Schmit Family
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28 December 2004 12:23 pm

Schmit Family Traditions

The Schmit family has a number of holiday traditions. Some have been passed down for generations while others are new. Some are simple and some are complex to the point of being intimidating to the unfamiliar.

Before Christmas

  • Advent Wreath: Each Sunday in Advent, we would light a candle on the advent wreath. Often, we would read some passage from the Bible as well. Carolyn's family had a similar tradition, but would sing Christmas Carols after lighting the Advent wreath. We currently don't have an advent wreath, but I'd like to continue this tradition; especially as Dylan gets older.

  • Bread: We would often bake bread before Christmas and deliver it to neighbors and friends. Sausage bread and coffee can bread are the two varieties that I most remember. I remember setting the bread next to the wood stove and waiting for the lids to be blown off the coffee cans as the bread rose. Since I don't have any coffee cans, I bake the sausage bread. My favorite batch of sausage bread is the one that I made one year in Georgetown with spicy sausage from Elgin.

Christmas Eve

  • Bayberry Candles: The day of Christmas Eve, we burn bayberry candles for good luck. One year I remember charing the wooden candle holders, which were an anniversary present for my parents from Grant and me, when the candles burned too low. We were careful this year. Bayberry candles are very hard to find. I haven't been able to find them since we left Georgetown. Fortunately, my parents gave us some at Thanksgiving.

  • Herring: For Christmas Eve dinner, we have creamed herring on lettuce. I have no idea from where this tradition originates. It's the only time of year that I eat herring and I always struggle trying to remember where to find it in the grocery store (it's in the refrigerated section by the spreadable cheese).

  • Service: We always go to Christmas Eve service. This year we went to the family service. It was a circus. There were literally over a hundred kids at the service. The pastor gave all the kids bells and told them they could ring them all night long to praise God :) Cupcakes were distributed to celebrate Jesus' birthday. Personally, I kind of like the later, quieter, candle-lit Christmas Eve service; especially, when Silent Night is sung in German by candlelight.

  • One Gift: Growing up, we would open one present on Christmas Eve. The purpose of this tradition was to give us kids something to keep us busy and in our beds when we awoke early on Christmas morning. A book, if of sufficient length, would usually suffice. Since I have no troubling sleeping these days and since no present is going to keep Dylan from getting up when he wants, we skipped this tradition this year.


  • Stockings: On Christmas morning, we check the gifts in our stockings first. This is not a simple procedure and follows the rules outlined below in the gifts section.

  • Cinnamon Rolls: After stockings, we eat cinnamon rolls. Yum. This keeps us from getting to hungry while we open gifts. You need to prepare yourself before opening gifts.

  • Gifts: A meeting run using Robert's Rules of Order appears simple when compared to the procedure for opening gifts in the Schmit family. It starts with the eldest selecting gifts from under the tree and distributing the gifts to each person. Then, the youngest guesses and opens his gift. Guessing is very important. Specificity is required. Guessing that the gift is a book or a CD doesn't cut it. Genre, if not title and author is required. Likewise, guessing that the gift is clothes isn't specified enough; nor that the gift is a shirt. Color is required. The generous gift givers write clues on the gift to assist the guesser. The guesser may also tactilely examine the gift. The guesser can shake the gift if the giver approves. One of the better parts of guessing is when the guesser purchased her own gift and can't remember what it is. (The use of the feminine pronoun in the previous sentence simply reflects my preference for alternating masculine and feminine pronouns in my writing to avoid using "their" improperly or the award "he/she" construct and isn't meant to refer to anyone in particular ;) ) After the guess has been made and accepted by the family, the gift is opened. The next youngest person guesses and opens next, and so on until the person who choose and distributed the gifts (the oldest in this first iteration) guesses and opens. The next person in the sequence from youngest to oldest (wrapping around back to youngest) chooses and distributes the gifts (this would be the youngest in the second iteration). Then, the next person in the sequence (this would be the second-youngest in the second iteration) starts the guessing and opening round. This continues until all gifts are opened. At some point, there are no more gift for various people. These people continue to participate in the choosing and distribution rounds and are simply skipped in the guessing and opening round. While we don't exchange many gifts, this complex procedure ensures that gift opening lasts most of the morning.

  • Strata: After the arduous process of choosing, distributing, guessing, and opening gifts, we have worked up an appetite for strata. Strata is bread, sausage, cheese, eggs, and milk. We usually make it in the dutch oven camping, but it can be made at home and traditionally is for breakfast on Christmas morning.

  • Dinner: Christmas Day dinner is always special. As a young kid, I remember setting an extra setting for Jesus at the dinner table. As I got older and Christmas dinner more crowded, I think this tradition was set aside. Perhaps, we'll start it again next year with Dylan....

There are probably other Schmit family traditions that I've forgotten. If my family reminds me of any or provides more detail regarding those that I've enumerated, I'll update this entry.

Update: Oma wrote, "We all enjoyed reading about the traditions. You gave all of us a good laugh. The eating of herring comes from your greatgrandma on your grandfather's side. They use to eat it on New Year's Eve and some how it moved to Christmas Eve. It was for good luck. The best herring your father and I ever had was from the Hudson River when we lived in Albany. I think the pollution in the river helped.

We really laughed when you tried to explain your use of gender. This reader knows who you were referring to!

Christmas Eve Eve Traditon (December 23) -- consists of wrapping Christmas gifts together while watching movies. This tradition also has rules. There are always three movies. They must be either a series or at least related by genre and theme. The theme at Oma and Opa's this year was a person adjusting to a foreign culture. We watched The Terminal, The Last Samuri, and The Manchurian Candidate."

Posted by geoff at 12:23 in /family