It took eight months after our wedding for me to truly feel like a part of my husband’s family.
It wasn’t that they did not embrace me – far from it. But there was one part of the family puzzle that was missing until the Christmas after our spring wedding. It came in the mail, in a small package that was light and flexible.
It was a Christmas stocking. It was not just any store-bought stocking, however. This one was hand-knit by my sister-in-law, from a pattern that had been in the family for decades. It was Santa Claus, with a button nose, holding a decorated Christmas tree. Across the top was my name. As I pulled it from the package, my husband said, “You finally have your stocking!”
Every member of the Barto family – whether by birth or marriage – eventually gets such a stocking. The originals were made back in the 1950s by my husband’s aunt for the children in the family. Eventually my husband’s sister and cousin took on the tradition and take turns making stockings for new family members.
Each newly-minted spouse receives his or her stocking the Christmas after the wedding. Each new baby receives his or her stocking for their first Christmas. My first daughter, with whom we celebrated Thanksgiving in China, spent her first Christmas weeks later with her stocking hanging from the mantle. And it didn’t feel like our holiday was complete until my second daughter got hers a few months after coming home.
Every family has its own holiday traditions. My own family, Italian to the core, celebrated Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. No matter how good we were, we would find a tiny lump of coal in our stockings to remind us that we had our moments during the year. My mother-in-law would make a Christmas breakfast casserole that would bake all morning while presents were opened. And my husband’s overreaction to getting underwear for Christmas one year still makes his siblings laugh.
We’ve tried to keep some of those traditions, and add new ones. We don’t have family here, but we never travel at Christmas. We want our children to wake up in their own beds. There is no alarm clock on Christmas morning – whoever is up first can wake everyone else up no matter what time it is. And, since we go to church on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is spent in pajamas. And you just never know if one of those pretty wrapped packages has underwear in it.
This year, another branch of the Barto family gets to enjoy the Christmas stocking tradition. My brother-in-law and his wife recently had a beautiful baby girl. This month, Bella will get her stocking in the mail courtesy of her Aunt Kris.
And, when we decorate our own house for Christmas, we will hang our stockings by the chimney with care. Each one is a little different, depending on who made it, but all four reflect a common love of family. And that, after all, is one of the best Christmas traditions we can continue.