Traditions define a family…how weird are yours?

“Please come to the party prepared to share about a Christmas tradition in your family.”

Christmas mantle

Requests like that put a knot in my stomach.  What if my traditions are dumb?  Lame?  Lacking in spirituality/deep meaning/ sensitivity/creativity/all or any of the above?  There’s something about sitting in a circle doing that kind of activity that weirds me out.

But lets notch it up a bit.  Let the party be in your child’s kindergarten class and the mommies have to share.  Mm…pressures’ on.  Kindergargartner’s are only old enough to remember two prior Christmases, so this is all on mommy.  Thinking of daughter Shelley, who faces this daunting challenge, I ponder some thoughts on traditions.

Childhood grudges start here

What is a Christmas tradition?  Simply put, it is something you always do at Christmas.  For example, every year John gets sardines in his Christmas stocking.  Every year, Julie guilts me for not properly replacing her Christmas stocking after it got thrown away that year.  (Losing it was not the issue so much as my failing to remember it was lost until Christmas Eve–year after year after year.)  She also annually guilts me for failing to get a Baby’s First Christmas ornament for her.   Every year, I hang her sisters’ first year ornaments and a little cardboard egg carton bell that Julie made in nursery school.  I know it’s pathetic.  That’s just how it is.

(Another family tradition is the Christmas concert at church.  Don’t tell John, but this year I’m drafting this post during the concert–where he continues the tradition of actually singing in it.  I admit to joining in on the descants, encouraged by someone nearby who is singing the bass parts.)

Christmas traditions evolve into being.  This is why it’s hard for a young mother to explain traditions.  They are still evolving.  For many years we had a tradition of visiting the grandparents after church on Christmas Eve.  This started because they lived right next door to church and would say, “Oh, just stop by…”  but when we got there we found the whole neighborhood there (“Since you were stopping by, we invited a few others to stop by.”).  The children filled up on little crescent-wrapped hotdogs and hot chocolate, and my Christmas Eve dinner never  got cooked.  After a couple of years of this, I wised up, planned food to take to my mother-in-law’s, and invited a few people of my own to “stop by.”  To my children this was a wonderful  tradition.  To me it was Plan B.

Christmas traditions are predictable.  Every year like clockwork Mom screams, “Santa will not come until your rooms are clean!”  This continued at our house until Kristin and Shelley were in high school, working as bakery girls at Graul’s.  They were so stressed and exhausted by Christmas Eve that even Scrooge wouldn’t have demanded anything of them.  That was about the time that Julie introduced a new tradition.  Since her exhausted sisters refused to wake up at the crack of dawn to open presents, Julie encouraged them awake by marching into their rooms playing “Up on the Housetops”  on her tuba.  It was great every year watching the two older sisters burrow under their pillows or  throw objects at the tuba, screaming, “Get that thing out of my face!”

Sometime a Christmas tradition only “happens” once.  It is the re-telling that becomes the tradition.  My girls never weary of telling about the time I burnt the Christmas raisin bread.  When the kitchen filled with smoke, I yanked those almost perfect 10 minutes ago loaves out of the oven and slammed them onto the counter, screeching, “Merry Christmas! Here’s your breakfast!”  The dog ran and cowered under the table, and dead silence reigned long enough for a mental “bada-boom” before the entire family burst out laughing.   They all feared for their lives for that silent moment and rejoice in having  survived it.

So what’s a Christmas tradition?  It’s something that you realize years later that you have to do in order for Christmas to be Christmas.  The best ones just happen and maybe no one in the world does them but you.

And as for the kindergarten class?  We bake cookies and decorate our tree with candy canes.