Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shared Rituals

This will be my last blog entry for 2009.  Check back January 3, 2010 for a new beginning.

But for a different take on the holiday season, please click on the “Schedule” button above.

Last week, I promised to share with you any rituals that were sent in.  Here are some that reached me in time.  I have lightly edited them for length. 

From Marianne:  “Our family ritual is to bring put the nativity scene my father made out of an old fruit carton. The design was published in our local paper. He puttered around in the cellar and surprised my mother with it Christmas Eve. My father was not the demonstrative type, so this was more than special to my mother. (We always joked that my Dad came back from the dump with more wood than he took with him.) When my brother and I were disassembling my mother's house hold (dad had passed years earlier), I was lucky to win the only coin toss... the nativity scene. Including all of the figures my mother and I purchased at the 5 & dime(Woolworths) after the original Christmas.  The figures are faded but the memories are not.”

From Nita:  “Our favorite holiday event is our annual gingerbread house contest. We began it when our children were in junior high and have been doing it for nearly 25 years. Now it is done by family groups with each couple using a gingerbread house kit, their imagination and any embellishments they care to add. Even my 4 year old grandson gets excited about helping his parents.”

From Anne:   “I come from a long line of ‘I only give/get books’ people!”

From Andrea:   “My dad used to film us opening presents.  When I was four or five I think is when they started and immediately after watching the result my parents decided it would only be three presents on camera... then it went down to an update and one present per family member.  We all "suffered" through it for tradition, periodically checking our hair in the television monitor as we filmed.  We'd usually have it playing in the background on Christmas morning so we could laugh and look back.  . . .

“The year I graduated high school was a hard one, my brother had lived through his second surgery for a tumor eating away at his skull, his girlfriend had been assaulted and was now living with our family, my dad had quietly taken the family den as his bedroom (my parents waited until I went to college to split so that there were no custody type choices)... and now that I think of it, that was probably the catalyst for the miserable disaster of the Christmas video that year.  For the first time literally since the tradition began we weren't gathered in the den.  No one else wanted to do it. I must not have connected just how strongly they didn't want to do it because EVERY year everyone grumbled a little.

“[The next year was awful, too] but we tried again and lo and behold we were a family again.  Sure, my parents lived in separate houses, but they are still best friends. My brother was in medical school and I was finally okay to never grow out of my awkward phase. 

“. . . The tradition ended when I got married and my husband's large family sort of absorbed mine into theirs, [but] last night, as my husband silently cussed while getting the tree set up, I decided that would become a little family tradition for my kids. Instead of trying to pretend that he wasn't upset or isn't the type to get a little passionate about setting up the tree, I will teach them not to be worried, that it’s our own funny little silently cussing family tradition.”

From Wendy:  “Because we usually spend Christmas with my husband’s family, I have instituted a pre-Christmas tradition. One of my favorite things growing up was opening the little doors on the paper Advent calendar (one for the family--my brother and I took turns). I discovered that my husband had never had one, so two years ago (when my daughter was a baby), I bought an Advent House, a wooden house with doors on it with little cubby holes for the 24 days before Christmas. The first year, I filled it with chocolates and toys and my husband opened it each evening. He got a big kick out of it. Last year, I put enough candy in each door for my daughter to deliver a chocolate kiss to each grown-up and enjoy one herself and then take all the wrappings to the recycle container.   I also bought the Fisher Price Nativity and put out one or two pieces of that each evening through December, ending with the baby in the manger on Christmas morning (or whenever we are leaving for the Holiday). She played with the Advent House and the Nativity until we finally put them away for the next year. This year I am doing the same thing and she and Grandpa look at all the doors and find the right one each day. I can't fill it until just before it's time because she likes to play with it during the day--finding the doors and hiding things in it, etc. I had pictured having it all ready on the 1st for the whole month, but you have to run with reality sometimes. She can't wait until bedtime ("candy bedtime--not sleeping bedtime") to get the candy, pass it out, eat her piece, and play with the new pieces of her Nativity. It's really become, for me, the part of Christmas that is mine.”

From Susan in the U.K.:  “When I married I began spending Christmases with my husband’s family. There were often 20 or more family members from his parents to the latest grandchild.

“No-one could eat until the Queen's speech was over, the tree inspected, the plethora of presents inspected and felt.  There were stockings and sacks of goodies for each of us.

“Once the huge many-layered dinner was eaten and the crackers pulled, we all sat in the lounge and were handed presents individually, each thanking the recipient.  It took hours.   The children often got bored but most got something they could play with or read or they were taken to the nearest park for a run a round.

I was an observer rather than a participant and I watched the proceedings with wonder.

“Christmases in my childhood home were much simpler, less formal and restrictive. I began to swap the Christmases so we could have one year in our own home and on a more realistic budget as I was concerned that the children would grow up with expectations we could not meet.

“Recently, we were all talking about 'dear granny' who sadly passed away this year and ‘gramps,’ who passed a couple of years earlier and the Christmases we had shared.

I thought the boys would mention the copious presents and the endless food and drink.  Instead, my eldest, now 30, said, ‘You know the best thing about granny's Christmases?  Her steamed Christmas pudding.  I loved discovering  all the silver shillings (old UK money, unspendable and handed back for the following year) she had put in for good luck and piling them up on my plate as I tucked into my pud.’

“I would never have guessed that it was that simple and that sweet.”

From Charles:  “I have rituals of my own creation, but only time will tell whether they are seen as rituals to anyone else.  Some I have borrowed from others.  My grandmother made a turkey dressing that was unlike anything most people have seen.  It involves soaking bread in the giblet broth, mashing it into an almost-paste, then combining it with a great deal of cooked, pureed onion, parsley and spinach.  The result is an olive-green mass that scares first-timers.  But, it is essential to Christmas dinner for my father's family.

Now that my grandmother is gone, I’m the one who makes it as my gift to them.   Shortly before she died, she told me that she feared her death would end the traditions she knew and loved.  We were never very close, but I realized that in telling me this she was reaching out to me.   As I chop a dozen onions and remove the tough stems from the parsley I feel closer to her than I ever did when she was alive.”

From Ann:  “When I was a child, every Christmas Day we would have lunch with my dad's parents and siblings and families.  My grandfather always had a cardboard box about 2' by 2' filled with brown bags of loose candy.  I dearly loved getting into that stash.

“When my children were young, we made many kinds of candy every Christmas and made gift packages for the mailman, milkman (yes, we did have milk delivery to the house back then) and many others. I still make candy and cookies and I keep a stash under the counter in the kitchen in a special place.  My adult kids still know where to look.”     

From Christina:  “Other families put up the Christmas tree just after Thanksgiving.  When I was a kid, Santa decorated the tree.  My dad would have it in the stand, and we might help Santa out by doing the lights, but the actual decorating was done by Santa on Christmas Eve while my sister and I were sleeping.  My friends thought this odd.  Especially as the custom continued for a few years after my sister and I had stopped believing (well, as much as you ever really stop believing).  In hindsight I realize that this custom made extra work for my parents on an already busy night.  What I didn’t appreciate until I was an adult is why they did it.

“My friends usually had their trees in place for a few weeks, maybe even a month, before the big day.  By Christmas they had become used to it.

“When my sister and I came down the stairs Christmas morning we were seeing the tree in all its glory for the very first time.  And complete with shiny wrapped packages and a saucer of half-eaten cookies, too.  The lights danced on the tinsel, and every single branch held a different ornament, and held EVERY ornament we possessed.  No color schemes or themed decorations; ours was a hodgepodge of glass balls, and handmade and gifted ornaments.   It was magical.”

From Diane:  “Through the years, I’ve drawn on the memory of your story as we too became a traveling family, fitting our rituals into the traditions of two extended families. 

“My children have never had a Christmas Eve and morning in our own home. Even though we only had to travel from Raleigh to the eastern part of the state, constantly fitting our schedule to other people’s plans and agendas has worn a little thin at times.   A Sunday School teacher once asked my teenager what our family’s Christmas tradition was.  He replied, ‘First we have a big fight trying to pack everything into the car – then we drive to Grandmas!’    Ouch!

“I needed that short story’s encouraging message this year especially. With one son newly married (and trying to satisfy three different family celebrations!) and another traveling all the way from a job in Boone on a tight schedule, our family is feeling a little fragmented these days.  My teen still at home is feeling these changes with a sharpness I had not anticipated.  I too have found myself brooding more and more about our failure to establish our own ‘family rituals’  - - meaning traditions that followed my own schedule, of my own design, which I wouldn’t be forced to share with so many different people!  It is selfish I know – but perhaps a mother can be forgiven in the first year of so many great changes in family structure.

“This post, the reader’s comment and the remembered story have encouraged me.  I know that there are things we do as a family, and going to Grandma’s is probably one of them, that my children feel are rituals to be cherished.   I promise myself to take some time to discover these rituals and make the most of them even as we establish new patterns of celebration!

“So long ago I loved that story, but I confess I had no idea the author’s name until reading this blog.  Now that I know, it feels like coming full circle.  The very thing I like most about your mysteries are the people.  Your characters are perfect representations of so many of my own relatives!  Thank you for writing!”

And thank you all, my dear readers, for sharing your rituals and traditions. 


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