Monday, December 27, 2004

Familial Christmas Traditions, and Other Musings

Well, I hope that you had a blessed Christmas, rather than stressed. It's all too easy to get entangled in frenetic preparations - and to what end? This holiday is more about people and relationships than it is about immaculate houses or perfectly wrapped presents. Ask anybody about their favorite Christmas memory - what kind of story will you hear? You'll hear about the special present that Mom and Dad scrimped and saved for in order to give Junior his heart's desire. You'll hear about Grandma's traditional holiday dinner, with the pie that only she could make. You'll hear about the time that Big Brother surprised everyone by getting a weekend pass and was able to come home from the army for Christmas. You'll hear about Mom baking her Christmas cookies. You'll hear about going to candlelight service at 11 p.m., or driving around as a family to admire the neighbors' Christmas decorations. That is the stuff that memories are made of; that is how familial traditions are born.

Our family had its own traditions - those things that we do that we would miss if we were to do things differently. Taking a cue from our Scandinavian heritage, the family gathered together on Christmas Eve to exchange presents. The youngest was always assigned the role of Santa's helper, and was responsible for delivering the presents to the family. Then, once the gifts had been distributed, it was time to unwrap them, starting with the youngest, who was usually the least patient, and eventually ending with the oldest (who generally had the most patience, and in a large family, it was certainly necessary).

It became somewhat of a joke in our family that you couldn't take for granted that what was pictured on the box was any indication of what was actually in the box. This stemmed from one Christmas when my grandfather unwrapped his present and thought he had received a movie camera. His eyes opened wide and glistened with anticipation, only to be sorely disappointed upon finding out that the contents were singularly unremarkable (at least in comparison to a movie camera). Since that time, it has become a standard MO to joke about the box's label while opening it to ensure that the contents matched.

After the presents were all opened, we would enjoy ourselves until it was time to go to bed (if you were younger) or go to candlelight service (if you were older). This was the final event of the day, and after this had transpired, we were all set for Santa to come.

Christmas morning, therefore, was the time for discovering what had been left in our stockings and under the tree, a time for playing with all the wonderful toys, and a time for helping prepare for Christmas dinner.

Such was our family's Christmas tradition. Each person has his own unique recollections and reminiscences, but what they all have in common is the warm, fuzzy "Christmas as a child at our house" kind of feeling and nostalgia. This is the heritage that we give our children, and ultimately it is the Christmas present that stays with them, lasting far longer than the "must-haves" that wind-up forgotten or broken six months later.

What will be absent from holiday reminiscences? You won't hear "I remember our house was always spotless" or "I remember that our gifts were so well-wrapped, it was as good as the gift wrap at the department store." Who cares? The house will degenerate to a state of disarray within a shockingly short time anyhow, and the presents will be unwrapped with far less finesse than was spent in wrapping them in the first place.

So, I hope that you've spent more time than money making Christmas a memorable occasion for your family, especially for your children, if you have any. And if you've been caught up in the hustle and bustle, focusing more on the things of Christmas than the people for whom Christmas exists, it's not too late...

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