The tree is up, the gifts are wrapped, and I’m finally ready for Christmas. Now, I sit here reflecting and thinking of past Christmases when traditions seemed so important.
When I was a child, my dad always cut down a fresh tree and we decorated a week before Christmas. When I got older, my younger sister and I trudged into the woods with him to help pick out a tree. Nowadays, I have an artificial tree and I decorate the Friday after Thanksgiving. Decorating is a lot of work and I put up quite a few. I’m just lazy enough to want to leave them up as long as possible before I have to go to all the trouble of un-decorating.
My artificial tree used to be fat and tall, like the trees from my childhood. Nowadays, my tree is still tall, but not so fat. I got a pencil tree so it’d take up less room–and I needed to make a space for all the presents. Now that Santa doesn’t visit my house any more, everything gets wrapped and shoved under the tree–another tradition bites the dust.
We used to go to my grandparent’s house for Christmas Eve supper too. My dad’s entire family would be there: Uncles, aunts, cousins, even some great aunts and uncles and cousins. The next morning, we’d go back for brunch. As my cousins married and started families of their own, fewer and fewer cousins were able to make it to my grandparent’s house. After my younger sister and I got married and had children of our own, we started having Christmas Eve supper at my parents’ house and going to my grandparent’s the next morning. Even that changed as my children got older. Then my grandparents died, and the family stopped gathering.
Grandparents have a way of holding a family together for the holidays–until the grandchildren start having children of their own. Then a new generation of grandparents begin new traditions. Or so it seems in my family. I don’t have grandchildren yet, but my oldest daughter lives in Germany.
Because of the six-hour time difference we now exchange gifts on Christmas Eve morning via SKYPE. After the gift exchange, my daughter runs off with her boyfriend to spend time with his family. My husband and I go to my cousin’s house, where I once again see those aunts, uncles and cousins. And we go to my parents’ house after lunch on Christmas Day. These days, I work a lot of Christmas mornings for half a day to allow those with children to be home for Santa Claus.
For years now, we’ve celebrated Christmas with my husband’s family the week before Christmas in an effort to eliminate the stress of so many families trying to divide Christmas day into rushed visits. But now that my sister in law lives in Utah, we seldom see her any more.
As I grow older, I find my life changing and those Christmas traditions I cherished as a child must change as well or the meaning of the holiday will get lost. My tree is no longer real, but I have the same ornaments. From the two turtle doves, now slightly mangled by a troublesome cat, to the first ornament I bought as a married woman and my daughters’ “My First Christmas” ornaments, the tree still holds some traditions. And while we we no longer rise at the crack of dawn to see what Santa brought, I still get up early on Christmas morning to go to work. And we still go to my parents’ house on Christmas Day. But these days, we have our traditional oyster stew for a late lunch or early supper rather than at brunch.
Life changes and it’s sometimes stressful. But Christmas isn’t about the gifts or the dinners. It’s about family and finding time to be with them and remember why we celebrate. So, no matter if your Christmas involves following time-honored traditions, creating new traditions of your own, or just trying to fit as many people into your plans as possible, take time to remember the reason we celebrate.