Monday, December 5, 2011

Traditions aren't necessarily things you do over and over

Traditions were a big thing in my house growing up. I don't know if they were intentionally planned or not, but they just seemed to fall into place, as opposed to the strategically thought out and somewhat "forced" traditions of today. Now, you read all these articles on "how to create traditions in your family" like it's something you cut out and glue together. I don't know that my parents thought it out quite like that. I think it just... happened.

Maybe they were more like habits. We had a lot of those. Or maybe "established practices" is the better term. I don't know. But some of my fondest memories of my childhood are things we did every year, like clockwork. They were things I looked forward to. Expected. Like picking mulberries in the morning for breakfast. Or strawberries. Or raspberries. (We had a lot of fruit in our yard.) Or jumping in the leaves in the fall (NOT raking them, mind you. I hated that.) Or taking the huge toboggan out sledding in the winter - all of us piled on.

Holidays were of course centered around church. Catholic church. Long, drawn-out Catholic masses, but somehow comforting nonetheless. Expected. Regular. The smell of incense during the Stations of the Cross before Easter. The choir at Christmas. And all those Holy Days that we got off from school (but still had to go to mass).

Whether they realized it or not, my parents rocked holiday traditions. Christmas was especially spot on. I don't quite remember the order of things, but writing it out makes it look like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I have photos of us all gathered around the piano as each of the four children (and Mom) played selected Christmas tunes that we had been practicing in our weekly piano lessons. Dad read the Birth of Jesus from the Bible, then we had the procession to the manger. No, Jesus did not appear in our manger until Christmas Eve, and I remember being the proud bearer of the tiny ceramic babe to his rightful place in the fake straw of the stall. Then the stocking were hung by the chimney with care and we were off to bed with sugarplums dancing in our heads and all that other stuff.

I guess I just assumed that everyone did the same thing on Christmas and that things would never change. As the kids got older, moved out, got into relationships, had kids, got divorced, remarried, had step-kids, their kids had kids, and so on, and so on, somehow things got really complicated. My own divorce kind of threw a wrench in my traditions all together.

We had it down for a few years. Our oldest was in Sunday School so we attended Redeemer's "Birthday Party for Jesus" on Christmas Eve at 4:00. He sang fun kiddie Christmas songs with his class then we had a Children's message and then all sang Happy Birthday and had cake and ice cream afterwards. Now growing up, we'd go home to chili and oyster stew, but my picky kids weren't down with that, so it was usually Avanti's gondolas. And they usually weren't hungry. From all the cake and ice cream. *Sigh*. So much for that tradition.

Somehow, Christmas Eve ended up being a very cranky evening at our house, and I often felt like I was going through the motions making a big deal out of the stockings and the cookies and milk for Santa and killing time until my little cherubs went to bed. Because once we got them upstairs, the only thing I was thinking of was how late I was going to be up stuffing the stockings and loading up the Christmas tree. And I soon found out why my parents looked so bleary-eyed as they smiled weakly on Christmas morning gripping their steaming mugs of coffee.

Divorce turned the Christmas Eve tradition into meeting my ex at church for services before he headed in to work, then the boys and I going out to Avanti's for Christmas Eve dinner. For six years now, Christmas Eve has to be one of the hardest and loneliest nights for me. When we get home, we usually snuggle in and watch A Christmas Story, then put out the goodies for Santa. Now it's just me waiting for them to go to sleep, and the older they get, the longer I have to stay awake.

Christmas morning they're like toddlers no matter how old they are - and I love that. They're allowed to open their stockings as they wait for their dad to come over after working the night shift. Again, it's great for them that they get to spend Christmas morning with both their parents, and I just have to remember each year, "This is for them. You had your time." After the presents are opened and Dad leaves, we gear up to go over to my parents' with the rest of the family.

That's when I finally feel whole again. The traditions I have not been able to implement are still there when I go back in time and over to my mom and dad's house. Sister and brother, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, step-nieces and nephews, their kids... whatever relation that is.... all there under one roof, coming and going all night long.

All those traditions (including taking my mom's wooden blocks that spell out "Merry Christmas" and making inappropriate, non-holidayish phrases words out of them) in all those blended families coming together for a short time. Like clockwork.

I think it's hard in this day and age to have such "structured" traditions as we had back then, and I'll be anxious to hear someday what my kids remember about their "childhood Christmases". I hope above all that they will remember them fondly, no matter how "unstructured" the traditions ended up being. And I hope they'll take some of what their grandparents did for their mom and some of what their mom did for them and someday have wonderful, meaningful, memorable traditions of their very own.


  1. Aim, this was really great. Our MANY family traditions actually have little to do with Christmas, but we are heathens, so... but we are proud of the traditions that we HAVE made because they are OURS. Our "family" is also a bit untraditional because we have sort of structured our own litte unit -- Cooper's "cousins" are just really good friends whom we love so much that we've bullied them into being our family. It's not the traditionally traditional way, but it's our way and it makes us happy.

    Also, your blog makes me happy.


  2. Thanks for this today.... I still struggle with the fact that my parents divorced (at my age 26, mind you) so now every Christmas I feel like the Christmases of the past are just fond memories... Now I feel like I have a Grinchy little heart that needs some Whos to unGrinch. I am hoping that one day, I get my Christmas 'miracle' and my heart grows back to its less Grinchy size, but until then, I will continue to smile and attempt to make Christmas happy for the kiddos... and the husband, who loved Christmas.

    Geez... sorry to write a book. =) Happy Christmas, Amy.

  3. I liked this very much. I'm surprised you didn't share the phrase your kids came up with, was it 2 years ago? Something about Mr. Creamy ....? Anyway, I miss you and think of you often. <3


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