Traditions, especially at Christmas time, are important to a family. When we grow and leave home, we take with us the values and celebrations that our parents instilled in us. But when we gain our own home and bring children into the world—meshing two different individual’s ideals—how many traditions do we really keep, and how many do we drop out of our lives? How many Christmas traditions do you miss?
Here are some of ours:
From the time I was little, decorating the Christmas tree was a family affair. We would look forward to my dad setting up the tree. We had an artificial tree for most of my life—my dad would shove the ends of the boughs into the “trunk,” according to their colours. He would move the branches around to make a full and beautiful tree. Then, he would carefully lace the strings of lights and we would watch him in anticipation of those large bulbs all coming on when he would plug them in. I can still see the glow of them in my mind—the cheerful red, sweet blue, calming amber, and bright green. He would always use gold tinsel ropes to wrap the tree in—top to bottom—a shimmering delight. Once he was done, we would set out the boxes of bulbs and decorations that my mom hand painted. All five of us would be singing carols, with the music coming from the record player, as we placed each ornament carefully. The lights would shine onto the small porcelain puppies, presents, and rag dolls, and would make the glass bulbs glow. It was like a tree out of a movie. The last thing we would do was to drape icicles over the tips of the branches, like a cloak of silver or a waterfall of beauty hanging from the tree.
Did I keep with this tradition now that I am an adult? Aside from the handmade ornaments and the icicles, yes I have. We make decorating the tree a family evening project, with Christmas songs blaring from iTunes.
One thing I don’t remember doing regularly was leaving milk and cookies for Santa. My first year on my own, I found a plate specifically for Santa’s cookies, which had an impression to place a glass of milk. We did that when I had kids of my own, until the plate was broken. Now my kids are older and know about the secrets of Christmas Eve; however, they still like to leave a homemade sugar cookie for Santa as a thank you.
Christmas morning, we all had to wait for Mom and Dad to come and get us. It was so hard to lie there and wait. I barely slept all night, wondering what would be waiting for me. We would have to brush our teeth before we could come out into the living room. But when we did, it was a wonderland of gifts! We would hunt for our stockings amongst the presents. Santa would set all of our stockings down next to what gifts he had brought for us. His things were never wrapped, but the gifts that the elves sent were. My parents would give us some time to play with what was sitting out before they would pass out the gifts that had hibernated under the tree for the better part of a month. We would take turns opening presents, so we all saw what everyone got.
Note: I still practice this with my kids. Santa makes a little display of each child’s gifts that he brought, and sets their stockings by the coordinating presents. Santa’s things are never wrapped. We don’t usually have the money for elf gifts, so we focus on what we have done for each other. We try to make sure that they have one thing that they really wanted on their list; however, this year money is too tight and we are making presents for everyone. It has been something they have really gotten into, and are very proud of their handiwork. It has been a great lesson in humility. Christmas doesn’t have to be all about what is bought at the store.
Christmas night we would have a feast. My mom would cook all day long and put out a huge spread of food for us—turkey, rolls, potatoes, cheesecake salad, Twig crackers with a cheese sauce for dipping, corn from my grandma’s garden, and gravy. We would sit around the table and pray over the food, before passing it politely from person to person. It was always just the five of us. We would have family celebrations other days during the month, so that we had that one day with just our little family. We would eat until we were stuffed, and play with our new treasures again.
Since getting married again and blending our families, we go visit as much of the extended family as we can on Christmas Day and even Christmas Eve. It feels like we have no time with the kids by ourselves. This year, we are staying in a cabin for a few days over the holidays. We want to make this our tradition—with snow, sledding, snowmen, cutting our own Christmas tree, decorating it with ornaments the kids made when they were young, placing stockings by the fire, and making our own feast. It is something I am looking forward to. My point is that there comes a time when you need to think of your family unit and create traditions for them to pass on to their children.
We would have a party at my grandma’s house when I was young (maybe up until I was about ten-years-old) and Santa would appear. I remember scanning the crowd of people to dispel the whole Santa theory. But none of my uncles were ever missing and grandpa was there, too. Santa had to be real! This man would pull gifts from a brown burlap sack and call our names with each one. For a little girl, that was a magical moment.
As a grown adult, I prefer to make it a point to watch favourite movies that influence faith, compassion, and giving. I like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Scrooge: A Christmas Carol. These are heartwarming tales of the spirit of Christmas and changing for the better. These are the kinds of values I want to pass on to my children.
While the season began with Christ, and over time has incorporated Father Christmas or Santa Clause, there is little reason that people can’t blend the two presences together and have a wholesome holiday. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a compassionate person or a charitable soul. The ideals of both men suit mankind very well. It is never too late to create new traditions, or bring back the old ones from your childhood, which will prove valuable to your children as they grow and start lives of their own.