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 email@example.com. Merry Christmas! May God bless us, everyone!
4 thoughts on “A Traditional Christmas”
Interesting blog, and changing some due to your mother’s condition too. I lived in so many places that I had no real traditions. We did have a tree after I lived with friends. But in Tibet and in Israel we had no tree or any traditions. I remember having a church service and singing some carols. But no tree or traditional food. Once I was married, we always drove to my in laws for Christmas and delicious food. We always opened one gift on Christmas eve with my son.
I never believed in Santa and never knew the Santa traditional things. I never told my son about Santa but only said it was not real. It was more the biblical story of Jesus and His birth.
Now that I have my family here with four granddaughters, they do the Christmas story as well, and follow the Advent lighting of the 4 candles up to Christmas day. On Christmas eve along with the neighborhood, they make the luminaria by making paper bags with sand inside and lit candles inside each bag. Then put them along the streets on each side to light the way from their houses down to the main street. With just Christmas lights shining, it is a beautiful sight. they sing carols at the homes of our neighbors as well. since Christmas is on Sunday this year we will attend church and then go home for a dinner of stew and open our joint gifts.
Merry Christmas to you and your family as well. It will be hard with your mom in the care center but life will go on. Greetings to her as well.
Merry Christmas! So interesting that you had a childhood with few Christmas traditions but built your own when you had a family while I grew up with so many Christmas traditions and have pared them down in my adulthood! I have had an Advent wreath with the four candles for many years now. In my community, they also have a tradition of setting up luminaries. The idea is that lighting the streets and pathways with luminaries on Christmas Eve is how we remember to light the way to our hearts for the Christ child. It is certainly a beautiful sight, but an even more beautiful meaning. Not everyone does it, but many do participate. The first year we were here, it just seemed too overwhelming, but last year, I wanted to “light the way.” I filled ten wax paper bags with kitty litter (which I could get right at the grocery store without having to buy tons of the stuff), and used battery operated tea lights for the illumination. The night after I put them out on the walkway to my front door, it rained and rained and rained, pretty much destroying my efforts. This year, I put out red lanterns with the battery-operated tea lights which my mom got me last summer in anticipation of my luminary-ing. They look great and also help me believe that my mom is sharing the experience a little. I took a picture to show her and I think it made her happy.
Our traditions have changed thru the years as life happens. I miss some of them that have gone away due to changing circumstances. And I recognize that some I still hold might/will change in the future, so I guess I appreciate them even more now as we do them. My family was big on filling stockings; my husband’s family opened all their presents on Christmas eve. Both of those traditions have passed – we open presents on Christmas day and stockings are not being filled this year as I’ve gone down significantly in giving stuff. I still get a real tree although we don’t go and cut it down anymore – loved that tradition we created together when we got married, but its just not practical or cost effective anymore. Someday I’m sure we’ll get the small artificial tree with lights already in it as it will be easier. So traditions from our childhoods and even some we created ourselves continue to change. I still love the Christmas season however, so some traditions – old or new – will always be part of it.
Thanks, Pat. Your comment was a real reminder to me of something I’m trying very hard to keep in mind. Through my mother’s illness, I know I’ve wasted a lot of energy on wishing the situation was different and in trying futilely to make the situation different. The only way to find happiness in life is to look in the life that actually is and in the life you can realistically create. It is the same with Christmas- the only way to find the merry and bright is to rejoice in what we still have, not hold senselessly on to “what used to be.” A joyous Christmas to you!🎄
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