Each year our boss hosts a holiday party for the staff and this year’s event was memorably lovely. Because it’s a small group (we topped out at 10), we fit rather nicely into an anteroom of a local restaurant. Seated around an elegantly dressed table in front of a gently sputtering fire, we enjoyed a delicious dinner, some lively conversation, and well chosen personal gifts.
As we finished our coffee and dessert, discussion turned to plans for the holidays, and my boss initiated one of her famous “let’s go around the table” questions. Tonight’s query – “What’s your favorite holiday tradition?”
“We always play board games on Christmas Eve,” one of my co-worker’s responded. “Even though the kids are teenagers now, they still look forward to staying up late for game night.”
“Going to the tree farm and choosing our Christmas Tree is special to me,” another colleague answered. “Especially this year, since all the kids are older now and I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to do this together.”
“I enjoy having the family together on Christmas day and being able to hang out in our pajamas all day if we want,” my boss answered, earning a laugh from all of us.
As I listened, I was scrambling through my mind for an appropriate response. In the past decade, our holidays have become noticeably tradition-less. Sometimes we’re in Florida, sometimes we’re not. Sometimes we have Christmas dinner, sometimes we have brunch instead. Sometimes we exchange gifts, sometimes we say “let’s not bother.”
Holidays in my childhood weren’t notably tradition- filled either. The tree went up sometime in early December, and soon the gifts began appearing underneath it. There would be a flurry of baking -pies, cakes, cookies, and my Aunt Lil’s famous Divinity candy (my mouth is watering as I recall the sugary sweetness and the moist, chewy coconut). The holiday dinner was sometimes at our house, but some years it would be at my aunt’s tiny house on the lake in Pontiac. Other than my Christmas reading ritual, I was hard pressed to come up with any tried and true traditions there.
When my son was little, our holiday routine was written in stone, but that didn’t necessarily make it a “favorite tradition.” On Christmas morning, the three of us would open our presents at home, which usually took quite a while because Brian liked to play Santa and he only allowed us to open one gift at a time. After we finished at our house, we’d drive up the street to my parent’s house, and go through the entire present opening process again, one gift at a time. Then, we’d rush home in preparation for my in-laws arrival (we tried to postpone the agony of that as long as possible), at which time we’d go through the gift exchange for the third time.
Then, I’d serve dinner.
So throughout the holiday season, I have this uneasy sense of expectation, as if I should be engaging in a series of traditional activities specific to me and my family, but I don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to be. I wonder if it’s too late to start traditions now? And are traditions something by nature that must be repeated every year? If you have to skip a year, does it count as a tradition?
Obviously, I over-think. Perhaps I should just accept that not all holidays must have “classic” traditions, that the things we do in honor of the season each year are valid whether they’re “traditional” for us or not.
Or that whatever traditions we once had, though now retained only in our memory, can still be called up and counted as favorite, though the time for celebrating them has passed. In the end, it was this kind of tradition I chose to recount at the party last week.
“When my son was little,” I said, “he was allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. That present was always a book, and I would bundle him into bed and read the new book until he fell asleep.”
In retrospect, that was definitely my favorite Christmas tradition.