Sunday, December 9, 2012
Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.
I was raised in a home with many family traditions: New Year's Eve we would all stay awake till the ball dropped in New York, snacking and doing jigsaw puzzles. New Year's Day was ham for dinner and football on the TV while the Christmas decorations came down. Easter brought dying eggs - dozens of eggs; Easter baskets hid in the living room, hunting for eggs in the yard and ham for dinner with the addition of -surprise - deviled eggs.
On the Memorial Day Sunday, the family would gather after church, taking cuttings from our gardens and put together bouquets and taking them to the many cemeteries where our loved ones were buried. This was always a special time as my grandmother, my great-aunts and my father would share stories of those we visited that day. I remember that as a young girl, I was always asked to put together a bouquet for a cousin who had died as a young girl. I grew up feeling very close to this relative whom I had never met.
Then on Memorial Day Monday we would gather with the Roberts family relatives and have a big picnic filled with good food, softball games, frisbee, and lots of family stories. It was this reunion that I took Rick to as one of our first dates and it was then that he decided that he wanted to be a part of such a large and loving and fun family. My own dad shared a similar feeling when he was dating my mom.
July held more family picnics, sparklers on the front lawn and the Pioneer Parade in Ogden. Also, July was my birthday and each year for our birthdays, our dad would take us to do something special. We looked forward to this time every year. Summers were also full of a road trip somewhere across the country. My parents would pile us into the back of the old Chevy Impala station wagon and off we would go to explore new places and visit family. By the time I was 18, I had been to Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa.
October was Halloween and trick-or-treating with my dad as chauffeur. He had a route set up, where he would drop us off at one place and tell us to work our way to a destination. We would always find him at that location drinking hot chocolate or eating a cookie or doughnut. November was Thanksgiving with family dinner, parades on television and football. December was Christmas.
Christmas at our house when I was young was always fun. The big trunks in the basement filled with decorations would come out. The lights would go up on the front of the house, the mistletoe would be hung in the entrance to the living room and the bells would be hung over the entrance to the dining room. The tree was decorated with glass balls and the ornaments my aunt and uncle gave us each year picked up during their travels. Christmas Eve was my dad's birthday, so the house was always full of people stopping by to wish him the best. Then it was off to bed - all seven of us in the same room just for that one night. After lots of giggling and whispering and being told to go to sleep or Santa wouldn't come, we would finally doze off only to awaken before the sun and creep into the living room to a wondrous sight and we knew we had gone to sleep just with enough time for Santa to stop his sleigh at our house. The day was always a magical starting with that clandestine peek at our presents from Santa to the time spent visiting our extended family. It was always best when we had snow we could walk through.
Now I am the mom and Rick and I have tried to establish traditions with our children. We have taken some from my childhood and some from his, along with starting a few of our own. We try to make sure that whenever possible, extended family is included. We still attend the Memorial Day Reunion every other year and watch football on Thanksgiving, but where we really excel is Christmas.
I wrote before about some of our Christmas traditions here. As much as I love the countdown traditions, my personal favorite are the gift traditions we have established. Rick and I decided when the boys were young, that we had the potential to get really carried away with our gift giving, so each year, we have limited ourselves to three gifts for each child. One is always pajamas and a new book to be opened Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day the other two gifts have a theme with one being something fun that the child has requested during the year and the other is something meant to remind them of family and faith.
When I was a young girl, my aunt told me a story of how she and her sister were receiving beautifully wrapped boxes for Christmas. They were so beautiful that they couldn't help but peek, so they carefully sliced the tape holding the paper and found they were each receiving a special dress. Problem was, they each liked the others more, so before re-wrapping the boxes, they exchanged dresses. On Christmas morning, it was their mom who received the surprise.
With this in mind, and realizing that my children did take after me in their impatience in learning what was in the box, Rick and I established a wrapping tradition that has turned into an annual game. While the presents are wrapped and placed under the tree, no gift tags appear on the packages from us. Each child's presents are wrapped in their own unique paper for that year, and it is up to them to figure out whose is whose. ONLY AFTER solving the puzzle may they open their pajamas on Christmas Eve. Each year there are conversations of "What will mom do this year?" and once the presents appear the debates and discussion on how to decipher the clues begins. My lips are sealed until Christmas Eve and so are Rick's.
It has been exciting for Rick and I to watch how these traditions have become ingrained in our children's lives and bonded them together. His first year away from home, Hunter called and said he was wandering the grocery store trying to find something to eat and just couldn't make up his mind. He knew he wanted something. It was tugging at his brain, but he couldn't figure out what. Since it was Halloween, I suggested chili. "That's it!" he exclaimed. "In a bread bowl with doughnuts and apple cider." This year, I was taking soup to an activity and decided to make chili, with enough for the family to have some for dinner. Jon was taken aback. "It's not Halloween yet, mom. We don't start having chili till Halloween."
As my children grow up and start families of their own, I am looking forward to seeing which of our traditions they take with them, which traditions their spouses bring and what traditions they establish as a family.