Have you ever heard the story of the holiday ham? A young woman is hosting the holiday dinner at her new home and she gets the turkey started in the oven and then pulls out the ham, cuts it in half, and puts both halves in the oven. Her new husband asks why she went through all that work to cut the ham in half and she looks at him as if he were a fool and says, “That’s the way you’re supposed to do it.” The young man wasn’t so sure about that answer but he was sure that he didn’t want to get her all riled up before everyone got there so he dropped it and went on his way. But his question stayed with the young woman all morning long and when the young woman’s mother arrived the daughter asked, “Mom? Why do you cut the ham in half before you cook it?” “That’s just the way you do it,” answered her mother. “It…it cooks faster that way, I think.” But the young woman’s mother wasn’t really satisfied with her own answer and thought about it off and on the whole day until her mother arrived for dinner. While Grandmother was in the kitchen looking at all the delicious food, the Mother said, “This morning Susie asked me why you have to cut the ham in half before you cook it and I realized I don’t really know why. I’ve just always done it that way.” Grandmother begins to snicker as she says, “Well, I don’t know why you do it that way, but I did it that way because I didn’t have one big pan to fit the whole ham on so I put one half on each of my two smaller pans.”
How many “traditions” started just like this. (I’d venture to say more than we realize)! Someone makes a split second decision and they run with it, not imagining that it will have much consequence but someone else latches onto it and whoops…now it’s tradition. “Well, that’s just how things happened” becomes “That’s the way we’ve always done it!”
Saint Nicholas Night happened like that for us. Several years ago a friend of mine told me about the Catholic tradition of St. Nicholas Feast Day which, long story short, is a day to celebrate St. Nicholas and his generosity. To celebrate, some children leave their shoes out by the hearth and St. Nicholas drops by and leaves them small toys and/or coins tucked inside. We decided to further that idea and leave out toys for St. Nick to pick up and take to the North Pole, refurbish, and then redistribute to other children for Christmas. That’s a Win-Win-Win in my book. Clear out old toys, teach the children about giving to others, and make it not so obvious if/when Santa brings pre-loved toys on Christmas morn. So we did it one year and then, quite honestly, I forgot about it.
The next year I saw a friend post about St. Nicholas on the morning of December 6. Whoops. We missed it! So we rounded up our toys (and I made a quick run to the store for goodies) and I told the children that St. Nicholas day was indeed December 6, but he didn’t come until that night. Carter was old enough that apparently that stuck in his brain and we’ve been doing it on the night of December 6 since. Thanks, Catholicism, for letting us borrow your Saint’s feast day. We’ve taken some creative liberties with how it should be celebrated and changed it around a bit. We call it St. Nick’s Night and he brings candy instead of small toys or coins. I love how it’s teaching our kids to think of others, to clear out some space and pass along what they’re aren’t using anymore, and to be mindful that pre-loved toys are just as lovely (sometimes even more so) as brand-new-in-the-box toys. This little tradition makes me happy and I wonder how (or if) it will change over time. Most things do, I suppose. But this is one idea that I’d like to keep around for as long as we can.
Happy St. Nick’s night, y’all!