Sunday, December 4, 2011

When Traditions Change...

This is a re-post of my guest post yesterday over at Chelsey's Journey.  Chelsey is a dear friend of mine, even in real life!
As a child, I enjoyed many Christmas traditions – but the main one was Christmas at Gramma’s House. The traditions actually began at Thanksgiving, when Gramma passed out the Sears catalog, markers and pens and each of the kids “shopped” by circling the things that we wanted and putting our initials by them. You always wanted to be one of the first ones to the book, otherwise the pages were wrinkled, torn and circled with such vengeance that the coveted items literally fell right off of the page!

On Christmas Eve, after dinner the adults had a grand conspiracy to drive us mad with anticipation – insisting on eating dessert and talking around the table. Finally, granddaddy would say “you wanna open presents?” and we would all rush to the living room. Before we could open presents – there were the endless pictures. Always a picture of each family unit, all the grandkids together, all the grown children (my dad, his brothers and sister) and others sprinkled in just for fun. When we did get to presents, one of the kids was bestowed the honor of being “Santa Clause” and passing out presents, one to each person. Once everyone had a gift, then we would all open in turns – each taking time to admire and comment on the gifts (and take more endless pictures!) We would continue until all the presents were opened (with at least one of the adults cleaning up the papers as we went – or letting us put them on the fire – and neatly stacking all the gifts so that nothing got confused or lost) This tradition was so consistent that 2 years ago I put together a photo album to commemorate all those Christmases!

Having such wonderful Christmas memories from childhood – I anticipated continuing the trend when I was married and had children. What I did not take into account is that my future husband would be different. Very different. William grew up in a military family, traveling frequently and almost always away from family at the holidays. In different towns, even different countries, his family’s Christmas experience was much different! (Did I mention that his family is different? Good, ‘cause I didn’t want to lose you!) The youngest of 3 boys, Christmas was always “done” Christmas morning – really early! There was a mad dash, paper flying, get it all unwrapped quick and play, play, play!

Needless to say, we had a LOT of work ahead of us to forge our own Christmas traditions. After several kids, several years of making the Christmas rounds, several fights, several tearful conversations, and several icy stares… we decided that we would rotate Thanksgivings between the extended families and not travel on Christmas, that our kids would have Christmas memories of waking up in their own beds and having Christmas on Christmas morning. (Someone give me the Nobel Peace Prize for this brokered deal!)

In 2004 we moved into our dream home, large enough to accommodate both sides of our family for Christmas. My parents joined us the first year – I was so happy to have a fireplace, now Christmas would be PERFECT!

In 2005, William was recuperating from a car accident and I didn’t have help to get the tree out of the attic, so we improvised a tree with Manzanita branches left-over from a wedding I had just done. The kids were not impressed! I think this was the beginning of our slide into non-traditional Christmas.

Then in 2006, our slide into non-traditional became a full-stop. We were blessed with and kissed goodbye our third child, Ian Wesley. In October, I was busy preparing outfits for a family picture for the Christmas card. We were to wear black and red and white, with matching newsboy-style caps. I finally found the perfect outfit for Ian and planned pictures for the first Saturday in November. On November 5th, we returned our precious gift to Heaven. Our family pictures were in the hospital – not suitable for a Christmas card at all!
A funeral, a few weeks until Thanksgiving and then the “season” was upon us. It felt like an all-out attack. The stores were filled with babies, pregnant women and endless supplies of merchandise touting “baby’s first Christmas”. I started having panic attacks whenever I was in public, so I resorted to online shopping. My husband kept asking me what I wanted for Christmas – my singular wish. “I want my baby back!” I finally told him to stop asking me, because I couldn’t get past that thought to form a reasonable answer.
I didn't even want to put up a tree! My favorite season, the month of Jesus’ birth, my birthday and my first-born child’s birthday – I just wanted to hit fast-forward and skip it. I couldn’t bear to put up the stockings and see a gaping hole where Ian’s should hang, nor could I bear to see a drooping, flat, empty stocking on Christmas morning. Every tradition seemed pointless, meaningless, empty, and useless. I had already begun to question tradition, now I was questioning everything. The “whys” and “what if’s” will drive you stark-raving-mad! We did put up a tree. We did buy baby’s first Christmas ornaments. We did buy everything that had his name on it. We decided to get new stockings for the whole family and a matching ornament and stand to put on the mantle to honor Ian. Now we have a new tradition – We always put up the stockings and his ornament (even when we have no tree, like last year!)

Another tradition that came out of this questioning was born from a desire to re-direct us all to the true meaning of the season. When we decorate (at whatever point that may be) we save the nativity for last. We let each of the kids choose a figure (one at a time until they are all gone – yes, Jesus goes first!) and as we read the Christmas story from Luke 2, then the wise men part from Matthew, each person places their figure into the crèche. The first time we did this, we got to the part about the star and our oldest exclaimed “we don’t have a star!” So he stopped and made one! This is a new tradition that we love.
Last year, we were blessed to have both sets of parents with us for Christmas. Christmas, for us, was on December 22nd last year. {William was having back surgery on the 23rd, so we celebrated early.} Since he had surgery and I was having a baby, and we were planning a move, we didn’t put up a tree, we made one out of boxes instead!

The evening of the 22nd, we gathered in the living room. The big kids had been learning to play some Christmas songs on the piano, so we had a little concert and then watched a short clip of the Christmas story told in today’s modern language.

My dad read the Christmas story, the kids placed the nativity together, William’s mom read a poem and my mom shared a story she had heard. I loved this intimate time of worship and remembrance as a family! This, to, is bound to become a tradition.

So often follow traditions “just because”. We send the Christmas Letter, dress the kids in matching outfits, buy the latest toys and gems, wrap everything in pristine paper, stuff the stockings, run up the credit cards, attend company parties, eat fruitcake, cook way too much food, make so many sugary delights that we have to share, light up our house to rival the neighbors’…

What if we didn’t? What’s the worst that would happen if you didn’t send Christmas cards or put up the lights outside? What if you didn’t put up a tree? What if you didn’t have matching outfits, what if you gave less gifts? What if you ditched a few parties and spent time with your kids instead?
Only you and your family can design your family traditions. If old ones are holding you back from creating lasting and memorable traditions – LOSE THEM! Even if it’s for a season – there is no rule that you can’t pick them back up again later! Be flexible; be sensitive to your family’s needs and the Savior’s leading.

PLEASE, don’t just survive another Christmas season. Take a moment to question, to savor, to experience the wonder! Maybe, just maybe, it will feel like it did when you were a kid – free of obligations, full of anticipation!

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