With an early Thanksgiving we gained an extra week to get ready for Christmas. I don’t know about you but I feel a little calmer and more prepared for Christmas than in years prior. As I start to plan for our family get together I find myself reflecting a bit more on our family traditions and also reevaluating them. Are they necessary or important? If I didn’t do something would anyone even miss it? Would I?
I started by asking my husband about his Christmas traditions growing up in rural Minnesota in a big family of ten.
The ones that stood out in his mind, were the opening of gifts on Christmas Eve, a big breakfast at their house after Midnight Mass with friends and family and the town priest often attending. His mom always made a duck and ham.
They would get homemade flannel pajamas from his grandma when he was younger, and of course a “taste” of Mogen David wine for all the kids. They felt pretty special.
My traditions also centered around family gatherings. We would go to bed early on Christmas Eve and then wake up to get ready to go to Midnight Mass.
We always opened gifts in the morning and then would pile in the car, all eight of us, and drive to my grandparents house about an hour away to spend the day with my aunts, uncles and lots of cousins. We would have a big turkey “dinner” around noon complete with apple and pumpkin pie. After my sisters and I did the mounds of dishes by hand, my grandpa would usually set up his reel-to-reel to show home movies.
Grandma would pass out little glasses of ice cold apple cider and homemade caramel popcorn. After, the kids would either play games, go outside to play in the snow or sit around and chat with each other. We then had the great Minnesota potluck hamburger hot dish “supper” with potato chips, beans, homemade buns, ham, Jell-O and pickles.
I then asked my kids what traditions were important to them. I was curious if my value on traditions had translated to them. I found it pretty interesting. Some things that I thought were definite musts weren’t even mentioned. Those that made the list were spritz cookies, chocolate covered cherries, going to a movie on Christmas day, new pajamas on Christmas Eve and handing out gifts with the Santa hat. Why is it we do traditions anyway?
Traditions bring a sense of comfort and connection to the past. For me it is a way to pay homage in a way to my upbringing in a large family where the value wasn’t on gift giving but rather on family and spending time together. It was/is a way to remember my mom and dad. We only had one TV with three channels, board games, cards and the great outdoors with lots of snow. There was no internet, no cell phones, no computers or distractions. Simpler times. The traditions were often developed and evolved over the things we did to pass the time and out of necessity. They stuck and became tradition as a way to celebrate our heritage, our faith, our family.
Traditions help us to “go back” and regroup or recharge. They are an already planned event or food where you don’t have to think about what to do, it is just something you do. It helps us to pause and try to put the brakes on our hurried lives.
They evoke emotions. Ask “Alexa” to put on Celine Dion’s “These are Special Times” or the Carpenter’s Christmas CD and I am instantly in the holiday mood and ready to bake or decorate. Traditions can be songs we listen to, movies we watch, games we play, places we visit, or things we do. My annual Christmas letter and photo has become a tradition I personally love, though some would argue against them. It has taken different formats over the years as we moved into the computer and digital age (yes, I used to handwrite them back in the dark ages) but I find it a wonderful way to document the year that was, the good and the bad. A journal of sorts. This year I want to put them all in a book with our annual Christmas photos.
Is it a lot of work? Sometimes. Is it worth it? That depends. Does it bring you joy? Does it bring others joy? If the answer to these is no, than probably not. I think it is important to re-evaluate from time to time the traditions you have because they sometimes just aren’t practical at some point. Of course times are different. When we were younger all of our families were close geographically. Now we live in three states, thankfully on the same coast and still within a short days drive. But once the kids get married, have the in-laws to consider and then grandkids come along, things can get complicated.
The traditions that were once near and dear to our heart become obsolete and impossible to hold on to…just a memory. One tradition we incorporated for several years as our kids became teenagers and young adults was to go to a movie on Christmas Day.
Though we would still love to do this, with four very young grandkids, it would be a bit challenging. Kids grow, families grow and change and grandkids come along all giving the opportunity for a tradition adjustment.
This year will be our first Christmas Eve alone in 33 years. I’m not sure I want to make a tradition out of that so for now I think I will do what makes me happy but in moderation. I will make the spritz cookies for my daughters, caramel rolls (ode to mom), Italian food for our family gathering, maybe show some of my home movies I recently converted to DVD’s or at least as much as the kids will tolerate (ode to grandpa).
I will have apple cider and caramel popcorn on hand (ode to grandma), play the game TROUBLE with my granddaughter (a game I played endlessly when younger). Someone will wear the Santa hat to pass out the gifts.
We will still open one gift at a time to anticipate and appreciate. Traditions come and go and evolve, is what I have decided, but the important thing is that family is together to celebrate, no matter what the day. It is then that we repeat favorite foods and activities that in time will become new traditions for a new generation.