Today is Part II of my Family Rituals and Traditions posts; last week I wrote about how important rituals and traditions were to me as a child, and how much they mean to me as an adult. Today I am focusing specifically on holiday traditions. Even though I know that from a developmental and educational perspective, keeping things as calm and routine as possible is beneficial to young children, I can’t help but go a little crazy with Christmas. The decorations, the music, the lights, the parties- I make very little effort to minimize the excitement this time of year. Part of that is likely because Christmas time was such a big deal when I was growing up.
When we were kids, my parents made the holidays a beautiful time of year. Our traditions included:
- Hitting the malls the day after Thanksgiving (long before it earned the unpleasant moniker Black Friday) to see the electronic Santa’s village exhibit at the local shopping center.
- We started playing our Christmas records (yes, vinyl) as soon and as frequently as my poor Dad could stomach it.
- Going to the Festival of Trees annually; we put a great deal of thought into which one we should bequeath with our earnest vote for Best Tree.
- Going to the Nutcracker Ballet whenever we could.
- Driving around and looking at holiday lights.
- We always went to the candlelight Christmas Eve service.
- We spent the rest of that most mysterious of evenings in our own candle-lit home, listening to our favorite Christmas songs, enjoying a steak dinner, and reading the Christmas story from the Bible. (I am growing teary remembering those days.)
- My brother and I would fall asleep listening to traditional holiday music on the public radio station, only to wake up hours later, unable to go back to sleep. We would wait out the final, impossibly slow hours until dawn together, huddled in one of our beds reading Christmas stories.
- As soon as our bewildered parents had made coffee and given the all-clear signal, we would bolt down the stairs to see what Santa had brought.
Now that I am a mother, we have started a few of our own family traditions, but I still draw from my sacred childhood holiday rituals. My mom and I have started taking my oldest daughter to the Nutcracker Ballet each year. As often as we can handle it, we pile into the minivan with mugs of hot chocolate, crank up my “Merritunes” playlist, and cruise around in pursuit of the best holiday light displays. (Let’s be honest- driving anywhere with a toddler isn’t always harmonious. The best year was when my youngest was just a few months old and began crying inconsolably twenty minutes into our drive. Regrettably, I took her out of her carseat while we drove, and nursed her in the back of the minivan until we got back home. Please don’t alert the authorities.)
We go to the local holiday lighting ceremony every year, where my husband has the honor of, after a dramatic countdown, flipping the switch that illumines the creekside display. (Although the mayor, flipping a gigantic “fake lightswitch” gets the glory. Humph.)
And yes, my mother (you might refer to her as my “festive partner in crime”) and I drag both the children to the mall on Black Friday to get their photo taken with Santa. Some years it goes better than others.
On Christmas Eve, I read the classic version of Twas the Night Before Christmas before we put the kids to bed. I’m afraid that, given my husband’s and my lack of religious affiliation, this has replaced my childhood tradition of reading from the Bible. At 35 years old, I still grow misty sitting in our dimly lit living room, this time enjoying the sounds of my “Ambient Christmas” playlist (yes, I am both a control freak and a music snob) and savoring the glow of the Christmas tree and candles. It is one of the few times of the year when I still feel in touch with magic.
Rituals and tradition accomplish the seemingly contradictory results of stirring me up with excitement and rooting me safely and comfortably to my own reality. Our rituals invigorate me, relax me, delight me, and calm me. They seem to defy all the laws of the universe, achieving a similar result to drinking a gingerbread latte followed by an eggnog and rum. (Did I mention how much I love holiday drinks? Yeah.)
I hope our daughters are as soothed and excited by our traditions as I am. I can’t wait to see how, as they grow, they put their own unique handiwork into shaping our rituals in the years to come. I would love to imagine that when they are mothers, they will look back on their childhood memories with a similar fondness and nostalgia.
If you happened to miss the entertaining blog carnival I participated in yesterday with some of my best blogging pals, you can check it out here. Our theme was “Gifts we are NOT giving our kids this year.” Spoiler alert: Mine was titled, “Thanks for Nothing, American Girls.”
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post.
This week’s sentence was: “My favorite Christmas tradition is…”
We are skipping the next few weeks for the holidays, and we’ll return in January!
January 3rd’s sentence is: “My blogging goals for 2014 are…”
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