When it comes to Christmas, I grew up with a very strict sense of what the holiday meant. Yes, as a Christian, it is a celebration of the birth of Christ, and that was always an important part of what we did. But in my household, while all of that was recognized, Christmas meant something different.
Christmas meant traditions.
Shortly after my birthday (near the end of November), the house was transformed in an evening. Pictures and vases were swept off the mantle, and an evergreen garland studded with lights and ribbons went in their place. The native-inspired Beverly Doolittle print was replaced with a large painting of Santa (with dozens of children hidden in his beard. Not as creepy as it sounds). The tree went up, Mama spent the better part of an hour making sure the lights were evenly spaced, and then the boxes of decorations were hauled out. We spent more time examining each ornament, reminiscing about when it joined our family, than we did actually hanging them. Ornaments were placed and re-placed, ensuring even spacing across the boughs (and Mama checked them all over…just to make sure). Apple cider bubbled on the stove, and our favourite Christmas song (Merry Christmas to the Family, by Rosie O’Donnell and the Dixie Chicks. Classy.) played on repeat. It was that night that both Christmas movies and music began their nightly rotation.
Christmas Eve brought breakfast out, a tradition started the year J and I began dating. (Our first date was on Christmas Eve…for breakfast…with my parents). On the home front, the tray of baked goods was never allowed to hit the ‘half-full’ stage; someone was constantly sent to the freezer in the basement to restock on Hello Dollies, shortbread, gingerbread, marshmallow squares, and butter tarts. Family poured through the door, filling the guest bedrooms and camping out on available floor space. We ate tourtiere for dinner, and dressed up for church that evening. Church was early in the evening; early enough that we could get home in time to watch Santa drive by on our village’s lone firetruck.
One present was set out for each of us to open before bed Christmas Eve. Though the prospect of present-opening was exciting, we all knew what these packages contained. Pyjamas. Always pyjamas. Sometimes my sister and I matched, occasionally, all of the cousins co-ordinated. But every year, without fail, we had a new set of jammies to change into. So we bundled up in our new gifts, climbed into bed, and listened to a parent (or uncle) read The Night Before Christmas. And then, knowing full well that Mama would have us awake at the crack of dawn, we drifted off to sleep.
(modelling our Christmas jammies)
Christmas Day had its own traditions as well; everything from how stockings were wrapped and opened, to what we ate for brunch, and whether or not it was acceptable to get dressed before noon.
As we got older, these traditions began to change. Cousins got married and moved away, others had jobs that kept them from travelling. Boyfriends and girlfriends entered the scene, resulting in the need to split time between families. Diets put a damper on the sheer number of treats that were baked and put on display. And then, when J and I got married and moved up north, things changed again.
Because Christmas traditions were so firmly ingrained in my head, it was a real shock for me to realize that I wasn’t the only one that had a firm idea of what the holidays looked like. But a marriage is a partnership, and I quickly learned that Christmas traditions weren’t my way or the highway. We had to figure out which traditions stayed and which went, which would become part of our own family holiday, and which would become a memory of Christmases past. We’re still figuring this out, especially now that K is part of our family. We alternate Christmas Eves/mornings with our families, but we know eventually we will have to settle in and have people come to us. I know we can’t have both a Christmas movie AND Christmas pyjamas to open on Christmas Eve. I know that Rosie O’Donnell’s Christmas album isn’t to everyone’s taste. And I know that we’ll come up with our own traditions that become a lasting part of K’s life.
How did you decide which traditions to keep? When did you decide to make your own?