Monthly Archives: December 2013

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St. Nicholas Night

While we are trying to remove some of the commercialism from the holiday season and start our own traditions, we are also trying to create cultural connections between our German and Scottish roots so Cam has an understanding of where her ancestors came from. I think this is really important and my husband and I didn’t really have that growing up, but now wish we did. To that end we celebrated St. Nicholas day, December 6th. This is technically less German and more Dutch, but we did some great German things.

  • visited the Christkindlmarkt at our local German society and bought German foods and Cam’s yearly Christmas ornament (we actually did this on Saturday)
  •  baked cookies with my mother, a tradition we have done with my grandmother since the year I was born
  • had a German meal for dinner (sausages and spatzlae)
  • decorated our Christmas tree (a very German tradition, the tree, not the decorating; we also buy a small tree so Cam can help decorate)
  • read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas before bed
  • put out Cam’s shoes and a carrot for St. Nicholas’s horse
  • St. Nicholas brought Cam a tiny St. Nicholas figure puzzle, a book and an apple

photoWe do not use Santa Claus in our house. I think he embodies too much of the commercial spirit that I disagree with, so we have implemented this tradition with St. Nicholas, a historical and spiritual figure. I believe last year I talked about how we spread out our Christmas presents, one a day over the twelve days of Christmas. They have not come from Santa, but from us. I am, however, considering telling Cam in the vein of German tradition that the Christ child (or Christkindl) has brought them this year, at least maybe the first day when we open her stocking.

I have yet to find a good book about St. Nicholas. There are many beautiful books, but they all seem to feature a story about how he restored life to three boys who were murdered and pickled by an innkeeper. While I understand that is supposed to be a miraculous story, I simply find it grisly and inappropriate for both the holiday spirit and Cam’s age. A lot of the books are also a bit long and involved and, quite frankly, boring. So in lieu of those we did ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas which Cam enjoyed. We have a copy that has charming vintage illustrations. Traditions Banner

Eight Great Books for the Winter Holidays

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Here is a selection of books for the holidays. I know Hanukkah is almost gone, but those books are well worth reading.

Eight Great Books for the Winter Holidays

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel: In a small town somewhere in Eastern Europe the local synagogue has been taken over by goblins who will not allow the townspeople to celebrate Hanukkah. Hershel takes on the task of convincing one goblin each night to allow him to light the menorah in the lonely old synagogue. Hershel is a clever guy and has some pretty creative ways that he tricks the goblins. However there is a catch, on the final night he must have the Goblin King, the biggest scariest goblin of all, light the menorah himself. The story is dramatic, suspenseful, and very funny at points.

Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland: If you are familiar with Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot you will be familiar with the storyline of this one too. Sadie is given a magic pan that makes latkes. But in order to stop it you must say the magic words. Too bad her brothers don’t know those words and start up the pan while Sadie is out. I wouldn’t say the holiday features prominently, but it’s still a great story to read during the season.

The Chanukkah Guest by Eric Kimmel: This one is just plain funny and totally appeals to kids’ sense of humor. Baba Brayna is a bit hard of hearing and her eyesight isn’t so good either, so when a bear shows up on her doorstep lured by the smell of latkes she mistakes him for the rabbi. The bear enjoys a great meal and is even given the scarf Baba Brayna knit for the rabbi. As he leaves, the rabbi and Baba Brayna’s friends arrive and are rather surprised to find all the latkes gone. However, Baba Brayna simply whips up another batch of latkes.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett: Jan Brett creates such detailed illustrations that her books make great read alouds for even the youngest of children. They are also perfect read alouds for one or two children nestled in your lap. I especially like the message in this book of kindness, respect, and cooperation for and with animals. Tika has been entrusted to find and work with Santa’s wild reindeer this year and she takes her task very seriously. As she begins she tries to boss them around and is rather rough, but this only results in a fiasco. After a tangle up, Tika promises to listen to the animals and be gentle and kind. This works out quite well and the reindeer are ready to lead Santa’s sleigh.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle: Another story that shows kindness to animals. While we don’t get snow where we live, we still appreciate the thought of a white Christmas. In Dream Snow, a farmer wishes it would snow, but then dreams of snow covering his animals. He awakens to find that it really has snowed and he rushes out to deliver gifts to his animals.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto: Another story where the holiday is more of a backdrop, however it has a great message about honesty and is funny to boot. Maria is making tamales with her parents for their family Christmas celebration. Her mother removes her wedding ring to mix the masa, but Maria sneaks the ring on her finger. In the hustle and bustle of family arriving Maria forgets all about the ring and only later realizes it must have fallen off in the tamales. She and her cousins sneak into the kitchen and eat all the tamales in search of the ring, which, it turns out her mother had all along. Maria confesses to her mother and the family has a good laugh and sets out to make another batch of tamales. The look on the kids faces when they have to make more tamales is priceless.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs: This is a wordless picture book that details Santa’s Christmas routine. I know there is an animated version of it, but I love to pore over all the details with my daughter. There are some surprising and delightful things if you look closely.

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna Washington: I am a big proponent of introducing a variety of customs to my daughter, but it was hard finding a quality Kwanzaa book. So many of them are overtly didactic or informational with illustrations that just aren’t very engaging. I wish there were more stories about Kwanzaa in the vein of all the Christmas and Hanukkah books. In Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, Li’l Rabbit sets out to find a nice gift for his grandmother who is sick in place of the large happy feast they normally have. While out he tells all grandma’s friends that she is unwell, but doesn’t think he has come up with the perfect surprise. Until he gets home and realizes all the friends have pulled together and created the Karamu for Granna Rabbit. I liked that the principles of Kwanzaa are subtly worked into the story instead of being glaringly pointed to.