholas was in the room with me...I did not dare shirk my duties.

My mother told me I had to polish my shoes. As a young child, I was not sure how to go about polishing shoes. And I remember dowsing my patent leather shoes in a tub of water, because I thought this was the way to make sure they were really clean. It took days for them to dry out; the patent leather was not ever the same.

I was terribly afraid these shoes, almost brand new and bought for the Christmas season, would end up with a piece of coal in them rather than the goodies I had received in previous years.

You see, on St. Nicholas Day, those same shoes, clean and now a little cracked, would be placed on the window sill. I would draw a picture for St. Nick and put it in one of the shoes...and in the other shoe was my list for Christmas. And there was a plate of carrots for St. Nicholas' white Horse.

But it was not only clean shoes and a clean house St. Nicholas looked for, when he travelled from home to home. He apparently, my mother told me, had a very large Book in which all children's behaviour, good and bad, had been chronicled, never to be forgotten.

I couldn't begin to imagine it. But I wanted that Book.  A budding writer and voracious reader even so long ago, I thought that Book St. Nicholas had would give me years of enjoyment, as long as I did not look up my name. Even now, my heart races a little at the thought I might ever find the tell-all Book...and my name.

It was all I thought about.  I visualized St. Nicholas leading his Horse through the Snow, holding tight to The Book.  And when he came to a house, he would open it wide, and find the resident child's name. Depending on that child's behaviour, he would either place a piece of coal in the shoe or he would fill it with amazing chocolate goodies.

I would bother my mother, possibly non-stop, about The Book.  Was her name in it? Yes, she replied. Had she ever received any coal? Perhaps, she would say...she couldn't quite remember.  But she had once had a friend who received coal year after year!

My eyes as wide as saucers, I clamoured to know more about my mother's friend.  Why did she receive coal year after year? Well, my mother explained, she just could not be good.  She could not remember her manners, she wore stained and dirty clothing (to my mother, cleanliness was next to godliness) and her shoes were forever covered in mud!

Well.  Upon hearing the news about this unfortunate girl, I wandered away to digest what I had heard. Then, as well as now, I needed time to run through all the scenarios in my come up with more questions for my beleaguered Mother.

Hmmm. I remembered how my shoes could get covered in mud...sometimes even my socks! And my clothing could certainly get stained and dirty. My manners were not all that great, either. I was shy and quiet...greetings to other people were not my strong point...I'd hide behind my mother, mostly.

I had some fearful thoughts that my name would have that black mark against it, in St. Nicholas' Book.

I went back to my mother. What if, I said with great anxiety, what if my name had a black mark against it?

My mother did not let me off the hook.  She said, We'll have to wait and see.

Her answer kept me very good...I outdid myself in keeping clean, remembering my manners, staying out of mud...

That is, until St. Nicholas arrived and filled those pretty, patent leather shoes to the brim with the much coveted chocolate. There was nary a lump of coal to be found!

I stayed good for a week or two, after December 6, but my memory for continuing that goodness faded after awhile, and I went back to wallowing in the mud.

The whole scenario happened again when the Christmas season began, shortly after St. Nicholas Day. Santa Claus, according to my mother, also wanted children to be good.

But for me, Santa never had the same clout as St. Nicholas...he only kept a list.  He didn't have that big, black Book.

The tradition faded as I grew older.  I tried to implement it with my children, but they were far more sophisticated than I...they knew inherently they would receive candy in their shoes.

Black Book or no. 

Note:  The top photo is me at the approximate age of three with Santa Claus.


  1. My grandmother came to the States from Norway at four. When she went to school, she was made to feel ashamed of her language and culture. With that, our family lost most of its traditions. As I saw other families with strong ties and traditions it made me a bit sad. Yes, we had a great tree and treats at Christmas. Yes, we celebrated all the traditional holidays. But there was no family history behind them. - Margy

  2. I've never heard of Saint Nicholas day, but i did ruin patent leather shoes once.

  3. Anonymous5:59 p.m.

    Hi. I'm from Norway but I currently live in the US. I never celebrated St Nicholas day, though it sounds so nice to do so. I remember my mom reading the story about St. Nicholas to me when I was little. I still remember that very well.
    We do celebrate St.Lucia on December 13. Does anyone in the US know about that?

  4. Margy,

    The same thing happened, I think, to my family. As immigrants from Germany, many traditions seemed odd to my friends...and so I rarely spoke about them. Kids can be cruel; when I attempted to tell them about my family's way of life, I was the recipient of laughter.

    And so, when my children arrived, it was difficult for me to implement the old was just not the way of things in this country.


    You'll know what I'm talking about with patent leather least the patent leather of many years ago. The leather cracked with the water treatment. They never did feel the same, as much as I loved them!

    White Witch,

    I know about St. Lucia day...what a beautiful ceremony it is! It is the oldest daughter, right, who leads the procession?

    This would be one celebration I would be sure not to forget!

  5. Marion - you have inherited your mother's storytelling gifts. You captivate me!

  6. Love the Santa photo, Marion! :) I am trying to learn how to scan photos and post them, but once I get started, may not know how to quit.

  7. What a wonderful post! St Nick and I share a name and because my family are from central Europe, good old St Nick was always around. But I've never heard the story of his Black Book. Wonderful the impact that stories have on children!

  8. Nicole,

    Thank you for such an awesome compliment! I have felt the need, lately, to expand more of the storytelling. Fiction, that is...a thing which is entirely new to me! But what fun it is...


    Thank you for coming by! I was entirely engaged by your appropriation post the other day...that is an incredible debate!

    Actually, Graham scanned the photo for me. I haven't acquired the expertise as yet, lol! I think it might be my age, but I have suddenly grown interested again in those really old photos. I love them...for their memories and also how the people seem to shine in those old posed photos.


    Wow. I'm unbelievably impressed you stopped by, considering your schedule! I'm glad you remember St. Nick...nothing like the middle European stories, which can be on the dark side!

    Ever since I've been able to read the Brothers Grimm, I love stories which are centred around the paranormal, with that dark suspense!

  9. Hello Marion, I have read this post with much interest. Your St. Nicholas Day is not exactly the same as our (Dutch) St. Nicolaas or Sinterklaas feest. I will try to tell something in English to explain how this children's event is happening in the Netherlands on Blogland Lane. The part of 'the book' is exactly the same. ;-) See ya on Blogland Lane. Bye!

  10. Weineke,

    Thank you for visiting! I wondered if you had a similar holiday when I wrote this...I look forward to your post on Blogland lane!

  11. What a wonderful time for you with those traditions.

    Coming from England to Africa as a child all we tended to have was a Father Christmas and for some reason I never really liked him or believed in him. Probably as he has no real tradition like St Nicholas.