It’s officially autumn – my favorite time of the year! And the major holidays are coming up, which for many people is their favorite time. Folks are starting to make plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Church musicians are getting excited about music for Christmas, and if you haven’t already bought your Halloween decor, it’s probably on sale now, as retailers put out stuff for the BIG day!
Many plans will revolve around the activities, decorations, recipes, and destinations that are part of a family’s tradition. As we grow older, however, our family dynamics change. We lose members to distance and to death. We gain members through marriage and birth. With these changes, traditions may also change. Now, before the holidays are in full swing would be a good time to record traditions you remember; your favorite childhood holidays, the feasts you shared as a young parent, and any new customs you’ve added that may be cherished by your grandchildren.
Things like recipes – every family seems to have a talented cook or two that has a “special” recipe for stuffing or cranberry sauce. Or a weird quirk – it’s not Thanksgiving at our house until someone puts black olives on all their fingertips and chases somebody. Or maybe you have a favorite side dish that might be a little less holiday traditional, like fried pickles. Have you changed the menu to accommodate new family members? Or made it more fancy it as you’ve grown more skilled in the kitchen? Is there a family heirloom gravy boat or turkey platter? Do you always have turkey at Thanksgiving? What are the stories your family has?
I remember very distinctly the year that we had chicken for Thanksgiving. My family was hard-working, but on a budget, as were many families in the ‘60s. For whatever reason, we all piled into the car to go pick up a turkey. But at the store, there was a HUGE pink teddy bear that somehow spoke to my baby sister’s heart. She WAILED for want of that thing. I don’t remember if we had a vote or if it was just a nonverbal consensus of the collective, or a parents-only decision, but she got a bear and we ate a chicken! I don’t think she has that bear anymore, but I remember how happy she was that day. I don’t remember how good that chicken was, or the next year’s turkey.
But I will never forget that sweet baby girl, with a teddy larger than she was! We don’t tell that story every Thanksgiving, but it hasn’t been forgotten over the last 50 years and is told at least once a year… just not always on Thanksgiving.
Some families meet in a central location and have a catered dinner or a meal in a restaurant. Other folks rotate mealtimes or holidays, or take turns hosting a family potluck. I know a few couples whose children are grown and gone that enjoy a day trip to a fancy buffet instead of trying to coordinate with so many people out of town, or compete with in-laws – they just enjoy a feast with no prep, no clean-up and no drama. Sounds like a perfect Thanksgiving date!
Sometimes a sporting event is the main attraction. We’ve had holidays highlighted with local marching bands in the Macy’s parade or hometown heroes starting for their college team in the big bowl game.
A lot of people view Thanksgiving as the beginning of the Christmas season, putting up a tree before the leftovers are even thoroughly frozen. Some folks like a big, fancy fresh-cut Christmas tree. Others opt for artificial varieties. A few are just as happy without a tree at all. Trees have never been hard and fast for me: cut trees – besides killing a perfectly good tree – shed needles, become a fire hazard, and with small children or pets (especially cats!) just a hazard in general. It can be a bit of trial and error, taking into account the traditions and desires of whoever is sharing the holiday – large tree, small tree, put up on Thanksgiving, take down on Boxing Day, left up until Twelfth Night… outside lights have been known to stay up all year long in some instances! Sometimes it’s tradition, sometimes it’s just a matter of whose chore it is or who enjoys decorating more.
What traditions do you keep at Christmas? Do you draw names for Christmas gifts? Are family gifts handmade? Do you have any rules about when gifts are opened?
Personally, my favorite thing is tamales at Christmas-time. It was just always a thing in my family. I remember my mom and her sisters getting together in my Abuelita’s kitchen and making what seemed like a million tamales! When Tom and I first got together, I told him that in the Hispanic community, we always have tamales for Christmas so we’ll have something to unwrap! He didn’t get that I was joking at first, but as he became accustomed to my weird sense of humor, it was okay. Since then, whether we have kids at home or it’s just the two of us, we have tamales on Christmas Eve after church. Especially if both of our churches have services at the same time and we can’t worship together. We’ve already scoped out the tamale situation here in Tennessee, so that our tradition can continue. We also like to watch the recorded broadcast of the Pope’s Christmas Eve Mass, even though neither of us is Roman Catholic.
Do you attend a Christmas Eve service? Do you open any gifts before Christmas morning? Do the children get an Advent calendar? Do you leave cookies (or at my house, a tamale!) out for Santa? Do you go caroling?
Of course, if you celebrate Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or any other holy days, you will have precious memories and traditions to share, as well. The holidays offer so many opportunities to create memories and stories to share. Even with treasured friends included, the holidays are so personal to families and worthy of preservation: so take photos, write out menus, enjoy old traditions and explore new activities to share with your family today, and in the future.