Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Traditions

This is the time of year that even the most non-traditional people start to rely on traditions. That you start to look back on your life, and the things that you have always done on Christmas. The places you go, the foods that you prepare, the songs that you sing.

When I was a kid, we always started the season by going to breakfast with Santa. It was at one of the department stores, and we went every year for years. Many more years than I believed. But we went for several reasons. My brother believed far longer than I did, and at some point I learned it was nicer to play along and let him than spoil the fun. My Grandma Doll went with us almost every year, and it was just a required part of the holidays. The other reason - they had the best hot chocolate in the universe and they would give you as many marshmallows as you wanted.

My dad has been a part of many men's organizations over the years, and when I was a little girl, one of them operated a Christmas tree lot. And so, for years, he spent time volunteering at the lot, helping countless other families create their own traditions. When I begged him enough, he'd let me tag along. Those nights I spent huddled around a trash can bonfire, listening to crazy stories told by the other guys, watching my dad be the strongest man I'd ever seen, those are nights that I will always remember. Never mattered how cold it was, he loved doing it. There was a certain sparkle in his eye, one that I truly only ever saw there. I can't drive past a tree lot without thinking about those nights.

When I became a mother, my parents insisted that I follow the Santa rule. They followed it for years, and they knew that if I did too that there would be times when we weren't all together. But it was important to them when I was a kid. And it is important to them now. Santa comes to our house. If anyone wants to see the kids open presents, they have to be here. No ifs, ands or buts. That's just how it is.

We have developed other traditions as well. The tree, whether fake or real, must be decorated in a certain order. The birds always go on first. My grandfather, my Pap, insisted that there always be birds on the tree. Some of the birds on my tree are the very same ones he used to put on his. And the last thing to go on the tree must always be the angel. The kids rotate years, taking turns putting on the last finishing touch.

One of the funnier traditions that I started involves underwear. Every year, Santa brings the kids practical things in addition to the fun stuff. They get toothbrushes and socks. And they get underwear. And the underwear gets hung on the Christmas tree.

I could probably write all day about the traditions that we celebrate this time of year. There are many more than I've mentioned here. There are the traditions that I remember from my own childhood. The new ones that we are making with each passing year. Memories are made, and they are the one thing that you can carry with you forever. I hope that my children will someday look back and fondly remember the things we are doing with them, as I remember what my parents did for me.

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