Monday, December 08, 2008

Evolving Holiday Traditions

In our family (as in many others) holiday traditions are important. It's not written down anywhere, but when we start to decorate, what order the decorations are put up, what foods are (or aren't) candidates for the Christmas day menu, and many other details just have to be a certain way.

What I try to keep in mind, though, is that these aren't rituals handed down from time immemorial. Rather, they're things that have evolved in response to circumstances and continue to evolve year to year. Yet while changing over time, they offer a comforting continuity to the past.

Case in point: The first year we were married, someone gave us a small bound notebook. We received some special ornaments for our first Christmas tree and decided to use the notebook to record who gave us the ornaments.

That first entry was back in 1977, and it's a tradition that we've kept up ever since. Before decorating the tree, we record the new ornaments into the book. But it's an evolving tradition.

When we started, my wife did the recording. As time went on, our children sometimes took over the task, and a season or two I did it as well. While the early years record additions, in time we started to record losses as well. Some ornaments didn't survive storage (like the handmade cookie dough star), and recently we've given some to our children as they begin setting up their own housekeeping.

It's a good thing we wrote things down when we did! There are ornaments from family members long since departed, and friends and colleagues who have moved away. Some were souvenirs of trips, others gifts for special occasions (some not related to Christmas), and some just fortuitous finds. I might remember a few of the stories attached to different ornaments (like the batik blue felt dove a friend made), but certainly not all.

So now part of the tradition is thumbing through the notebook, recalling good times and dear friends both present and past. As far as I know, we're the only family with such a book, but that doesn't matter. It's something that has meaning for us.

And that, in my opinion, is what the holidays should be about. Traditions that help you enjoy them on a deeper level. When we first got married, we had to combine two different family Christmas traditions -- not everything made the cut. We kept the ones that meant something to us and ditched the rest.

What holiday tradition means a lot to you? And how has it evolved over the years? Leave a comment and let me know!

- Ralph

Day 171 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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