“Mom, we do this every year!”
“Yes,” I say. “It’s tradition!”
It’s funny. Sometimes my children claim “tradition” as their right. Shopping for deals right after Thanksgiving is just not to be messed with, even when I suggest that perhaps we could just look for things on line instead. Not baking each of their specific Christmas cookie favorites? Not negotiable. Decorating an annual ginger bread train, complete with many types of candy?
Normal (although last year’s near 70 degree temperatures on Christmas Eve caused all of us to let that one slide for a year). Cinnamon roll making on a snow day? Cherished–and expected. An annual sledding party, complete with the snowmobiles doing the work of climbing the hill and inviting all the friends they want? Practically mandated, set in stone–and longed for, all last winter.
But other times, they rail against a “tradition”. Hauling up all the annually-collected Christmas ornaments that are now separated by child? It was good enough to just bring up the youngest’ box–and hey, she can hang up ALL the ornaments on the tree this year, too! Wrapping the banister and railing in lights, and festooning the hallway and mudroom? The living room and office, plus the two trees, felt right this year.
I’m honestly a bit surprised by what they are convinced they should do, always, and what they are OK about letting go, or changing up. I suppose I shouldn’t feel that way. My mother points out that I was that way with her, often challenging her to carry on “traditions” that she was unaware she’d even made.
One of the “traditions” she established–one that I still find myself thinking about–was all done by accident, she says. One year, between trying to keep up with the chores outside on the dairy farm, particularly in the winter’s cold… the necessary book work for the end of the year… and all the things she wanted to do to celebrate the holidays… well, she just couldn’t fit it all in. She had finished the cookie baking, but we three sisters had not yet helped with the cookie decorating. The kitchen table was piled high. It was either give up on the cookie decorating… or eat somewhere else on Christmas Eve.
But, my mother is a creative–and resourceful–woman. Thinking quickly, she moved us all into the dining room. She set the table with the good china–both of which we only used “on special occasions”. She plugged in the Christmas tree.
Then, she did my favorite part: she turned off all the lights, and she lit all the candles she could find, setting them all around the rooms. (My father was nearly hysterical about the candles.)
Thinking fast, she gathered all the food gifts we’d been given. The milk hauler liked to give a box of chocolates. Her grandfather, our great grandfather, usually sent a cheese and smoke sausage box from Hickory Farms, complete with tiny Melt-Away Mints. Other friends and neighbors sent home made Christmas cookies. One of the farm’s employees often gave us fruit.
There was something so magical about eating supper together that way–the sparkling lights of the tree, the candles’ glow all about the room, the quiet notes of Christmas music playing, the appreciation of gifts from friends both near and far. We always had to wait until Mom and Dad were done–and later all of us–with chores outside. (Dad insisted that all animals had fresh bedding every Christmas Eve, too, so chores took longer than usual.) It was often cold, nasty and bitter with biting wind chills well below zero, typical of a Midwestern winter. We also had to balance the evening’s meal with whichever Christmas Eve service we decided to attend.
But inside, when we sat down together for that Christmas Eve meal… that was the moment I most enjoyed about Christmas growing up, even more than the present opening, honestly. I often feel I have failed my children somehow, because I have yet to come up with the “perfect Christmas Eve” supper.
Yet, when I go on about this lovely tradition with my two sisters, they smile and say things like, “Oh, yes, that was nice.” Clearly, this Christmas Eve supper does not hold such sway over them as it did for me. It was just one of those things that we did, and it was fine, but not something they feel any failure for having not continued.
I wonder which traditions my kids will look back on. Will they, some day, find hauling boxes back and forth from the basement to be something they send their kids to do? Will they organize sledding parties for their neighborhood? Create long gingerbread trains? Or long for cinnamon rolls on a snowy day?
Maybe, some day, they will be nagging their sons to hang the lights from the railing… or cajoling their teenager to take off the headphones from gansta rap, and, please, just listen to Christmas songs.
Until then, I fear they are destined to be subjected to more of my tradition making. Maybe next year we should….