Every shoe my children own is under their little table top tree. Saint Nicholas comes tonight.
I didn't celebrate the feastday of the Turkish bishop as a child growing up in Newfoundland, nor did Patrick in Little Rock. There are a few compensating charms to raising a family on this little raft of ours, stranded as we are from in-laws, grandparents, cousins and the like. Getting to make up our own traditions is one of them. Who's to tell us, "that's not how we do it?"
My mom's great-grandparents came from Denmark. Maybe they recognized the saint's day. I adopted it as a way of mediating between cultures. I gather it's changed now, but when I was a little girl back on the island, Christmas didn't get going until the week of Christmas. Here, it begins on Thanksgiving; the first week of December, at the latest. Also, it moves around. People say things like, "Oh we're having Christmas at my parents' house this weekend because my (insert faraway relation here) will be in town."
Now, that's fine for them. No judgment here. But for me, Christmas isn't a moveable feast. Christmas is Christmas. And if your loved ones can't be with you on December 25, you weep, and croon Bing Crosby, and make drunken long distance phone calls.
So on the eve of the 6th of December, the boys get to decorate their bedroom and put their shoes out, and I get another couple of weeks before I have to lug the rest of the boxes out of the attic.
I intended for our Saint Nicholas Day to be reality-based. Other Episcopalians who mark it tell me that honoring the historical Saint Nick can make for a softer landing when the kids let go of the make-believe one. But when mine found gold-wrapped chocolate coins in their shoes the first year, they said it must have come from St. Nicholas, and I had to respond in the same way I do to Christmas morning exclamations: with a great big smile. My kids make a believer out of me.