The Tug of Tradition
The holidays aren't supposed to make you bitter and resentful. You know what I'm talking about. Let me give you some examples of why you may have gotten a little peeved during the just-passed holiday season. For instance, your Great Aunt Mildred—who had that strong odor of moth balls and lavender about her—sat just a wee bit too close to you at Thanksgiving and kept asking if you're going to get married anytime soon.
Or what about when you were rushing through the airport to catch your connection that was leaving in 15 minutes, your roller suitcase got kicked and wobbled its way to tipping over, and after you recovered and ran past the hordes of screaming babies, people with dressed-up dogs and that dang beeping oversized golf cart, you finally got to your gate to find either: Your gate had been changed to somewhere in terminal B, you are in terminal C and where did your last plane land? Terminal B. (Did I mention that the moving sidewalk and the tram were both broken?) Or: Puffing and panting, you asked, "Did I make the plane?" to which the airline person first gave you that wait-a-minute-I-am-better-than-you-and-I-am-on-the-phone one finger up thing, and then responded, "The plane is running two hours late."
Or what about mid-October, pre-Halloween, and you were walking to the back of the drug store to pick up your prescriptions and not only were the Halloween decorations and candy already 75 percent off, but the Christmas decorations were taking over the center isle, the talking reindeer was singing "Jingle Bells," and Thanksgiving had been completely blown over except for a little shelf filled with tissue-paper foldout turkeys and canned cranberry sauce.
Or what about when you were waiting for a parking spot at Target at 1 p.m. on the Saturday before Christmas, blinker on and everything, and somebody in a red Jeep Grand Cherokee pulled into your spot (yes, this did happen to me today). Talk about a "war on Christmas"—or at least on the Christmas spirit.
But the American holiday season isn't about running through airports or last-minute shopping or fighting for parking spots. It is—or should be—about celebrating the traditions of your faith and/or your family.
I grew up in a largely secular household, but we still celebrated Christmas. Our Christmas was filled with just the three of us, and that's the way I liked it. Most years we would go to church on Christmas Eve. We would sing "Silent Night" and all the lights would go down in the church and there would be a candle-lighting that would start from the very front of the massive hall and slowly creep through the room until the candlelight glowed through the room and danced off the stained-glass windows and the rounded peaks of the ceiling.
We would go home and open presents from each other. I would place my cookies and milk out for St. Nick and my mom would get me in my PJs while my dad found the book that he brought out only once a year, an anthology of Christmas stories. First he would read me "Yes, Virginia, there is Santa Claus" and then "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("The Night Before Christmas"). Each word would dance off his tongue like the candle-light at church danced upon our faces. I would snuggle into my dad as he read the stories that I could recite by heart. I'd sneak one last krumkakke (a Norwegian cookie my mom makes only at Christmas time) and my parents would tuck me into bed.
I'd wake in the morning and scream, "Can I come out yet?" as my parents prepared the camera for my reaction to what Santa had bestowed upon me. Dad would catch a good scream of joy and a hug of some new toy on the video camera, then we'd all go through our stockings; even the cats and our dog had them. Dad and I would spend our day playing with our toys until my mom finally made me get out of my PJs to enjoy leftovers from the giant meal we ate the night before. Those were our traditions.
Today I was at the wedding of a good friend of mine who has acted as my big brother for the last two years. Talk about an evening filled with tradition! From the "Ave Maria" to the classic "I do's," the wedding was chock full of tradition. The reception included champagne, the cutting of the cake (which was promptly smashed in my surrogate big-bro's face), the first dance and the tossing of the bouquet. I boxed out like a champ as I went for the bouquet. Y'all better start saving up for gifts, because I totally scored the bouquet and that tradition says I'm getting married next. (I suppose I should find a guy before I start trying on dresses.)
As I am writing this we are still a week from Christmas and a few weeks away from New Year's Eve. I suppose I'll watch "New Years Rockin' Eve" with Dick Clark and my cats because all my friends will still be out of town, but it won't matter because Dick Clark will be here with me, and that's part of my tradition. I suppose that day I'll finally take down my little Christmas tree filled with my Hallmark collection of Frosty Friends and Tigger ornaments that my mom started for me long ago. I'll be a little sad that my Dad isn't here to help me box up my "permanent tree" and ornaments.
The thing with traditions is that when they don't happen you miss them; you wonder what has changed. Last year was the first year my Dad didn't read me our Christmas stories and prove to me once again that there is a Santa Claus. I don't think we'll read them this year, but I'll recite them in my head as I fall asleep still wondering what Santa will bring me.
The best thing about traditions, though, is that you can always start new ones. You could be a rebel and eat ham, not turkey, on Thanksgiving like my aunt, or you could give tulips instead of roses on Valentine's Day. Or how about going to bed before midnight on Dec. 31 and being pleasantly surprised when you have to write a check the next day and must change the last digit in the year?
Traditions aren't meant to be broken; they are meant to be adapted to become your own, to become part of your family. There are four of us in my family during the holidays—my mom, my dad, me and tradition.
I know the holidays will be over when you read this and you're probably heading out to hit some January white sale. But remember now, and for the remainder of 2006, that holidays aren't about pushing, shoving and cutting someone off for parking spots. They are about traditions, religious or otherwise. You and I may have different holidays and different traditions, but that's what in the end makes us the unique Americans that we are.
I'm not letting my family tradition of my Dad reading to me on Christmas Eve melt away. I'm just letting it rest until someday my Dad can enrich the lives of my children with our Christmas tradition.