Redefining Tradition

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It is Christmas Eve and I am struck by the realization that the feelings I have today are not what I imagined they would be.  As I mentioned last year in A Holiday Pledge, sometimes the fantasy of the holiday season can be very different from reality.  When I was a teenager I imagined Christmas with my future-family, joyfully creating our own traditions.  But truly, I envisioned reviving all the traditions I had loved as a child when the holiday was still filled with magic and mystery.  This fantasy didn’t take into account that I would (hopefully) one day have a husband with his own ideas of what holiday tradition means.  It also didn’t take into account little people and their changing whims.  There are certain traditions I adhere to because they are important to me - santa photos and the nutcracker ballet, for example  But I picture my children when they are older, thinking back to their favorite traditions and I realize how little control I have over this.  They will love elements of their remembered holidays and most likely the things they remember will have little to do with the holiday we tried to “put on.”

My grandmother hosted Christmas Eve dinner every year of my youth.  It was always a beautiful, formal evening that I believe we looked forward to as children.  It was filled with delicacies like yorkshire pudding and homemade fudge.  Before dinner, my sister and I poured over every gift under her tree, quietly calculating how many presents were for each person.  I remember that we couldn’t wait for the formal meal to be over, so that we could move onto presents.  Dinner always took way too long for our tastes and we would become squirmy and anxious.  We couldn’t wait to unwrap my grandmother’s carefully selected and wrapped gifts.  This event signaled the beginning of Christmas and my sister and I adored it.  Since my grandmother’s death a few years ago, my husband and I have tried on new traditions such as dinner parties and caroling with friends, to varying degrees of success.  This year, we’re going to take the kids to church.  Every year feels like an experiment, a little of this, a little of that, all in hopes of creating a new magic combination.

Part of my realization today has to do with the fact that my experience as a child, must have been different from my parent’s or grandparent’s experiences.  I wonder now if my mom felt stress during those dinners, praying that her kids would behave?  I wonder, amidst our glee, opening our presents, if we ever thought to say thank you?  I wonder if my grandmother was too exhausted to enjoy herself after preparing such an extravagant meal, or if she was just happy to have her family around her table.

Today I had a plan that the kids and I would go to Swanson’s Nursery for their reindeer festival, a tradition that we have enjoyed in years past.  We hadn’t fit this event into our December yet and today is obviously the last day to go.  But, it turns out that the kids would much rather stay in their pajamas and watch the Cat in the Hat Christmas special.  This year, on this day, I have decided not to fight it.  I don’t want my children’s memory of  holiday traditions to be of their mom fighting them to go to one more holiday event.  I wonder what they will remember?  Will it be the events we attended year after year?  Will it be watching cartoons in their pjs?  Will it be that year we went to church?  Will it be making gingerbread houses or eating them?

My mind wanders to how the future will unfold and what will become important and lasting to them.  This all feels like it is out in front of us, still something to be defined and refined.  Truly, it is probably happening before our eyes.

To me, I guess the most important tradition is that we are together.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!

7 thoughts on “Redefining Tradition

  1. What a thoughtful post, and even more wonderful photoLeslie,! You are spot on for how traditions will evolve and change and be remembered! And yes, doing things as a family will be most important to all of you. My advice (from someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas but who does a huge, huge family Thanksgiving)? Be flexible and try not to let the stress of a meal or of a perfect gift overshadow the joy of being there with your loved ones. At the end of the day that is what you want the family to remember.

  2. So true!!! When I was growing up, we didn’t have any extended family that lived near us, so it was just me, my sister, and our parents. It was very intimate. We would wake up on Christmas morning, open presents, and lay around in our PJ’s all day until it was time to eat Christmas dinner. I was completely spoiled. As an adult, between my husband’s family, and my family (my parents are now divorced, so there’s two sides), it becomes a rat race to see everyone. Not at ALL what I imagined as a kid. Still enjoyable when we schedule it right, but whew! It can be exhausting.

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