At this time of year our minds seem to remember things past. Visions of sugar plums dance in our heads, and we vow either to make happier memories for our kin, or to live out our traditions just exactly as we did when we were very young. Each year, we grasp at something solid, with roots that can bind us to our parents’ olden days and to the new days of our children. Each year, we seek remembered and imagined grace.
Our family traditions around the holidays are a mixture of both my husband’s and my family’s traditions. Right now my husband and I give our children new winter pajamas on Christmas Eve. And some years we’ve given them a Fontanini nativity piece as well (though our village is growing a little to quickly for the available real estate). We’ve picked and blended a little Christmas gift protocol from his family and from mine: we find St. Nicholas Day presents in our shoes on December 6th, but not presents from the Brownies each night between tree-trimming and the 24th; we haven’t done Santa Lucia, yet; all the gifts (or most) are opened Christmas morning, after a glass of milk and the stockings, as in his family; “Santa” presents are found unwrapped, as in mine, and we continue my parents’ tradition of giving each other our gifts alone, on Christmas Eve, once all the kids are asleep.
This is not the same pattern that either of us knew when we were young; it has changed from the way it was. It had to change! Trying to recreate everyone’s tradition, from every side, heedless of changing places and people and times, would have torn us apart.
But the traditions that are most meaningful to us are not the “traditional” public festivals, the ones that you do because they are common and expected, but the ones that our little family of 7 has embraced for ourselves:
- We make homemade donuts on the first day of school. (You’re welcome to join us next year if you bring the coffee!)
- Sometime around groundhog’s day we have a winter picnic, complete with fried chicken, lemonade, brownies and a picnic cloth on the floor.
- On New Year’s Eve, I just can’t convince my family to share the traditional pickled herring snack from my family. But every year we make both cheese fondue and chocolate fondue. At midnight we set off fireworks.
I have found that everyday traditions like these are important. As Tevye the milkman said, “Without traditions, life would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” But if we cling too tightly to them, they can also cause us to unravel.
What are some of the traditions that give you meaning, and keep your balance?