Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holiday Traditions

Whatever holiday it is that you celebrate.

What sort of traditions do you have in your family?

We only have a couple right now. I’d love to have more, and I hope to try new things each year since I have a ton of ideas. Then we can either add it to the repetua or toss it.

Of course we pull out all of the boxes, now covered in dust after being in storage since January (okay, February). It’s like Christmas morning as The Boy pulls out each item, his eyes excited and sparkling, as though he is viewing everything for the first time. We place lighted snowmen on the bathroom counters, hang “special” dish towels in the kitchen, assemble our artificial tree, and hang the ornaments. We talk about what Christmas means in our family and discuss where some of the ornaments came from and who gave them to us.

Already we are trying something new with this tradition. This year we have decided to go to the forest and cut down our own tree. We want to make it a grand adventure for The Boy. We haven’t had a real tree since he was born. If I remember correctly, I think the last real tree we had was in 1999. We wanted to have our first Christmas tree as a married couple. We went to a Christmas Tree Lot in a parking lot and found the perfect tree. We didn’t have a rack on top of our car, so we opened the trunk and put it in there. It fit perfectly on the diagonal of my 1970 Buick Electra 225. We closed the trunk and went home to erect and decorate our first tree together.

Our next traditional undertaking is to get all bundled up in our cozy winter coats, warm hats and mittens, and walk around a certain affluent neighborhood in our town to take a look at the Christmas lights. Each house in this neighborhood goes to the extreme, and it’s a really incredible sight to see. I carry lots of tissue for The Boy’s runny nose and I bring the camera to capture his smile and his bright pink cheeks as he sits in front of the Santa Train of Lights and other favorite displays. After oohing and aahing at all of the displays, we drive to the nearest Starbucks and defrost with a hot chocolate or an eggnog latte. We talk about our favorite light display and the things that were new and the things that were the same.

When I was growing up, my mom always had some sort of advent calendar to count down to Christmas Day. When we were younger, we did the traditional construction paper rings, alternating red and green, and each day we tore off one ring. Then my mom bought a book that came with an advent calendar and each day we opened a window on the calendar she read a story from the book, and I think she gave us an almond each day. Finally, when we were much older, she got the cheesy chocolate advent calendars with cheap chocolate that we choked down with smiles on our faces so as not to hurt mom’s feelings. As expected, I haven’t been into the advent calendar since I moved out and wondered what the point to them actually is. Then I came across this article that said one way to stop the incessant questioning from your children of how long until Christmas gets here is to have an advent calendar. We have not had this problem come up in our house yet; but I don’t doubt that the day is near. If we do choose to have an advent calendar in the future, though, I think ours will be much more personal. I really liked this idea from the Martha Stewart website. It’s very eclectic, which fits our personal style, and we can insert whatever we want into the boxes, which I hope will make it a very meaningful, enjoyable experience for our child.

Another great idea for advent that I gleaned from a different website is to wrap up Christmas storybooks like presents and put them in a basket. Each day, the children take turns picking a book, unwrapping it, and then reading it together as a family. The books vary from old classics like, The Night Before Christmas to books like the Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear. Every year you can buy a few more books to add or to replace some of the lesser loved or too juvenile ones in the collection. Look for rich quality pictures and an engaging storyline that appeals to both grown-ups and children, like The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey.

There is, of course, a Christmas service at church the Sunday closest to Christmas Day, filled with traditional Christmas hymns, and The Christmas Story sermon. And in the evening there is a candlelight service that is quiet and shows reverence for The One who was born in a manger. Sometimes we also have a Sunday in December dedicated to some sort of Christmas program, whether it be a full on theatrical production involving half of the entire congregation, a small presentation by the children, or a grand collection of Christmas songs sung by the choir and a performance by the band.

We have at least one night dedicated to watching a Christmas movie. This year The Boy watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas for the first time. He did not seem very impressed, although he did request to see it again. He really enjoyed Shrek the Halls in all its’ grotesque glory. He’s almost five – go figure. Whatever we watch doesn’t matter to me. I just love to sit on the couch with my family, warmed by the fire and by the blankets we snuggle under, and eat popcorn and holiday treats.

Another tradition I want to incorporate is roasting marshmallows in our fireplace. We are not a family that enjoys camping. Let me rephrase that – I am not a person who enjoys camping and therefore my family does not go camping. I don’t like the dirt, and I’m too old to sleep on the ground. We will go camping at least one time during The Boy’s childhood. Until then, we toast our marshmallows in the fireplace. I tried this for the first time with him about a week ago, but the fire was roaring and he did not like the heat. He did like to eat the marshmallows that I toasted for him. Next time I’ll try it in front of a calm Duraflame, in hopes that he will dare to get a little closer.

There is a charming yet modern shopping center in our town and when December arrives, they put up a little green workshop for Santa, decorated with candy canes, snow, and presents. Santa sits in his workshop and bravely allows young children to sit on his lap, some crying and screaming, some pulling on his beard, and some wetting themselves from the excitement. We send our boy in and I snap pictures of him as if he were a celebrity and I a paparazzo. He is so excited that Santa actually knows his name (we know this Santa) that he forgets what he wants for Christmas. After his dad whispers into his ear, he eagerly tells Santa in a very loud voice what he wants for Christmas. He accepts the miniature candy cane that Santa offers him and says good-bye, still wide-eyed in amazement. When the time comes that The Boy questions the truth about Santa, I will tell this Santa ahead of time what the boy wants for Christmas and then wait to see if he still believes.

Finally, as true Christmas Eve arrives, we try to calm down the little guy. We quietly put a plate by the fireplace, with carrots out for the reindeer and cookies for Santa. The cookies are usually store bought. I would love Santa to experience the love that goes into home baked cookies, and I would like to experience the joy of making them with The Boy, but I would never do that to Santa. I have convinced myself that he prefers the store bought variety and should I ever test that presumption, I fully expect a lump of coal in my stocking. We promise The Boy that we will make sure the fire is fully put out before Santa comes, lest he be required to put into practice the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” instructions firmly affixed to the refrigerator. He gets tucked into bed, cozy in his fleece polar bear pajamas, holding a stuffed friend of his choice and clutching his blanket. We say good night to him and close the door, crossing our fingers that he will go right to sleep. We go downstairs and wrap whatever hasn’t been wrapped yet. We stuff the stockings with all of the goodies and carefully place the presents under the tree. Then we tiptoe upstairs, get under the covers, and wait for Santa to do the rest.

There are more traditions that occur after Christmas Day arrives, but I will leave you with these peaceful, sleepy images and wish you the best this holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may God bless you.