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!

Traditions Lost and Found

Things have been quiet on the blog lately, but not quiet elsewhere.  I have been enjoying my family, my life, and the holidays and I am sure you will agree that there is tremendous value in that.  But, I have missed you as well.

I am struck by this very specific time of year and how much there is – of everything.  The number of catalogs arriving in my mailbox each day is staggering.  Emails with special promotions and stocking stuffer ideas keep coming.  Meanwhile, my breath is taken away by the small bits of beauty all around us from the twinkling lights to the look of awe in my children’s eyes as they experience something new.

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As holiday preparations begin, we all are thinking about how to make this time special both for ourselves and for those around us.  In our house we are striving for a “less is more” attitude, realizing that little people and big people can get overwhelmed easily and then some of the fun is lost.  By staying loose and in the moment, we are working towards keeping the sanity.  It is December 2nd and so far we are doing well, except for one thing…

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I grew up going to the Frederick and Nelson department store each year and taking Santa photos with my sister.  I’m sure at the time we hated it (sort of), but my mom was diligent about this task and dressed us beautifully each year.  The attendants gave out candy canes to help kids wait patiently for their turn with Santa, and inevitably one of us would adhere said candy cane to our velvet dress.  I remember that this tradition was important, but that my mom kept her head and sanity.  The best part of all is that my mother kept these photographs safe and framed them for us chronologically.  Now both my sister and I have sixteen years of our life together documented in a very tangible way.  We put these frames up every year during the holidays and enjoy looking back at these years from our youth.

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I have adopted this tradition with my own family.  It is something that I enjoy doing with my mom and truly appreciate the extra hands-on help that she gives.  We have gone to the downtown Seattle Nordstrom Santa for the past 5 years and have figured out a proven strategy for success.  We go in the morning, mid-week, and my mom patiently waits in line, making friends with the helpful elves, until our entourage arrives polished and pressed.  Then we wait in line, with coloring to do and cookies to eat until we reach Santa… This process has worked to varying degrees that usually start out with bravado and long lists for Santa and end in timid visits, with possibly a tantrum thrown in for good measure.  All great.  In fact, the crying photos are some of my favorites… after the fact.

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In the past few days I have been tearing my hair out because I cannot lay my hands on these precious photographs.  We moved homes a couple of years ago and then promptly started a remodel on the room that I can picture the photographs in.  I know where they were in our old house and I can almost picture the box I stashed them in quickly as the last boxes were being taped up – but I have looked and looked and they elude me still.  I know they are only photographs.  My head knows this.  I also know that I have my own snapshots of most of those years as well, as documentation that the event occurred.  But, to my heart this does not feel the same.  Believe me, I do understand that this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of life.  But, I know how much I love looking at the photos of my youth each year and my children are getting to be of an age where I believe they would love this tradition as well.  To see them overcome their fears of Santa year by year, to see their baby faces turn into the faces that will carry them through life.  I will hold out hope.  There is a possibility that these photos are in a very special place that I will come across some warm July day, while searching for sunglasses and feel that I have been given a gift.  A similar thing happened with my wedding band a few years ago.  I discovered that it was lost and figured it was gone forever.  We even had my two-year old’s stomach x-rayed, wondering if he had swallowed it (nope).  I almost gave up hope of finding this small ring of metal that could literally be anywhere in our house or beyond.  It technically could be replaced, but not truly.  Then, one random day, my older son found the ring in his underwear drawer.  Stranger things have happened, I’m sure.

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So, here’s to traditions – both lost and found.  Wish me luck.