Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Traditions Revisited

When my husband and I got married I was unprepared for the first holiday season. I assumed my husband, being a dude, would not really care about holiday traditions. I was wrong.

Now we had always opened our gifts on Christmas Eve and then visited family on Christmas Day and had a big dinner. Even though we had moved away from our family, my mom still kept that tradition. She used to put the packages under the tree days in advance to drive me and brother crazy. Then, on Christmas Eve, we would have a big dinner on the finest china of course. She would further torture us by making us clean the kitchen before we could finally open our gifts.

My husband was okay with that tradition, but in his family, his parents had kept their gifts hidden and put them out on Christmas Eve, so he and his sisters always awoke to their gifts on Christmas morning. He then insisted we keep that tradition as something of ours. I compromised. We would go to my mom’s on Christmas Eve with my brother and his family; have our own Christmas morning thing (which I was still kind of grumpy about), and then go back to mom’s for Christmas dinner.

Now my mom was a perfectionist. She worked for days preparing the Christmas Eve and Day food. She didn’t want anyone to help. Even after I got married and offered to bring food, she wouldn’t hear of it. My half-sister and I used to joke about how our moms were so much alike especially around the holidays, but we would never dare tell them that.

In the spring of 2004, my mom was diagnosed with pancreas cancer. A few months later, my step-mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My mom still insisted we continue with our regular holiday traditions. Even towards the end, she would recline on the couch and order me around so that everything would be perfect that last Christmas. After a vicious fight, my mother lost her battle with cancer on Christmas Eve morning 2005. That night was a blur. My brother and I went to our mom’s house and made sure that Christmas Eve went as planned for our kids and our step-father.

On Christmas morning, the fact that my husband had insisted we start our own tradition that had nothing to do with my mom was a Godsend. I have never been more grateful for something different. It was normal, and I clung to it because it was different. It was ours.

The next year was awkward. We didn’t know what to do, so we did what mom would do. It just wasn’t the same, and it felt strange. My step-mother passed away that January and my half-sister and brother asked me how I had gotten through the holidays, and I didn’t really have an answer for them.

So the next year, we started trying some new things. We kept some of my mom’s traditions, but added a few things here, changed a few things there, and started to make our own Christmas traditions. We are even thinking about going to Seattle next year to spend the Christmas holiday with my half-sister and brother, so we can all be together and try some more new things. My sister-in-law even said she would like us all to spend Christmas in New York one year. Why not? Christmas can be anything we want it to be.

 I still love Christmas, and I want to share that joy with my children. I want them to enjoy our traditions, but to always be willing to embrace something new. Take the time this season to appreciate your family traditions, but don’t get caught up in them. Be sure to see passed all the gifts and food and chaos to those you hold dear, and take the time to tell them how much you love them.

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