If you know us at all, you know that we love the Holiday Season. It’s a great time of year and we love to enjoy Christmas. One of the things that has been interesting to explore together is the merging of past holiday experiences into our marriage.
He Says: Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!
Oh the Holidays. What a wonderful time of year filled with loved ones, joy and warm greetings. A time when we have hit the darkest and coldest months of year, yet we can smile as we sit next to a warm fire and a radiant tree. Somehow this dark month can become one of the brightest and most pleasant of the year. Every year as we move past Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season, (and yes, all of you who promote Christmas savings or listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, I think you should be tried in court for your misdeeds), I get excited. It means egg nog, pleasantries, family and friends, decorations, the smell of pine throughout the house, Christmas cookies and my wife constantly moving every single decoration I hang tree so that it’s in a “better” spot. I can’t help but enjoy the tradition of the season. Raised in the Catholic Church, I think I can say I know at least a little something about traditions. I mean, I grew up a member of the religious entity that, until the 1960s, held its observances in a dead language while the celebrant had his back to all those attending. All in the name of tradition. Wait, have people been complaining that they don’t know what’s actually going on because they can’t understand or hear it? Yea, for like a thousand years.
I can understand the need to clutch onto traditions, though, and not just religious ones. They’re important. They bring us calm and a sense of rightness. They offer consistency in a crazy world that lately seems to be more interested in the next best thing then having respect for those that have paved the way for us to do some of the remarkable things we are now doing. Traditions help us to remember from where we came and assist us in staying the course of improvement. Even the silly ones. Every year I’m excited to watch a Muppet Family Christmas. No, not a Muppet Christmas Carol, which is an excellent movie as well, but a Muppet Family Christmas. Go out and watch it if you haven’t. It’s great. However, if you don’t have a VHS with it taped from the television in 1988, then you might be out of luck. For some reason, seeing Big Bird befriend the Chef, Gonzo and Animal bunk up on hangers, and the Fraggles pass it on all in one movie just gets me in the spirit of the season. (You may notice I conspicuously didn’t say anything about Miss Piggy. Worst character ever created, Muppet or otherwise. Every year I hope to find some alternate Jack London-esque ending where she fails to escape the grips of the epic snowstorm that delays her arrival to Ma Bear’s. Every year the alternate ending doesn’t come. But I digress). Seeing The Muppet Family Christmas around this time of year is a tradition for me. It’s important, as dumb as that may sound.
An interesting thing happened to my tradition-filled Holiday season a number of years ago. I met someone. Shocking, I know. We had to embark on the difficult yet exciting journey of sharing traditions, and learning to create our own. As many of you may know, this is not always an easy task for couples to learn. I remember the first time I brought my lovely wife back for Thanksgiving dinner. We were dating at the time and much to her dismay, Thanksgiving dinner was at 2:30. She couldn’t believe this. Who has Thanksgiving dinner at 2:30?!!? As our dating relationship developed into a matrimonial vagabondage, dinner continued to move earlier and earlier to accommodate the nap times of the multiplying nieces and nephews. I think last year I rolled out of bed with a hangover to be greeted by a glass of wine and plate of turkey. Mmmmmmm. Thanksgiving dinner at 9am. But you see, for my family, an equal part of our 2:30 Thanksgiving dinner tradition is reheating the potatoes and stuffing and having cold turkey sandwiches at 6:30. We love doing this. And while my wife may not have chosen this tradition on her own accord, she’s learned to accept it for what it is.
I remember the first time I celebrated Christmas with my wife’s family. We were still dating at that time as well. In my family, the siblings draw names for a gift exchange. My wife’s equally large family bought gifts for each family member. I was terrified by this. As a poor college student, I didn’t know what I would get my then girlfriend, let alone how I was going to afford it. Now I had to buy presents for five future siblings that I barely knew and the soon to be mother and father-in-law? Oh boy. This is going to be interesting. But that’s what they did. And I felt lucky to be included in such an important family tradition. My wonderful in-laws have since gone to drawing names for a gift exchange. I believe the turning point was the year my youngest brother-in-law, who was playing high school football with Taylor Mays at the time, gave everyone a autographed picture of himself kneeling at the 50-yard line in his uniform. The sisters loved it, but I think one of them realized that there might be fiscal inequalities throughout the family members and buying gifts for six people becomes burdensome. So eventually the tradition changed. But that’s the other thing about traditions, they should only remain as long as they make sense to be a tradition. There’s something to be said for the ritual, but if the best argument you can come up with for a tradition is that’s the way we’ve always done it, then something’s wrong.
So my wife and I continue to explore, enjoy and battle each other’s Holiday traditions. As we approach our fourth married Christmas, we’re learning some rituals each of us have brought into our marriage from our families are important. And we’re learning some of them are not so much. We’re creating our own celebrations and carrying on the ones that have been passed down to us. We’re learning how to create traditions that offer us consistency and a sense of rightness, so that we can fully enjoy the wonderful Holiday season as a couple and give that back to others. And many years from now when my grandson jumps up on my lap and asks, “Hey grandpa, why does grandma always rehang the ornaments that you put on the tree.” I’ll pat him on the head and with a disgruntled smile I’ll say, “Well, kid, I’m sure she has some reason for her madness, but that’s what we’ve always done.”
We don’t spend Christmas at our own place, so over the years while we’ve celebrated in our parents’ homes, we’ve simply adopted the traditions that they started years ago. However, we have slowly begun what I call standard protocol at our own place during this festive season. Of course like most, we grab a tree and eat and drink more than we normally should, but there are a few things I particularly enjoy doing that most do not. Again, a list …
1. Winterizing the house. I love chores. I know, it’s weird. I never tire of folding laundry or cooking or scrubbing floors. So when winter starts to creep around the corner, I get giddy at the thought of raking the last of the leaves before the snow hits. I cry with excitement while I wash the windows inside and out while double checking the seals are still air tight, not letting in the cold air. And I stare in awe as my husband lugs his insulated caps from hose nozzle to hose nozzle, covering them to help prevent the pipes from freezing. And I’ll stop boring you now.
2. Thanksgiving first. He has a strict rule that nothing Christmas comes before Thanksgiving is over. This includes getting a tree or listening to Christmas music. Since I like to keep Jesus in my heart year round, I do “cheat” and play Hanson’s and Mariah Carey’s holiday albums at least once a month to ensure I’m continually honoring the birth of our Lord. But never when he’s around.
3. Birds. I’m obsessed with all things birds, especially roosters. As a result, I’ve carried this obsession over to Christmas and crafted boat loads of bird ornaments and decorations by hand. This includes nest-like baskets that I fill with holly, pinecones, and faux snow and strategically place around the house. Although this seems like something a nutty grandmother stuck in the 1970’s might do, it has in fact become our holiday theme and I couldn’t be more pleased with myself for thinking it up – and with him for dealing with it.
4. Egg Nogaholic. I think if it were possible, he would drink nothing but Egg Nog from October through January if he weren’t so concerned with the caloric intake. I take great pleasure when I see it available right after Halloween and even greater pleasure watching him shuffle up to the milk fridge in the grocery store – smile a million miles wide – to pick up the first carton of the season.
5. The Stump. Like everyone, we obviously get a tree. Apart from loading it with lights and as many bulbs as we can, we always cut an inch or two off the stump. It sits for a few hours while we decorate. When we finish up, we take that stump, walk it to the fired up fireplace together and toss it in as we quickly share our wishes for the season. I have no idea where we came up with this one … it probably first happened when we were drunk wondering what to do with the magical stump. And I just realized it’s called a trunk, not a stump, but you get the point.
So there you have it. A quick snapshot into the standard protocol we couple with regular family traditions. I can’t wait to see what we add to the list next year. I’m already thinking I’ll pin mistletoe over every doorway. Instead of it representing the necessity of a kiss, I might say any man who passes under it is responsible for cleaning the toilets that day or giving me a back rub. Clever.