St. Nicholas comes tonight; his feast is December 6th, so it is on the evening of the 5th that little children everywhere (or at least those who descend from Europe, the reputed origin of Nicholas) put out their boots in hopes of receiving gifts from the Sainted Nick. My boys are too old for him, really, but he kindly fills their boots anyway (and those are some jumbo boots these days).
He is the spirit of generosity that heralds the holidays, and he is a part of my tradition. My German mother ushered him into our lives, and we always woke to shoes (one each) full of big brown walnuts and huge red apples, as well as little German chocolates and tiny gifties. In thirty years St. Nick hasn't changed all that much, although some of the wee toys are quite techno and modern.
In the days when my children were small, I labored to make St. Nicholas' Day so special that I sometimes took the day off of work just to be sure I was there when my little boys toddled in and dumped out their boots to examine their treasures.
This year, to show how cruelly time changes things, my eldest son must get up early to take his high school entrance exam. He may even scoff at the notion of putting out his boot at all (but he'll do it on the off chance that something good will go in there). So off he will go, and his brother will have to sit and munch chocolate by himself.
Each year the holidays take a slightly different shape as my children grow up and away from me; and yet I know that the traditions I labored to continue when they were small will be the same traditions that they want to continue, some day, for their own children.
So, despite the fact that my husband has no interest in helping me and my children will probably not shower me with gratitude, I will wait until everyone is sleeping so that I may channel St. Nicholas and put chocolate into shoes in his name. Gee, when you say it like that it seems silly.
That's true of all traditions, though--taken out of context they are quite bizarre. But they are the threads that sew families and peoples together, and I will keep weaving them into the lives of my children.