Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Had A Boot

Many of us have shared similar stories in our posts in this Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. But I'll bet if I went back and looked I would find that for each day there was at least one person who had a memory of Christmas that stood out from the ordinary, being quite unique or unusual. And I'm thinking that in today's round of posts that person will be me. You see, I didn't have a Christmas stocking when I was a kid. I had a Christmas boot.

My boot was red with white "snow" on it. I think it was supposed to be Santa's boot given the red color and all. It wasn't a very large boot, maybe 8 to 10 inches tall. I don't know if it was supposed to be for Santa's left foot or right foot. I'm not sure what it was made of. I would guess plastic or paper m√Ęche. I don't remember a lot of the details of my boot because the really exciting part was always what was inside.

I can't remember specific things that I got in my boot, but what I seem to remember was that my mom used it to hold my very small size gifts so they wouldn't get lost or crushed by the bigger presents around the Christmas tree. That's where my boot was set out for Santa to fill, under the Christmas tree.

I don't remember how old I was when I first realized that other kids had a Christmas stocking instead of a boot. I do remember asking my mom why I didn't have a Christmas stocking. Her reply was, "We don't have a fireplace. There's no place to hang a stocking." That made sense to me!

At some point the tradition of the Christmas boot ended. I'm thinking it must've been when my mom realized that I knew about Santa Claus. Eventually the boot was used as a decoration around the house. I don't remember feeling upset or disappointed when I couldn't set the boot out under the tree anymore. I have no idea what ever happened to that boot. I'm guessing my mom must have pitched it in the trash somewhere along the line.

My Christmas boot has been in most of the pictures that I've shared with you but you probably didn't notice it. Here's a very clear picture of me with my Christmas boot. I'm four years old in this picture. I'm guessing that the cross I'm wearing was a gift just recently pulled out of my boot and I am modeling it for the camera. It's just the sort of "small" gift that I would have found in my boot.

But wait! I don't want you to think that I went stocking-less all of my life. I did not. I have a stocking that I've received gifts from Santa in for the last 15 years or so. It hangs on my fireplace mantle every Christmas Eve along with the stockings of the other members of my family. It's a pretty ordinary stocking, as stockings go. But I like it because it is mine :-)

And last but not least, I have one very special stocking to share with you. This one is another of the gifts I have received from my relatives in Poland. The stocking is pretty ordinary but what's inside is not. In order for you to appreciate the contents of my stocking from Poland you have to know yet one more endearing Polish Christmas tradition.

Christmas Eve is a very holy and somber occasion in Poland. In fact, all of Advent is a time of quiet reflection and prayer. Weddings are not performed, there are no dances and it's not a time of loud partying. It's a time when people look inside themselves and reflect on their shortcomings and sins, ask forgiveness, and prepare themselves spiritually for the celebration of the birth of Christ. Unlike in the U.S., they don't start holiday partying before there is a reason to celebrate (you know, the "reason for the season"). Their Christmas season starts with a solemn Christmas Eve and continues through till Candlesmas, February 2nd.

Christmas Eve in Poland has so much tradition and spiritual meaning behind it that there are entire books written on the subject. I can't go into all of that here in one post but I will tell you one tradition and the symbolism attached to it.

It is customary in Poland to place straw or hay on the dinner table and cover it with a white tablecloth on Christmas Eve. The straw and hay symbolizes the manger where the Christ child was born. The white tablecloth symbolizes the swaddling cloth the Christ child was wrapped in. It is a symbolic way of including the true spiritual meaning of Christmas in the Wigila dinner.

So what was in the Christmas stocking my relatives sent me from Poland? Hay. But not just any hay! They drove 5 hours to my ancestral village to get me hay from the fields there to place on my own dinner table for my Wigilia dinner. Is that not one of the most touching Christmas stocking stories you've ever heard?

Here is a picture of my Christmas stocking from Poland with the hay sticking out.

And here is a picture of my dining room table with the hay on it, and then set with a white lace table cloth.

The elegant white and gold table runner was another gift from my relatives in Poland.

Each Christmas Eve as I set my dinner table I look forward to opening up my stocking from Poland and smelling the sweet scent of the hay from the fields my ancestors worked. The scent isn't as strong as it used to be but it's still there (the stocking is 5 years old now). From their fields to my house. Heaven's scent.

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]