Keeping family traditions at Christmas

Did you know, before there was Santa, there was Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas? Sinterklaas is a legendary figure based on Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children and is celebrated annually with the giving of gifts on St. Nicholas’ Eve (5 December) in the Netherlands and on the morning of 6 December, Saint Nicholas Day, in Belgium, Luxembourg and northern France. In the Netherlands, children leave their shoes by their fireplace or the front door and during the evening of 5 December, Sinterklaas will ride his white horse across the rooftops and place little treats or gifts in the children’s shoes (those who have been naughty receive potatoes!). Sinterklaas is believed to be one of the original sources of the modern day Santa Claus.

One side of my family is Dutch, so growing up I have always celebrated the arrival of Sinterklaas with gift giving on 5 December. My aunt who still lives in Amsterdam would send us a parcel each year and we would wait eagerly until after dinner was finished for my father to present the parcel on the dining table where we would pour over all the goodies she had sent for us. As per traditional Sinterklaas treats, there were usually spiced biscuits called pepernooten, marzipan (usually in the shape of potatoes, for us naughty children!) and chocolate letters (always the first letter of our name). This is one of my favourite Christmas time memories and always made me feel like the festive season had officially started after this day.

I wanted to share this tradition with our little guy, so I decided to put a twist on the traditional Christmas Eve or 1 December box, and make ours a Sinterklaas Box! I’ve purchased a beautiful personalised box that we will fill each year with little goodies to kick start our festive season – including some of the traditional treats that I’ve managed to find here in Australia! We will still celebrate Santa Claus, but will teach our little guy about my Dutch heritage and his Opa will tell him stories of Dutch Christmases.

Making family traditions at Christmas time is one of my favourite things – it really helps us to remember the true spirit of Christmas and not get swept up in the spending of money and general craziness of the season. I thought I would compile a list of some of my favourite family Christmas traditions that I’ve heard of – some of which we’ll be adding to our festive season this year – for you to consider doing with your family too. I’d also love to hear any traditions that you might have that I haven’t included here!

  • Place a basket with Christmas books under the tree and read one every night by the tree lights. Add a new book each year!
  • Purchase a real Christmas tree as a family at a Christmas tree farm. If you can, bring a hat for each member of the family to “mark” their favourite tree, and then vote on which one to take home!
  • Attend a ballet performance of the Nutcracker – most theatres will run this throughout December!
  • Go around your neighbourhood and look at the Christmas lights. Bonus idea: leave a little thank you note in the letterbox of houses with nativity scenes to say thanks for sharing the true meaning of Christmas!
  • Each year, give a new Christmas ornament to each child that represents a special trip or memory from the year.
  • Have a special Christmas morning breakfast as a family. Choose something that the whole family can help in preparing together.
  • Make a 1 December or Christmas Eve box, with Christmas pjs, a Christmas book, a movie, some popcorn and any other little Christmas treats!
  • Keep gifts simple and stick to the four presents rule: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.
  • Before going to bed on Christmas Eve, track Santa using the NORAD app or website.
  • Visit your city’s Myer or David Jones Christmas windows
  • Get a family Christmas photo every year (either with Santa or in front of your Christmas tree).
  • Take on the elf on the shelf tradition and have fun moving the elf to different spots every night
  • Help your kids write a letter to Santa (Australia Post can help with delivery to the North Pole!)
  • Start a family Christmas Journal. Each Boxing Day, sit down and write down your favourite memories of the day before. Who you celebrated with, special moments of the day, food you ate, gifts that were received and where you went. It’s a great memento to look back on as the years go past!