I think of traditions as little hooks that attach my soul to people, events, and values. Traditions can serve as reminders of what is important to me. Sometimes, when life starts to get routine or joyless, fulfilling a tradition can give me an infusion of happiness. Traditions can force me to get outside the struggles of the moment and make me focus on happier times and, also, the blessings that blanket my overall life.
All of that is fine and positive. It can be difficult, however, to let go of traditions when they no longer serve. Those hooks strain and bend and mangle before they eventually break. Sometimes I cling to traditions long after they cease to be useful or even reasonable.
Christmas is one of those seasons most fraught with tradition. In my family, following certain Christmas traditions and rituals has an almost mythic quality. The traditions are numerous, varied, and complex. Christmas in our house was always a huge, shiny affair involving every kind of delicacy, entertainment, and a truckload of presents. Some of our traditions would be familiar to most American families- like decorating a tree and hanging stockings. Other traditions are more specific to our family. For instance, we always hung the bedraggled silver tinfoil bells that first graced my parents’ wedding reception. Other traditions would be regarded as just plain wackadoodle by most people… like eating the traditional festive Christmas dinner of warmed up Kentucky Fried Chicken.
At any rate, getting from the middle of November to the end of the year while fulfilling all the traditional holiday responsibilities could be something of a marathon in my household. I can remember worrying, even as a small child, that my mother would wear herself out completing all the traditional preparations. I remember begging her to not too get too tired to fulfill the most important tradition- everyone must be happy at Christmas.
The other unwritten rule about Christmas traditions is that they should never change or the world as we know it will crumble like a gingerbread cookie. I convinced myself to believe in Santa Claus by sheer force of will until I was eleven years old just to avoid defiling a Christmas tradition.
I’ve come to the painful conclusion that Christmas traditions can and should change over time. In 2014, Max and I moved to Florida at the beginning of December. He had this brilliant idea that my family could celebrate Christmas at Thanksgiving when we would all be together. We made a brave effort, but it was clear my family thought this was some form of sacrilege. My mother had a Christmas tree at Thanksgiving and some presents. My mother had a regular Christmas for my brother and his family on Christmas Day. Also, because she couldn’t stand the thought of me not having Christmas on Christmas Day, she ended up mailing gifts for Max and me in our new home in Florida. She even sent a small artificial Christmas tree. Oddly enough, the world did not end because of the Christmas tradition violations. Frankly, with the move and unpacking, it was kind of restful to have a quiet, spur-of-the-moment kind of Christmas.
In 2015, we were able to bring back some of the fa-la-la-de-rol. Max and I were more settled in to our new home and my mother had moved from California. We decorated, had Christmas presents under the tree, attended seasonal entertainments, and shared a nice time together. Things were still not the same as in yesteryear. They couldn’t be. We lived 3000 miles away from some of our traditions. My brother and his family were not with us. Still, we found we had enough of our old tradition hooks and crafted enough new ones to make the holiday season unquestionably joyous.
This year, with my mother’s illness, it is a challenge to find the merry and bright. The vague notion of shopping and decorating and attending entertainments sounds tempting. It is seductive to contemplate an escape into jolliness and frivolity. The actual execution of that vague notion is daunting, however. It seems easier to shut the door on the whole thing and lock myself away in the sadness.
Easier, perhaps. But not better. I am trying to plow through the inertia and grasp some tradition. While it initially felt like overcoming the funk would be more effort than it was worth, I am finding that the Christmas traditions are lifting my mood a little bit. After all, shutting the door on the shopping, decorating, entertainment, and trappings also tempts me to shut the door on another Christmas tradition. The most important Christmas tradition. The tradition of Joy.
“Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all people for there is born to you this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
What are your holiday traditions? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Merry Christmas! May God bless us, everyone!