When the old meets the new

8:20 PM

Traditions. The very word suggest something old and set in stone, something that cannot possibly evolve, something that one must stick to without thinking of altering it…at all.
Yet it is anything but so, traditions are things that keep evolving, and got adapted countless time. As I pointed out two years ago on the occasion of Saint Nicolas (refresh your memory here). The Santa we all know today is the product of merging traditions, Saint Nicolas got grafted over the Myth of Odin in the Germanic part of Europe, Father Christmas was a northern mythological figures, and over time the two merged, “Sinterclass” (Dutch for Saint Nicolas) got anglicised and became Santa Claus.

And Saint Nicolas is exactly what I am leading to, yesterday was December 6th, and as I said in my 2011 post, we celebrate him big in Switzerland, and he end up bringing goodies to kids in the night of the 6th leading to the 7th. Edible goodies I might add. Now ishita is older and can soak in the magic of the day, but then one problem arised…you see in India the Christmas model followed is the American one with Santa coming on December 25th to give gifts to nice kids, she got hooked to it last year having learned about Santa in school and I ended up introducing the tradition I never really had growing up, putting a tray of cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas eve. This year at age 4 she is still a bit young to really grasp the original story of Saint Nick who saved Children from death and became the patron and protector of children, to her it is now clear that the night time visitors that bring goodies is Santa and no one else. The occasion to introduce a new tradition to make things clearer to a little girl that is growing up in a multicultural family and environment!
So this year, I still did the dinner with oranges, gingerbread, nuts and candies,  I partially did the Christmas tree. I usually do it on Saint Nicolas, but DH was working and we want to do it as a family, so as a compromise, I assembled the tree, and we put the light on it:

xmas tree in progress

Before dinner I sat Ishita down and told her that today was the day Santa would come and pick up the letters from little kids to know what he should gift each kids. That is my departure from the old traditions, creating a new one to bridge a gap into a new way of celebrating the holiday. Ishita was very exited at this idea, and we wrote the letter together (holding her hand and guiding it slightly as I dictated the letters). Then we had dinner, and Ishita kept asking when her Princess scooter would come (her wish since last march), I told her we would put the letter in a plate along with some cookies and Santa would come and pick it up. 

letter to santa

I left it at that, I didn’t mention that Santa would bring candies the next day, letting her figuring out that part for herself. By bedtime she had a case of Santa fever, and woke up once before I went to bed asking “Santa here?” Which had me explaining that Santa only comes when everybody in the house is asleep, that prompted her to look at me seriously and say “Mama, you go to bed now! Ok?”.
This made me smile big time, the magic of the holiday is clearly working, and my little girl is soaking it. I gently led her back to bed, and then when my turn came to call it a night, I ate the cookies, took the letter and hid it for safekeeping, and placed a Santa hat I filled with candies and munchies and put it on the plate instead (we can’t put things in shoes, having a dog…especially edible things).
This morning Ishita awoke actually looking for Princess scooter, but found none, had to remind her that Santa only came to pick up the letter to know what to bring on Christmas day, that’s when she ran to the plate and came back to me saying:
“Mama! Santa forgot his hat!” And since I wasn’t in that room yet it was easier for me to play along and say “What hat?” And Ishita led me to it very afraid to even touch it. And I told her that Santa probably left it out for her to know he got her letter, she then picked it up to find her favourite munchies in it. She ate most of them right away, but was a bit scared of putting the hat on, not sure it actually did belong to her. There was a kind of reverence for something that belonged to her very first idol. She ended up going to bed wearing the hat tonight, still asking when Santa would come back.
To me this is a very happy time, I am finally in a position to bring that magic I grew up with to my daughter. I think this year is the first year I actually feel like the holiday season is completely full. You see when you are a young child, you believe in Santa, like Ishita does, then you usually end up having your beliefs crushed somehow in your pre-teen years, and continue growing up completely disenchanted. Christmas becomes that social obligation, that inescapable thing, this commercial nasty thing that force people to buy, eat and consume. Then you have kids, and you find yourself having an “excuse” to resurrect traditions that do not make sense in an adult serious world. You finally become the “magic creator”, the power to make your kids love the holiday is in your hand. And let me tell you, this is a very beautiful thing, having that power. I’ll even say that Santa actually exist, sure he might not be physically there, but he came to embody the spirit of what the holiday season is about: Happiness, Joy, and celebrating as a family, and he really does deliver just that.
The way you summon him, how you do make your kids believe doesn’t really matter much in the end, many countries have different ways of bringing that magic to life, different sets of traditions, some families do it a certain way, others will have different variations. The real magic of it is unique to each, and you end up figuring out what works the best for your own. In our case, I am a Swiss married to an Indian, living in India, the old Swiss way can’t all work, the holiday in its secular form is new to India and follows the most commercial and mediatized model out there, but in the end it is up to me and my family to blend it all, and create a whole set of traditions we can call our own. And that is how every single traditions in every single cultures around the world are what they all are today: a constant mix of old and new.


  1. Nice post, Cynthia! I totally agree with the need to mix old traditions with new ones, adjusting as needed. My sons are almost 16 and almost 13, and they don't believe in Santa anymore but I kept it alive as long as possible! I'm looking forward to Ishi's reaction on Christmas morning! Happy holidays, Susan

  2. Alexandra Madhavan3:34 AM

    So sweet! I didn't know Santa was celebrated so big in Switzerland. My SIL lives in Zurich but they pretty much stick to Indians-only things o_O
    I totally agree about the traditions being adapted between old and new.

  3. Actually we don't really celebrate Santa in Switzerland :) He doesn't bring the presents on the 25th, Christmas time is family time and usually people hands each other the presents we put under the tree. The goodies into the stocking, or rather shoes comes in the night of the 6 to the 7 on the occasion of Saint Nicolas, and they usually are candies and chocolates. In my school we even had St-Nick coming during the day distributing bags of googies to all the kids, mostly peanuts in their shell, one orange, some candies and a kids activity book. I think the Santa was someone from the county hall, as the bags were probably all put together there and the money probably came from there too.
    Your SIL's way is not too different of many Indians in Switzerland, they usually stick to their own groups of expats, and rarely mix with people, even when they have kids in school. DH also noticed it with some of his colleagues when he was on assignment in Zurich, they didn't want to go sightseeing, visiting the country, go to local events, and he was aching for a buddy to do that, he ended up doing a lot of things with his Swiss colleagues, the other nationality expats on that assignement and on a few weekends with my mom when he would go all the way down to Geneva. When I visited for 2.5 months during that assignement he was all happy to go out and do Swiss things with me :)

  4. I'm looking forward to her reaction too :) Now I need to order the scooter on Flipkart and hope they deliver it while she is in school :)


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