Changing Traditions

December 1, 2002

Welcome to Wyndspirit Dreams! Now that the holiday season is in full swing, I’ve been thinking about how my family’s traditions have changed over the years. When we were growing up, we would have been horrified at the idea of having anything nontraditional. If anything, we were hyper-traditional. We had to have traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Maybe because we didn’t have that much, we made the most of what we did have. I’ll admit, I was the worst culprit. Mom and Dad would have been just as happy with a simple celebration, and the “little kids” wouldn’t have known any different, but I was obsessed with having as full a holiday as everybody else did—even if “everybody else” was probably idealized characters in my storybooks!

I’m not exactly sure what started my “tradition” of spicing up our holidays with even more traditions than we already observed. One year I just decided it would be fun to have stockings for Christmas Day, even though we always opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I probably got the idea when I helped Mom make a fireplace out of the box our humidifier came in. That was also the year we wrapped assorted sized tubes in shiny red Christmas paper for candles. So, anyway, I offered to make gifts for the little kids if Mom would let them hang stockings. I sewed beanbags for LeAnn, a tarp for Dallas, and I think a tiny cloth doll for Nancy. Mom supplied some Christmas candy and we even put in an orange. (Remember, I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. Never mind that oranges weren’t a special treat for us, the stockings needed to have oranges, because that’s what you put in Christmas stockings!) My intentions were entirely altruistic. I was floored when I got up the next morning to find a bulging stocking of my own hanging beside the others! We played many a game of checkers with that box of checkers (that had been intended for a family gift until my bright idea of hanging stockings). And when Brenda came along, at almost three months old, she had to have a stocking, too. If I recall right, Mom sewed her a tiny, soft white felt kitten—about the only thing that would fit in her teensy little stocking!

I’m not sure if my bright idea of hiding Easter baskets came before or after the Christmas stocking idea, but I still remember making the baskets. I had some sort of red paper—wrapping paper or tissue paper, I imagine—and I used it to cover the baskets, which were cut from the bottoms of milk cartons. Then I used pipe cleaners or something for the handles. Mom gamely filled them with the Easter goodies she had planned to give us anyway, and hid them around the house for us. The following year she used different-colored margarine tubs, and she used those for years till I imagine they eventually got broken. She even made cornflake nests, which we liked better than the candy.

Times change, and the traditions change with them. I had the most jarring separation from our traditions, because when I left home, I moved clear across the country, and never made it back for a holiday. Fortunately, my roommate’s family adopted me, and she and I created a new batch of traditions. However, when I finally moved back to live near my family, I had a rude awakening. It was an entire new generation. All the years I had been living thousands of miles away and dreaming of one big family get-together for the holidays turned out to be still just a dream. My brother was gone, and my two married sisters had family commitments and traditions of their own. We all had jobs, with varying schedules, and most of us had to work at least some of the holidays. Frequently, I am the only one who goes home for Thanksgiving, and, even then, I have to work that night. We almost never celebrate Easter on Easter Sunday. And only once have we all gotten together on Christmas.

But, you know what? It works! I have been thinking a lot about the holidays lately, and our traditions, and I’ve come to realize that we haven’t lost a thing—we’ve just changed some traditions. As our lives continue to change, it’s only natural that our traditions change as well. Thanksgiving is no longer always one big turkey meal. Sometimes LeAnn and Duane invite everybody on both sides of their family and have a monstrous, rowdy, traditional feast. Sometimes Nancy and her family and Brenda will just get together. Sometimes—like this year—I am the only one going out to the farm, because I am the only one close enough to make a day trip and still go to work. Thanksgiving has become our flexible holiday, the bargaining point or sacrifice for those of us who are required to work one of the holidays. Our Christmas is not only at the mercy of work schedules, but also the weather. Some years we have a string of Christmases from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day, as we juggle work and family commitments and deal with frequently inclement weather. But we all come home some time around Christmas to see Mom and Dad, even if we don’t always get to see each other. And Easter has become the time when we all get together. Sometimes it’s the week before or the week after, and sometimes it’s actually on the day itself, but we all get together. Mom still fixes Easter baskets for everybody, but only the ones for the grandchildren are hidden, and the “baskets” for the adults are sometimes pretty coffee mugs. She still makes the cornflake nest candy, but it never makes it into the baskets anymore, because the grown children devour it directly from the pan. And the jellybeans and marshmallow candies have been replaced by more-or-less egg-shaped Rice Krispie bars dipped in chocolate and Fruit Roll-Ups, which is what this generation prefers. These are the traditions the next generation is growing up with. This is the way they will remember the holidays. I hope that, when someday their life changes require their traditions to change, they come up with new ones as wonderful as ours have been. And I hope it doesn’t take them as long as it took me to stop mourning the lost traditions and start appreciating the new ones. It’s not the traditions that matter in family traditions—it’s the family.

Let me know what you think!
Wyndspirit Dreams