Celebrating “traditions”

Around the holidays I like asking people what kind of traditions they honor when they celebrate Christmas or other holidays.  There are so many different cultures coming together in California and an infinite variety of celebrations.  Our family continues to evolve our “traditions” with ideas from my family and travels.

First, we celebrate on Christmas Eve, something my Norwegian grandfather started. Given the choice of opening gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, earlier is better. We have scaled back the dinner though to barbeque tri-tip or something easy.  Of course there is apple pie.

Warning! If you believe in Santa Claus, stop reading here.

When I was little my Grandfather played Santa Claus at the department store in Santa Rosa, so I never believed in Santa. We still put out our stockings but we knew that Mom was filling them with stocking stuffers.  We celebrated Jesus’ birthday by attending Christmas Eve services.

Cupcakes for Jesus' birthday.

Cupcakes for Jesus’ birthday.

After the divorce I had to share the kids, so Tevis, Sarah and I put more emphasis on Christmas Eve.  About the same time I shifted church affiliation to Sacramento Friends and the meeting does not offer Christmas Eve services. This makes the evening schedule more relaxed. We have added Jesus’ birthday cake (and after some protests, added the pie back).  We also enjoy the English tradition of Christmas crackers or poppers. You pull the cracker and it pops and out spills a paper crown, a toy and a joke.

Sarah and Marcos hosted this Christmas Eve and I brought the apple pie and the Christmas crackers.  The crackers were the last ones available at William Glen Christmas store, and they were a little fancier than usual.  The crowns were gold foil instead of colored tissue paper; the prizes were actually usable (usually more like Cracker Jack’s prizes); and the jokes were better, though still corny.

Best joke of 2013:  Q: What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t return?  (A: A stick.)

Most sophisticated joke of 2013:  Q: How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza?  (A: Deep, and crisp and even.)

Most misunderstood joke of 2013: Q: What do you call a penguin in the desert?  (A: Lost.)  Tevis still doesn’t get how this is funny.

Christmas Day shifted for me once Tevis and Sarah started spending it with their Dad. I spent many a  happy day with my friend Cameon and her family. I have also gone to the movies with the kids after their Dad moved to Washington state. Two years ago I flew home from New Zealand, living Christmas day twice. This year I drove to my rental home in Trinidad, CA for a writing retreat. I get to spend lots of quality time with Harriet and her family. I brought Radar and he’s enjoying 5 minute walks to the beach and playing with Hetta’s dog Ted. I am searching for a balance between reading, writing and watching Home and Garden TV (this is why I do not have a television at home).

I read recently that Christmas as we know it in the U.S. is a relatively recent development; for many, many centuries Christians did not make a big deal out of Christmas.  We are a long way from getting excited over an orange in our stocking: the over the top theatrical productions at mega-churches;  the crazy spending on food, gifts, decorations; the house light decorations or multiple Christmas trees. One Christmas when the kids were very small I remember getting completely stressed out and making the decision to stop the madness. I made a list of all the stuff I was doing–from sending Christmas cards, to making cookies for all of the neighbors, and so on. And I chose what I was going to do and not do. I have been tweaking the plan ever since. It is great to be in choice. If throwing yourself into the Christmas holiday and reveling in it all, good on you. Maybe because Christmas has a lot of emotional baggage as well as good memories, I have scaled back my expectations and enjoy it more.

This year was the first year with one of the children married and sharing our traditions and starting new ones. Marcos’ parents Neila and Leon joined us for Christmas Eve dinner (brother Lucas was too ill to join us). Neila shared the funny iPad game “Heads Up!” and we laughed a lot playing this charades type game. It may become a new tradition.  Things will continue to change as the family continues to expand in the coming years.  As long as I remember that we have choices it will be something to celebrate.

One thought on “Celebrating “traditions”

  1. Merry Christmas Julie!

    As an ex-pat, I discovered that traditions were important to give my children a sense of identity. Suddenly, holidays and rituals were important to underscore American-ness, so that the kids could feel special about being so terribly different from everyone around them. They needed to also feel proud of things that made them different, rather than just be bullied for their height, the color of their hair, the texture of their hair, their language, and their heritage that made them targets. Doing fun “American things” was suddenly crucial.

    I was someone who had never opened packages on Christmas morning growing up in Los Angeles, because I was celebrating the culture of my parents as first and second generation Swedish immigrants who ate lutefisk and ham on Christmas Eve and waited for Santa to punctually show up at 3:00 pm on the 24th. Suddenly, in 1998, I was an ex-pat, and I became an American with zealous fervor. I suddenly made cinnamon buns and American sugar cookies on Christmas Eve, so they would be fresh when we woke at the crack of dawn to open gifts on Christmas AM to mark the day when the American Santa would have come (though we never told our children the Santa myth as if it were true).

    In fact, we told them that while it was untrue, there was a Saint Nicholas in early Turkey who fought for the rights of the poor and delivered food in the shoes of the less advantaged while they slept. We explained that many households still told children that Saint Nicholas was still alive, and that our kids shouldn’t spoil the myth for other children, just in case.

    So, the first Christmas here, on the last day of school before the Christmas holiday, I saw 7 year old Nea running home from school with a frantic sprint. I thought something had gone wrong, so I ran out to meet her. As she tried to calm her breathlessness, and as I pressed her for answers, she finally came out with it, “Mommy, you know how the American Santa Claus is dead?” “Yes,” I answered, now curious. “Well, you’ll never believe it! The Swedish one is still alive!!!”

    Christmas, traditions, culture, identity … it can be “muddle-some” in a high tech, multi-cultural, sectarian/secular, non-traditional/ultra-traditional world. But finally, for me, Christmas has come to be an important time to mark three themes; “Glory to God in the Highest,” “On Earth Peace”, “Good Will to all men” – worship, rest, and the spirit of community and generosity.

    Love you!

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