In Search Of Tradition

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Christmas Card 2008

For most of my life, I have clung to traditions.

They tell me what comes next. They assure me that I belong somewhere. In a life that didn’t always provide a strong sense of security or an abundance of constants, my traditions offered a much needed anchor.

When I got married and had children of my own I was eager to begin passing on my traditions within my own family. This was most evident when it came to the holidays.

Especially Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we would load up the car with gifts and head to evening Mass with my mother. My two brothers, the last two Catholic hold outs in the bunch, would attend Church with us as a gift to our mom. After Mass we would gather at one of our homes, eat entirely too late and exchange presents.

Then Jared and I would pile back into the car, reminding the kids that we had to hurry if we were going to be in bed by the time Santa arrived! Devin would search the night sky as we drove for some sign that a sleigh was in the area.

We’d tuck Devin (and later Emma) into bed and I’d pull out the stocking stuffers and separate them into bags – one for each stocking so that Santa would know what went where. Within a few minutes we’d hear jingle bells outside, followed by a knock at the door.

A tall man in a red suit with black boot covers over his tennis shoes would come through the door, his paper white beard around his neck and a girlfriend (and later wife) following behind him.

We found ourselves suddenly speaking in whispers and sharing hushed giggles. We felt like elves, responsible for spreading magic and preserving the Christmas spirit. It was impossible not to let some of the enchantment touch you as well.

When everyone was in place, Santa in front of a video camera that was positioned discreetly off to the side and the girlfriend out of sight, Jared and I would tip toe up the stairs to the bedrooms and kneel down beside the children’s beds.

“Devin! Devin!” we’d whisper with as much force as we could muster while still maintaining the appearance of trying to be quiet. “Devin! Get up! Santa is here! Come see! Come see!”

And we’d sneak him, half pushing and half dragging his sleep laden body, to the top of the stairs so he could get a glimpse. He’d rub his eyes and ask again why we’d woken him up. We’d whisper again and point in the direction of his stocking where Santa was standing with a big sack, stuffing each over sized sock.

Inevitably, Devin would blink, his eyes would widen, and he’d run from the top of the stairs in a panic.

“Devin! Devin! Come back, it’s OK,” I’d call, still trying to maintain my whisper.

But it would be too late. He’d have gotten a glimpse and thrown himself back under his covers, terrified that Santa would discover he’d been sneaking up on him. Jared and I would kiss him goodnight, close his bedroom door, and giggle wildly at one another – pleased that his belief in magic was still firmly in place.

The next morning Devin (and later Emma) would stand by the bed, staring at us until I woke up. We’d start coffee and set up cameras while Devin sorted gifts into piles and marveled at how many had his name on them (and later Emma’s.)

And then our family, my family, would enjoy Christmas morning together.

Later in the morning we’d pile up more gifts in the car and head to Jared’s parents house, ready to engage in their holiday traditions.

I’m missing that right now.

This year is our second year living away from home. And for the second time, we’ll load up our gifts into suitcases, board a plane, and fly back to spend Christmas with the people who mean the most to us.

We’re all excited to go. We’re grateful that we can, especially in today’s economy, afford to make the trip. We’re thankful that our residential distance won’t prevent us from being part of many of our families’ traditions.

But still… today…

I’m sad that my children won’t wake up in their beds on Christmas morning.

They won’t see Santa sneak into their house. They won’t watch him, or anyone, fill their stockings. They won’t even have stockings this year. They won’t enjoy those precious early Christmas morning hours when you’re allowed to have every toy you own open and strung across the house, without one thought to playing with one thing at a time or picking up after yourself.

It’s a choice that I made – that we made. I’m aware of that.

And it’s a choice that I’ll make over and over again as long as I can. The holidays will always be about family for us, and for Jared and I that will always include our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I chose to hold on to those traditions and values in place of the ones made in my own home.

I’m aware. I get that.

But for right now… for today…

I have no stocking stuffers to get. No cookies to bake. I have only a suitcase to pack and new luggage to purchase.

And for right now… for today…

That’s leaving me feeling a little lost in limbo.

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  1. avitable says:

    Maybe one year some of that family will come to you instead.

  2. Momma says:

    Wish DeannaBanana and family could come. It’s been 8 long Christmases without them, and the season was ALWAYS the biggest
    time in our family, with nighttime new jammies, Children’s Mass in the evening with the kids in the choir, guests after at our home, and the big day always at our old Victorian house with the Christmas meal held around my grandparents old black walnut diningroom table that I inherited. That’s what Deanna Banana misses every year. We did visit her, but, not the same for her. No wonder she’s so depressed this time of year.

  3. Marney says:

    We do the same packing and travelling each year. I’m always terrified that I’ll forget something behind.

    One year, when my daughter was 2, we did stay home and it was horrible. I missed and wanted to be around ALL the family. It was so bad that I’ve never even considered staying home for the holidays again.

  4. ::hugs::

    I can’t imagine being away from my family and traditions during Christmas. I’m glad that you are getting to go home to see them!

  5. ed says:

    with moving 3000 miles away from my family, we can’t afford to go back. So, with my inlaws, we try to make new ones, aswell as try to incorperate some of mine in to theirs.

    this time of year is hard on me. I only get to see my family once a year, if I am lucky. I miss them alot.

    my mom cries when she calls christmas day.

    oh great now i’m tearing up.

  6. Dawn says:

    First off, those three pictures are absolutely FANTASTIC!

    Secondly, your Santa coming and Christmas morning story is beautiful.

    And thirdly, most importantly, you’re making new traditions. And that’s OK. Now the tradition is to get on a plane and be with your family. The travel can be as much of a tradition as the other.

    Merry Christmas (from me, your Jewish friend) and Happy New Year to you and your family. Enjoy your traditions, in whatever form they come in now.

  7. maybe you could add to your home tradition with hanging stockings together before you leave so that santa can fill them while you are in iowa. santa loves them enough to leave presents in both locations. (load everyone in the car for the ride to the airport, then run back in saying you need to ensure you turned off the stove or iron or something.)

    and get to baking, woman. adam needs cookies!

    love ya, pretty lady. safe travels.

  8. p.s. could you hug your mudder really super tight for me?

  9. SciFi Dad says:

    We traveled before Christmas until my daughter’s second Christmas (her first she was 9 months), then we decided we were staying home Christmas morning. If weather permits, we drive to one side for Christmas dinner (either 45 minutes to my inlaws, like this year, or 4-5 hours to my parents, like last year). We do this for the same reasons you outlined… to maintain family traditions, so our kids remember Christmas in their home, in their beds.

    Regardless of what we do, or how we do it, we always feel like things are difficult, that we have to find time for everyone. I think it’s just part of the holidays with family.

  10. Honeybell says:

    Those photos are gorgeous.

    Right now we are searching for ways to keep traditions alive for a 13 year boy who is doing his best to shun Christmas and family. I’m thinking of using him as a new tradition: Teenaged Christmas Pinata.

  11. Vic says:

    It’s tough when you have to lay aside your traditions for one reason or another. But, as you say, we have our family and we can still afford to get to see them. Chin up duck!

  12. Finn says:

    1. Card = gorgeous.
    2. Time to make new traditions to deal with the new reality. It can be hard to make the adjustment, but you’ll soon find comfort in these as well.

    ((hugs))

  13. Trishk says:

    Thanks to the United States Coast Guard we were forced to create our own traditions and memories. We incorporated some of mine and my husbands and have our own. It’s nice to see my children passing on those traditions to their children. The only sad part now is that my son is in Ohio with his youngest and my daughter is spending Christmas in Tennessee with her child and friends.

  14. Tracy says:

    Nice post. When I was growing up, I always wondered about how my cousins got their visit from Santa, since they were always at my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. I’m fuzzy on the details, but I seem to remember being told that Santa came to their house early because he knew they wouldn’t be home, or something to that effect. At any rate, I remember it being a troubling question…what happens if we’re not home on Christmas?

    I hope you all have safe travels home and a happy holiday. Best wishes for 2009!

  15. It is certainly a blessing you get to go and share the holidays with the ones you love. Have a safe and easy travel!

  16. William says:

    Traditions are fluid. They flow and move and drift and change. And sometimes they are at high tide where you can pratically drown in them and the pressure to fulfill the tradition can be suffocating. Sometimes they are at low tide and you are only up to your ankles and you wonder what happened to them.

    But either way the most important part is that it does not dry up.

  17. Fogspinner says:

    Or make a new tradition. Here is what my mom did. My parents are divorced. Rather than hassle with the half a day here and half a day there, ruining most of both times by hustling back and forth for pick ups and drop offs, my mom opted to hold Christmas on News year eve and day. For years I thought Santa came back to our house because my mom had told him we’d be having two Christmas’s so I could be with both my families. Really, I bought that. That other kids didn’t, didn’t faze me, I knew, from the half eaten cookies, filled stocking, brightly wrapped gifts, to the half eaten piles of grain (I was raised in a farm)that Santa came twice. I’m over 30 and we still have our Christmas the same way. This will be the first year we have ever held Christmas on Christmas proper. I’m really not so sure I like it. And that’s not just because I’m missing the sales!

  18. Tasses says:

    It’s posts like this that keep me lurking about your site.

    I’ve had 15 Christmas mornings in Florida. I’d sure like to tell you that it gets easier or that you’ll never regret your decisions…

    Wonder if we’ll both be on the same flight to Iowa? I’m leaving out of Orlando on Airtran…

  19. Kristin says:

    I completely feel your pain. Last night as I wrapped the kids’ gifts, I got a pit on my stomach. I told Dave I didn’t want to go home without them. It’s so weird that I am preparing to leave town while he’s preparing for Christmas. It feels so odd that we’ve not baked any goodies.
    Have a good time in Iowa babe. If you didn’t have so many family members, I’d press you for a few hours of your time, but I know that every minute is precious!
    Love you!

  20. Mr Lady says:

    My En.Ti.Re. family is in Denver this year, the Canadians, the Californians, the Floridians, the Africans. All of them. We haven’t all been together for Christmas in 10 years. And my husband and I refused to go. Bitchy, yes. But we want the bed and the morning and the lazy breakfast. So we’re staying, we’re own our own, and I am totally happy about it.

  21. Faiqa says:

    The best traditions aren’t always the oldest ones. As a family’s situation evolves, it’s an opportunity to create new traditions that you can enjoy as well… but I understand mourning for the old ones, too.

  22. Courtney says:

    I’m huge on Christmas traditions so I totally get where you could feel lost with a big change. It’s so weird to me not to spend CHristmas with my family – but I guess that’s what happens when you live in opposite countries and there are two sets of parents and too many obligations.

  23. Greeneyezz says:

    Beautiful Card!

    ~ZZ

  24. Donna says:

    I can see where you are coming from on this. It’s my first of I’m sure many being away from home. Maybe next year they can come to you guys.

    P.S. You have a lovely family!

  25. Jennifer A says:

    sometimes new traditions need to be created. This year, Santa has to drop two gifts off Christmas Eve morning, one for each of my kids. Bri is getting a Nintendo DS and my SIL and BIL bought her things for it so either 1) she will badger us to get it from Santa or most likely 2) she will throw a huge fit and ruin a very fragile Christmas Eve with the in-laws. Its easier to start a new tradition that irritate my MIL.
    I’m not saying it easier, but kids are resiliant little creatures.

  26. Poppy says:

    I know exactly what you mean.

    I was supposed to go to VT tonight to nip the “I miss my friends and family!” part in the bud before I got to sleep in my own bed for Christmas.

    Mother Nature had other plans. I’m home in my PJs instead.

    Hope you all made it safely to Iowa and are having a great time!

  27. Wow – that is such a tough one. I admire your conviction to the larger family deal – my dude and I are way more selfish – we want to hold onto that magic Santa morning as long as we can….and we want it for ourselves….

    I feel selfish after reading your post…hmmmmm.

  28. NYCWD says:

    I know what you mean about tradition.

    Sometimes though, it’s time to make new traditions… either for practicality or for compromise.

    I would highly recommend the observation of December 6, The Feast of Saint Nicholas to be one.

  29. Sarah says:

    I’m really happy that you are able to spend the holidays with your family. Even if it means having to give up some of joy of being in your own home.

  30. Selma says:

    Traditions like that are so lovely. You made me remember the way it used to be when I was a kid. I am sure that your children love going to Iowa for Christmas. I spent many Christmases in Ireland instead of at home in Scotland and it was brilliant. However, maybe one year, as Adam said, the family could come and spend Christmas with you.

  31. mkghist says:

    This is beautiful,have a safe and blessed Christmas. Home is where the Heart is. Merry Christmas!

  32. DeannaBanana says:

    That is so NOT the card I got!

  33. Stacey says:

    This post really struck a chord with me. I wonder how my mother feels around the holidays now that her children are grown and we’re obligated to share traditions with others. We all try our hardest to get to her house for Christmas Eve, but it’s weird not being there to open presents Christmas morning. I wonder what the tradition will be once my siblings and I start our own families.

  34. SwanShadow says:

    I’m as rootless and tradition-free as it’s possible for a human being to be.

    And I envy you just a little.

  35. DemMom says:

    The tradition I had tried to create for my family just got messed up, which I guess is what happens when other people are involved. I can’t force everyone else to do exactly what I want them to do. We do stay home though, because I do like my kids to wake up in their beds, have Santa come to their house.

  36. vodkamom says:

    LOVE the card. I haven’t baked, shopped or ANYTHING. damn.

  37. I’m sorry. *hugs* That’s gotta be tough. I’d give anything to move to Florida (I live in CT), but that would be hard for me, being away from my family.

    Maybe you could alternate years? One year at home, the next with family, etc?

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