Christmas Eve in my family growing up was simple. When did which kid have to be at church? Present-opening was squeezed into any gap. That meant that some years we opened presents at 7 pm., some years at 1 am.
We didn't have Santa Claus. We had an Advent wreath, a creche, and a Christmas tree. Occasionally I could talk my father into putting real candles on the tree.
So, I was enchanted when Dave and I moved to Italy to discover the story of Befana. There are several versions of the story, some nicer than others. The one I learned was that the Magi stopped at her house, but she turned them away because she was busy. She later felt guilty and set off to find the Magi and the Baby Jesus. She continues to search to this day, leaving presents for children. I learned of her as the Witch Befana, traveling on her broomstick.
It was a sad story of opportunities missed, and the eternal quest to make things right.
This year I discovered the story of winter wheat. When Mary and Joseph were fleeing from Herod's soldiers, they came across a farmer sowing wheat. Mary told the farmer to tell the soldiers that they had passed. The wheat grew very quickly. When the soldiers came and were told that Mary and Joseph had passed when the farmer was sowing the fields, the soldiers had the impression that they had passed a long time ago and gave up the search for Mary and Joseph.
And of course, there's the story of St. Nick. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, was known throughout the land for his generosity. The best-known story is of a poor man with three daughters. The father did not have enough money to provide a dowry for all his daughters. Nicholas is believed to have tossed bags of gold through the window of the poor man's home. The bags landed in stockings that were hung up to dry, thus starting the tradition of Christmas stockings.
Ukraine has a tradition of decorations that mimic spider webs. There was a poor widow who couldn't afford to decorate a tree. The spiders took pity and spun webs on her tree.
Iceland has the Yule Cat. Farmers used the Yule Cat as an incentive. Those who worked hard would receive a new set of clothes, those who didn't work hard would be devoured by the Yule Cat. Today it is customary in Iceland to get new clothing for Christmas.
I continue to be enchanted at how people have developed stories to explain traditions.
Did you have any of these stories as a part of your childhood? Share them. They are a wonderful part of our history.
--Ann Iona Warner
PS about the blog: I've had a few conversations lately with people commenting on the blog. We currently have four regular writers: the pastor, Allen Heggen, Bob Linderman, and Ann Warner.
People have commented that they can't write, or they don't have ideas. Don't believe it. Have you said "thank God" about something? Write about it! If you're uncomfortable with your writing, it can be edited. Sometimes the easiest way to write something is to talk to someone. We can arrange for someone to talk to. In other words, we welcome others to write for the blog. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
Ann Iona Warner