What is there about tradition that speaks to the human heart in a universal language? Some people hold on to the traditions they knew as children, some feel inspired to create their own, others choose a hybrid of the two. Whatever the source of tradition in your life, it can be a powerful force. It is the thing that makes certain foods and rituals mandatory for holidays. It dictates in a variety of ways, from small details to the big picture.
I have many holiday traditions; some I keep faithfully while others are a bit hit and miss. I have maintained my commitment to Christmas cards, fresh trees, favorite recipes, music, special Christmas ornaments for my children each year, and a few select holiday movies. But some years are bigger than others. Some years we have been home for the holidays, and others we have been with family. Once we were in Hawaii until December 23, and came home to put up a Charlie Brown tree (about the only one left at our corner Christmas tree lot) and put on a pared down celebration due jet lag and time constraints. But it was a memorable holiday none the less. We’ve all remembered that December vacation in Hawaii.
We have a running debate over white or colored lights. My daughter and I always vote for the tiny white lights while my son and husband are in favor of color. I keep the peace by making an every other year compromise. And I have to admit, whatever the light choice for the year, once the strands are on the tree, its magic. The tree is a living presence during the couple of weeks we keep it up: first thing on in the morning, last thing off at night. I switch the lights on before I get my coffee so I can sit and enjoy waking up with the soft glow of the tiny lights breaking the darkness at 5:00 AM. The smell is addicting too. Just walking through the Boy Scout lot among the bundled trees is a preview of the scent that fills the house when we bring the tree inside.
The foods of Christmas are iconic and many people share similar traditions of cookie recipes, desserts or main dishes that define the holidays. For our family, our strongest food tradition is Christmas Eve lasagna. Years ago, the first Christmas we lived away from family and were going to be on our own, I wanted to have a special meal that would have meaning to my husband, who was in his intern year of residency. One of his favorite foods at that time was lasagna, something his mom made for him. We had homemade lasagna with all the trimmings for Christmas Eve dinner, and we’ve maintained that menu ever since. It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve with different food: it just wouldn’t be right.
My son loves gingerbread cookies, and somewhere along the way that became one of the season’s treats. Some years we’ve done a lot of baking for gift giving, but others have been busy enough that we only did the bare minimum. But regardless, gingerbread is a requisite, another must-do.
Our Christmas morning food tradition acknowledges my love of baked sweets and my husband’s love of savory. We always have homemade cinnamon rolls and the Southern classic, sausage balls. Add a special coffee and chilled juice and breakfast is easy and ready to serve before or after checking Santa’s surprises.
When our kids were still at home, the three of us had a tradition of a day of mall shopping and then dinner, usually at Red Robin, on the way home. Can’t go wrong with kids and burgers, or my daughter’s favorite, chicken fingers and fries. After the day spent shopping, choosing gifts for everyone, then driving home in the evening with Christmas music playing and snow falling…well, Christmas in Colorado is magic. I hear some of that music today and I am immediately driving along C-470 with two kids in the van, warm and happy with anticipation of the days ahead and satisfaction from the day just ending.
I remember some of the special moments throughout the years: when both kids got bikes one Christmas in Michigan, delivered early by special arrangement with Santa because we were going to travel to family for Christmas Day; or even further back, the Christmas we got our first family pet, a small black Cocker Spaniel puppy our daughter named Sable. Stephanie was five and Alex was 18 months old. Sable was a part of our lives for many years, a wonderful addition to our little family. She was a gift from Rob to the kids, and perhaps the best Christmas gift he ever gave them.
I think traditions reinforce the good from the past, remind us of things and moments and people who have been precious in our lives. Traditions say that we have such wonderful memories, we want to recreate them, or parts of them, all over again. Traditions bind generation to generation, connect the years. In the best sense, they are not rituals that we are burdened with repeating, but a way to link memory with the present, past and future, parent to child. Our son now makes his own gingerbread, and our daughter is beginning her daughter’s Christmas traditions this year. Riley will experience her first Christmas, and although she won’t remember it, she’ll have her special ornament, her little part of the day. And when our son is visiting this year, I’ll make gingerbread for him, and we’ll have our traditional lasagna and say to each other, “This is the good stuff…” And the real meaning is not found in the food or the color of lights on the tree, or even in the gifts, but in each other.