Each year, I gain a little more insight into the world of ritual that surrounds the Holiday season. My own understanding of The Season was embedded at a young age with Bible stories, Christmas pageants, and family Christmas dinners. While I have no concrete memory of performing in a Nativity play, I’m sure I was an excellent second shepherd. I do, however, have a memory of lighting the Advent candle; my brother read the Bible passage and I lit the candle. Starting on the fourth Sunday before December 25, Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation.
The preparations are the traditions. The little rituals built into the decorating and satiating. The joy of stockings and ornaments hung. Baking, cooking and making - the season is filled with traditions of cookies, treats and turkeys (ham, goose, tofurky, and the ever-enjoyed going out for Chinese food for Christmas dinner).
Recently, I traveled to Minnesota to partake in the Christmas rituals as practiced by my family. To accommodate various members, it happens in the weeks before Christmas. There was the Layton Family dinner (my mom’s dad), where we partook in the traditional fruit-cup (a variety of canned fruits in a cup drowned with 7-Up). If you are lucky, you get two maraschino cherries. The Sister’s Christmas (aunts, uncles & cousins) comes next. It included the caroling but had a new twist - Bloody Marys. The Fern & Ed Christmas is now just the Ed Christmas (Dad’s dad). With Fern passing on more than two years ago, it is here that I see the most change in tradition. No more rice pudding or Jell-o on top of lettuce. There is still a carol or two, but the dinner is now a meal at Perkins. The Mattsons’ Christmas is the most intimate. This year I handed off the Santa hat to my almost-three-year-old nephew. He found and delivered the presents from under the tree with joy and ease, beginning a tradition that may last him many, many an Christmas.
We all know traditions change. They morph and sometimes stop altogether. But by stopping or continuing, each lends to the marking of time. The milestones of an era, a family, a person’s life. These joyous rituals help us to break up the day and connect the year. We are able to see the patterns and the moments. We reflect. The rituals allow us to prepare for and partake in moments of peace.
Happy Holiday Traditions!