I, especially, love the ritual, familiarity and comfort of holiday traditions. For me, it begins on the day after Thanksgiving. While many folks shop til they drop on Black Friday, I decorate til I drop.
My sons unearth the red and green plastic tubs bulging with garlands, angels, Santas and candles, and lug them to the living room. Then I pop a Christmas CD in the stereo and spend the day awash in memories of Christmas past.
Each item from the Play-Doh nativity set, to the Homer Simpson Santa Claus, to the chipped and scratched snowman dishes has a story.
This year I’m making room for new stories by learning to hold less tightly to treasured traditions.
Actually, the process began a couple of years ago with the Christmas tree. Since our boys were tiny, Derek has taken them to Green Bluff to cut down a tree. But our sons are now 21, 19, 17 and 12. Finding a time when everyone has the day off from work to make the trek to the tree farm became impossible.
Derek eyed fake trees, but the younger boys and I rebelled. We reached a compromise: a freshly cut tree from a local tree lot. We also gave up trying to find a night that everyone would be around to trim the tree. I don’t feel too bad about that. Six people, two cats and one tree can create a lot of Christmas chaos.
Other changes have been more difficult to embrace. For 26 years I’ve celebrated a traditional Norwegian Christmas Eve with my in-laws. The feast is a smorgasbord of Norwegian foods and delicacies, but the real flavor comes from the gathering of extended family.
My father-in-law loved Christmas Eve. He was in his element at the head of the table with his wife by his side, surrounded by his four children, their spouses, and his 14 grandchildren. His booming laugh and warm bear hugs made everyone smile.
This was our first Christmas since his death. Instead of ignoring the empty space his absence has left, family members shared their favorite Papa memories. And in the light that shone from his grandchildren’s eyes – in the echoes of their laughter – Papa’s presence was felt once again.
When we got home, no one mentioned leaving cookies out for Santa. That’s OK, Santa’s trying to slim down. Besides, I’m pretty sure our kitty, Thor, would eat them before Santa got a chance.
Christmas morning is different now, too. Santa still leaves filled stockings outside each boys’ bedroom door, but our oldest has to drive over from his apartment to get his.
In years past, four little boys would clamber on our bed at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning and dump their stocking bounty out for us to see.
I don’t miss the crack of dawn part.
And Sam, 12, informed me last year, “You know we all open our stockings while you’re sleeping and then stuff everything back in and take them to your room. You do know that, don’t you?”
Yes, I know that, because my sister and I did the same thing when we were kids.
The six of us still gather around the tree and read the Christmas story from the Bible before the unwrapping begins, but now there’s less unwrapping. I’ve discovered the older the kids – the smaller the presents. Unfortunately, smaller tends to equal more expensive.
Even so, I don’t really miss hundreds of Legos strewn across the floor, or tiny GI Joe guns getting sucked up the vacuum cleaner.
Clinging to traditions no longer current, is like trying to squeeze a squirming toddler into last year’s snowsuit. It won’t fit and someone will end up in tears.
This new year, I’m going to hold on to traditions that fit our family and let go of the ones we’ve outgrown. I don’t want to cling so tightly to the past that my hands are too full to embrace the present.
This column first ran December 29, 2011