Christmas Traditions. What images does that word conjure up for you?
At Christmastime, the word tradition takes on even more meaning. We all have our Christmas Traditions. Activities, rituals, even smells that create a special warm, fuzzy feeling. Perhaps it is a particular meal (turkey, ham, goose?), always going to the home of a special someone (Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…) favourite tunes (Andy Williams, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”) or baking cookies (how much butter have we used???) that creates that special Christmas feeling.
I think each of us has our “traditions”, those things that mean something important at the holidays. For me, The Tree is the big one. It must be real, and every ornament collected with great care over the years gets special attention. As each is carefully unwrapped, there are the inevitable ooohhs and aaaahhhs; “Ohhhh, I remember this one!” or “Awww, remember the year that …”. The ornaments each have meaning and particular memories – the one received from a friend after completing my first Camino de Santiago; the one commemorating a happy visit to Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home; the special handmade ornaments made over the years, dated and initialed.
As children, we kind of take the traditions for granted. We just get used to what happens to our world around the holidays and kind of ‘fall in’ with it all. We come to expect it and perhaps never really take notice until something expected is forgotten or left out.
I felt that way when my mother, after we were grown and gone to our own homes, decided that a real tree was just too much trouble. “What?”, I cried. “You cannot be serious!”, in my best John McEnroe imitation. It mattered not at all that I had my own real tree. It was still home and no fake tree, no matter how life-like, would do. I was totally oblivious to the fact that it was a pile of work for my mother – I just didn’t want change. Eventually, I got over it.
As a young wife and mother, I wanted to begin my own family traditions. I decorated to the nines, with ribbons, bows, wreaths, garlands, twinkly lights. I worked the entire year on cross-stitching heirloom tree ornaments and special Christmas stockings to be hung by the chimney with care.
Family recipes were tried, perfected, rejected or accepted and tucked away for use next year.
Some traditions worked, others not so much. I tried, unsuccessfully, to read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol aloud to my son, a little each day, leading up to Christmas. Whether the story was too long, the time too short or my idea simply too ambitious, it never got done.
One that did work rather well – I’d be lying if I said I got it right every year – was the Christmas Ornament Box. When my son was small, I got a large, round, red hatbox. Every year, there was one special ornament added (or maybe two, in case I missed a year). The fireman boots and hat for the year he wanted to be a fireman; the lifeguard stand complete with life ring and whistle when he became a lifeguard; the Joshua Chamberlain Ornament from our first visit to Gettysburg. The idea was that by the time he was grown, he would have his very own box of Christmas tree ornaments to carry on to his own home, tree and new traditions.
They say that the only certainty is that things will change. And that is true of our traditions as well. Life, circumstances, people and situations all force us to adjust our plans. We must adapt and move forward. I don’t make the Christmas dinner anymore. My son is grown but not married. My sister has small children so it’s their turn to be at home for Santa in the morning. We go to their house now. For years I made the traditional Irish Christmas cake – filled with fruit and nuts and whiskey. But as fewer and fewer people wanted to eat it, it became a huge undertaking for naught. So there hasn’t been one for a couple of years. The Plum Pudding and hard sauce was SO rich that no one could eat it after the huge meal. That too, is gone.
But the Christmas Tree. That is still a must. My real tree. I miss the gorgeous smelling Balsams of New England, but they are not available here, so I settle for a Fraser Fir. First the lights, then the colourful beaded garland. Then, one by one, the ornaments are placed gently among the boughs. Many are nearly antiques now. (Hmm, I remember them from my childhood, so what does that make me??) The fragile glass ones that belonged to my mom hold places of honour alongside the newer, or handmade ones – but each with special meaning. There used to be silver tinsel, placed (as I was taught) one strand at a time from top to bottom so that the tree shimmered. For the past few years, I haven’t put silver tinsel on the tree – I think it has gone out of fashion. (Another tradition changed?) But it is still just as beautiful without it.
I’m usually the first one up on Christmas morning. My favourite time comes in those early hours of the morning alone with the Tree. There is nothing better than sitting in the quiet living room, all dark save for the twinkling lights of the Tree, sipping a glass of eggnog. That’s when the Ghost of Christmas Past makes its appearance. A little nostalgia.
Do you have a favourite tradition that makes Christmas…well, Christmas! Please share it in the comments below!