We are definitely a Christmas family. We have countless traditions that we observe, year after year; traditions from our childhoods that we’ve passed along to our children, and new traditions that we’ve created with them. Christmas is in the back of our collective heads all year long. With my extended family, we draw names from a hat on Christmas night, so that we have a whole year to find that one special something. I’m also known for picking up little gifts here and there throughout the year…sometimes I see something in March that is perfect, so I buy it and stash it. Then there is the ritualistic “search” for goodies under the bed in early November, just to take stock of what I’ve already purchased. And we’ve amassed such a collection of Christmas music that the iPod goes on the holiday mix on November 1st–otherwise, we would never hear it all!
The final countdown begins, however, on Thanksgiving night. After the dishes are done and after the pie has been sliced, the 6 of us (and anyone else who happens to be visiting!) gather around the TV for the annual airing of the holiday classic “Christmas Vacation!” We’ve decided there is no better way to get in that holly jolly spirit then spending the evening with Clark and Cousin Eddy–the wise cracking, dysfunctional Griswold clan may cut a bit close to home for SOME families, but the ultimate reminder of the film is crazy or not crazy, family is family; and what better time to embrace the crazies than the Christmas season!
Speaking of music and crazy family interactions….another favorite tradition has been a friendly competition between us and my brother and his wife–been going on for at least 20 years now. Every year, we scour the musical universe to find what we believe may be the most silly, most goofy, most painful holiday cd out there. You can’t even imagine how many bad songs, or bad renditions of good songs, exist. Sometimes we pick something that we think will be bad, but it turns out to be great; but more often than not, it’s just terrible! And in all the years we’ve been exchanging, we’ve only duplicated once–“A Toolbox Christmas” (yes, Christmas tunes played on common household tools) Sound good? I’ll play it for you sometime!
One of my favorite traditions centers around the centerpiece of Yuletide decorations–the tree. Or in our case…the trees! When I was a little girl, we would go to a tree farm in November and walk around until we found the perfect evergreen. Then we would tag it. A few weeks later, Dad would go back to the farm and get the freshly cut tree and bring it home, sit it in a bucket full of coal, and let it “rest” for a few days. Then he would string the lights…the old-fashioned, bright-colored lights that you would screw into the sockets. And that was it. In our house, Santa would decorate the rest of the tree on Christmas Eve, after we were asleep, and we would wake up to the shiny and familiar ornaments dangling from the evergreen boughs. And every year, we would get a new ornament. My mom would tell us that a new ornament every year meant that when we grew up and left home, we would have enough ornaments to decorate our own trees, and they would be meaningful treasures full of memories of Christmas’ past…and she was correct. Not long before our first Christmas in our first apartment, my Mom pulled out a little box of treasures…my ornaments from my childhood. And a new ornament…a “Your First Christmas Together” ornament…for OUR tree. In fact, the first Christmas gift I bought for Rick was an ornament…a silly “Mistletoad”…which still hangs in a place of honor on our main tree.
We have three trees now. A small one in our family room that I call our Homemade Tree. It holds the most precious reminders of days gone by–all of the ornaments the boys have made in Sunday School, preschool, and elementary school. Handprints and macaroni angels and a nativity in a popsicle stick barn. We have a skinny, potted tree in the dining room with ornaments that would no longer fit on our big tree, which stands next to the living room fireplace. We decorate the tree together…the boys put their ornaments on first, and then Rick and I weave ours among theirs. Our guys have received one new ornament in their Christmas stocking every year, plus countless others from friends and family. They are chosen carefully, and marked with an initial and a date. I hope that someday, when they hang them on their own tree, in a distant Christmas yet to come, that they will be sweet reminders of the traditions of our Christmas’ past.