Click to play music while you read if you like. Vince Guaraldi, "Christmastime Is Here."*
Growing up when I did, my contemporaries and I often regarded the concept of Tradition with suspicion. Tradition was seen as too often being a blind adherence to rituals that were no longer meaningful, or stultifying conformity that required too much sacrifice. (My 13-year-old self was firmly on the side of Tevye's third daughter Chava, who defied her family's traditions to follow her heart.) But at the same time, as a child I longed for more of what I might now view as a traditional life, especially around the holidays.
My family was not religious; we observed the more secular aspects of holidays like Christmas and Easter, while giving a brief nod to the religious origins. The few Christmas traditions that my family observed (and even some of these were a bit fluid) were completely upended when my parents divorced. It seemed that every year brought some different schedule of events, a different cast of characters. While some of these were fun times, I longed for familiarity and consistency, and traditions with a sense of continuity that resembled the more "normal" (or so I imagined) celebrations of my friends' mostly intact families. The one thing that was constant throughout my years growing up and even after I'd moved away was that my mother insisted on a well decorated house and tree. She decorated for Christmas every year until she died.**
|Nothing says "Christmas" like bottles of booze and toy guns!|
This time of year, I often feel a bit adrift. I'll admit that at times I miss that sense of connectedness with my childhood and participation in popular culture that comes with decorating a tree, putting up lights, wrapping gifts, baking goodies and preparing a special foods. And I miss the anticipation. We don't celebrate Christmas, and our Chanukah celebrations are less encompassing, often occurring earlier in the month and being over with and decorations packed away while the rest of the world seems to still be gearing up for the 25th. (Also, Chanukah is traditionally not as major a holiday for Jews as Christmas is for Christians.) Having lost both of my parents last year I felt--rather contrarily, considering my family's ultimate lack of it--a strong pull toward tradition, and establishing some holiday season rituals of my own with a nod to the past and acknowledgement of the present. This year, I'm determined to do something to put that desire into action.
Yesterday, materfamilias posted about giving up some holiday traditions that had become wearing obligations, and how doing so freed her to eventually re-embrace some of them as joyful expressions. It reminded me again that as adults we can pick and choose what aspects of any holiday we celebrate and incorporate into our own lives. What I most miss about the holidays and what makes me feel connected to my family is festive decor, not a tree necessarily but I have visions of twinkling lights and evergreen garlands dancing in my head. Winter Solstice, anyone?
Do you observe holiday traditions that have been handed down from your family? Which are most meaningful? Have you set about to initiate some of your own?
*Of all of the Christmas music out there, the piece above from the Charlie Brown Christmas CD is my favorite. It's pretty yes, but like the holiday season itself, at times evocative and reflective, a mix of joy and wistfulness.
**She was a bit obsessive actually, more on this later...