‘Tis the Season

I didn’t grow up here, so holiday traditions are unknown to me. I can’t rely on my childhood experience to make holidays right for Klara. I wish there were a handbook titled, “For Immigrant Parents of American Kids” with checklists for every holiday and age group.

For instance, I just discovered that you are supposed to take a kid to visit something called “Mall Santa.” And the best local one just retired, plunging parents into despair. So now that I’m aware of the tradition, I’m on it, looking for Mall Santas in the area and googling the details of the tradition.

Is there anything else I’m supposed to do around Christmas? We have the lights, the tree, and the stockings. I also know that you need to leave milk and cookies for Santa. I know about elves on shelves and love the idea but Klara is probably too little.

At least, nobody has tried to make the date of Christmas fluid, like they do with Halloween. 


19 thoughts on “‘Tis the Season”

  1. Baking cookies!

    I’m only so excited because it’s my favorite tradition 😁

    My old neighborhood used to also have a cookie exchange every year, which I still miss.


      1. When I was first learning to bake, and recipes turned into disasters, it was usually because the directions were unclear or contained terms the writer assumed people were already familiar with.

        I like finding videos online to learn new baking techniques, because usually watching someone else do it is more accurate than hearing or reading the instructions.

        I like America’s Test Kitchen videos on YouTube, they’re good and showing the techniques and explaining the reasons for them.


        1. The problem with baking is that it’s all about precision following instructions. And I don’t do that well. I’m an inspired, creative cook. I always transform recipes completely because it’s more fun.


  2. I wouldn’t worry about mall Santa; lots of parents never do it, and it seems like parents like it a lot more than kids, who often find him scary.

    Singing Christmas songs is a tradition! Some people also listen to prerecorded music, but personally I hate most Christmas recordings. This is one of the few ones I like


    1. You are right, Klara might get nervous around a Santa. I’ll bring her in and see her reaction. On Halloween, I thought she’d be scared of scary clowns but I couldn’t drag her away. You just never know with a kid.


  3. It sounds like you’ve got most of it. I would advise against following any particular checklist and advise in favor of personal, quirky touches including season Ukrainian or Russing stuff (when they get older young adults often enjoy remembering ethnic touches to their holidays). Part of the traditional idea of Christmas in the US are individualized family traditions and family Christmas objects (which may be of low quality but acquire senitmental value).

    Do you have a manger scene? Even though my family was not at all religious putting up the manger (very old plasture figures of the family animals and angels with handpainted cardboard walls and cut out pictures of the kings looking through the windows) was something I looked forward to every year.
    There’s also egg nog, of course.
    Another informal family tradition was our dogs knocking over the Christmas tree (aluminum) three or for times every year – you might want to skip that one.

    “Mall Santa” sounds like a helicopter parent thing… when I was a kid we’d end up seeing three of four Santas (described as “helpers” by parents).


    1. Of course, we’ll do the Soviet New year’s, too. We have relatives with kids staying over, and we’ll do the whole Olivier salad with champagne thing.

      Eggnog and manger are a great idea. Thank you.


  4. I grew up in the U.S. and have never heard of a mall Santa tradition, so don’t worry too much :-). Elf on the shelf is also a more recent development. My favorite childhood traditions are baking and decorating cookies (we hang them on the tree), and pie for breakfast. As an adult, I enjoy the light show at our local botanic garden (and I would have liked this as a kid, I just didn’t live near one). Definitely look for one of those!


  5. When I was younger, I went to the mall Santa a few times. But my dad was also Santa at his workplace, so mostly we went there (though we were fairly suspicious).

    As far as traditions go, when my sister and I were younger, we each had one of those Playmobil advent calendars. Since my family hosted Christmas, we’d set them up on the mantle or fireplace alongside the Nativity sets. We also set out carrots for Santa’s reindeer.

    You could make a night of decorating the tree. We usually did this a couple of days before Christmas — nowadays it gets done fairly piecemeal, depending on who’s home. My sister and I got a new ornament for Christmas every year, from parents or relatives, and those are still set aside every year for us to put up. We also have a Christmas pickle ornament, which my parents hide on the tree after my sister and I go to bed — in our family, at least, whichever one of us finds the pickle first gets to open the first present. In the past few years, my mom has taken to making monkey bread on Christmas morning — it’s what we eat for breakfast.


  6. A lot of good suggestions above: egg nog, leave out a carrot for the reindeer, consider doing the mall Santa (i.e., sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what you want for Christmas), Advent calendar, Nativity scene, baking cookies.

    I recommend listening to Harry Connick Jr’s Christmas music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ra6val6Vsjw&list=PL6-oxF8asPMZ2NMuVMmO_uwwtfJgxnojS

    There’s almost certainly a local radio station that will play holiday music all month long. Also, play The Nutcracker music and maybe watch it on film–ballet and children’s/animated versions on Youtube–or see if there’s a production in town (if your daughter’s old enough).

    Also, watch some Christmas movies. There are many classics and more modern ones, but the classics for the littlest children would include:

    -The Grinch (read the Dr. Seuss book too!) http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3fx71u

    -A Charlie Brown Christmas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-h5FuSgIAQ

    -Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCc3kbTQne0

    -Frosty the Snowman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCzcTIXrmeU

    There are also Muppet/Mickey/Curious George and similar Christmas movies you can find on Youtube and Netflix. You can probably catch many of the above movies on local programming around Christmas. They’re ones that can be nice to have on in the background, even if you’re not sitting and giving them your full attention.

    I’ve never seen the movie Babes in Toyland, but I think this clip (set to a HCJ song) is magical: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i0f2SY7spM

    Buying candy canes (normal size or mini ones) is also very traditional. You can eat them, crush them and put them in a dessert, or hang the large ones on your tree as ornaments.

    Read the poem The Night Before Christmas.

    Also, there are ice cream flavors that are often only available around the holidays like peppermint and spumoni.

    All of these little details make this time of year magical for a child!


        1. Jingle Bells was originally a Thanksgiving song, but since Thanksgiving songs never became a thing (the only other one I know is ‘over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go) it eventually got re-assigned to Christmas….


          1. Haha, no. Your daughter.

            Yeah, I was going to say, take it easy on the xmas music! There is such a thing as overkill, and some of the tinny and cheesy songs (that some radio stations play nonstop) can get old fast. I like the crooners and instrumental versions.


  7. The Santa Barbara Mission, reina de las misiones 1787, has a creche with life-size figures and real animals. You can visit and pet the sheep and donkey and everything, and at midnight on Christmas Eve they put a real baby in the manger, soon to be replaced by a doll. I liked to visit this. In San Francisco I’ve seen real camels brought to creches, like in Spain on January 6th, but on the 23d-24th. I like this too.

    But I think you should just do the things you like to do. My mother’s Christmas was very English and German, because of her parents.


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