In Search of New Traditions

I wrote and posted this in a different place last year. I believe my children will both be here with us this coming Christmas.

This past Thanksgiving held bittersweet moments for me; it was a time to ponder the past while being thankful for the present. The morning was spent preparing the turkey, and after popping it into the oven, I spent the afternoon putting up my Christmas tree. This is a tradition which was born thirteen years ago, and hasn’t changed much since then. But some things have changed, irrevocably, and things in this household will probably never be the same ever again.

When my husband and I first married, we went through the usual tug of war about where to spend our holidays and what our traditions would be. This was complicated by the fact that we live in one state, my in-laws were in another, my family was in yet another and my mother was on the West Coast. The first couple of years were spent racing from one end of the country to the other in a frantic effort to please. My mother-in-law and my husband had a very close relationship; after my son was born, she attempted to monopolize all of our holidays. She succeeded, for the most part.

Five years into the mad holiday rush, I decided to put my foot down. At the time, my daughter was two and my son was five. They were good travelers, but it wasn’t fair to spend all of our holidays traveling, first by car, then by train and plane, or to spend this time in hotels and motels along the way. My husband was also under the mistaken notion that this holiday time with family was vacation time, and quite frankly, these were no vacations! Besides, I reasoned, if we were a real family, shouldn’t we have our very own traditions? After his parents and my mother passed away, asserting our tradition became a moot point.

On New Year’s Eve in 1992, I bought a beautiful, seven foot tall artificial Christmas tree on sale at a local nursery. Before you Christmas Tree Purists out there put your nose up in the air, this tree was and is absolutely magnificent. Originally, the tree cost well over $399, a handsome price back then. I managed to get it for 75% off, or $99, and it’s been the centerpiece of our home for thirteen years. My tree doesn’t drop needles and make a mess, and I feel I’ve saved the lives of thirteen evergreens.

From a distance, you can’t tell my tree is all metal and fake needles. It looks real! It’s the kind of tree that has nine layers of branches, six branches to each layer, and a separate three foot top. About six years ago, I had the top replaced since some of the wire branches broke off. The manufacturer replaced it, at no charge. At first, when I was younger and had more energy, I used to go crazy putting in the lights. With each layer I assembled, I would wrap lights around each and every branch. Thirteen years ago, there were over 2,700 lights on my tree, and it would not only illuminate but also heat the entire family room-no need to build a fire! That was, unless a fuse went out. Then it would be a daunting task to find the bad string. These days, I put on only 1,400 lights; the electricity bill is manageable and I’m too busy now to devote that kind of time and effort.

Our tree is always decked out in red, gold and silver ornaments. Every year, I shop the stores in the days after Christmas for the next year’s treasures. There are apples, cardinals, Santas, plenty of glass, and jeweled branches. Our children also have their own tree, which usually holds a place of honor in our foyer. It’s on this tree where they can put all of their hand made ornaments from grade school, as well as the ones given to them by relatives. When they have families of their own, they’ll be able to start out with their childhood ornaments.

Each year, I attempted to take a photograph of the two kids in front of the Christmas tree for the cards I would send out. When they were younger, and before digital, I could easily waste a couple rolls of film just trying to get the right shot. My children didn’t understand the pressing need I had to convey a certain amount of familial bliss to our friends and relatives. Usually, they would try and give each other wedgies, or pull hair, or hit each other. Recently, I went through all of the photographs, as I have saved every one ever taken. These are vignettes of times I hope they’ll remember.


(This photo was taken in 2004, the last Christmas card photo of both my kids together.)

As I was putting my tree up this year, I was filled with an emptiness I hadn’t quite expected. My son has been in college for two years, but last year seemed different. Last year, we saw him in San Diego the weekend before Thanksgiving, and he came home for Christmas. After that, we all went back to San Francisco to spend a week with him. This year, he’s been gone since July, and now he doesn’t want to come home for Christmas at all. My daughter is 16, and traditions don’t seem to mean anything to her anymore either. Where she once crabbed about having to endure a Thanksgiving dinner at Benihana (no turkey, just flying shrimp), now she doesn’t care where she is for the holidays, as long as it’s away from here.

So, this year, unbelievably, found me sobbing at the Christmas tree! Every ornament held its own story. This one was from Dayton’s before it turned into Hudson’s before it turned into Marshall Field. These given to me by my sister, who knows my penchant for red and gold. These I bought at the Mall of America when the kids were very, very young. There’s no way I could go through my son’s ornaments; I would be a basket case, massively depressed.

So Thursday, while I was sadly putting up our tree, lost in my reverie, my daughter was in the next room, chatting online with her friends. I remarked out loud that maybe next year it was time to consider getting a new tree, one of those fancy ones with the lights already embedded in the branches. Quick, easy, no muss, no fuss. At the same time, I mused that maybe I would get all new ornaments, what about purple and pink? Something day-glo and different. Inside, I was thinking of maybe starting some new traditions. What does one do in that space between children and grandchildren? After all, it’s about time our traditions morphed into something else. It’s been thirteen years.

My daughter, who had heard me, came flying out of the other room saying “NO! You can’t! This is our tree!” Her intensity made me smile.

Maybe tradition will change some other time.



9 Responses

  1. Lovely! Your daughter I mean. That made me smile too. I wonder why it takes five years of travel through dangerous driving conditions before we put our feet down. Five years seems like a long time for something so simple.

    And, thanks for the repost. I think I missed this the first go around.

  2. Me too Pan. I loved this story!

  3. I do remember this one.

    I think the best thing to do when our traditions begin to change is to make a conscious and willing change. In other words, start new traditions.

    Change is difficult but the best way to handle it, IMHO, is to not fight it. Don’t expect things to stay the same. Expect them to change and make the adaptations so you can move on to a new place.

  4. Scout, it was rough going last year, but will be easier from now on. It’s hard to see your children as adults. I always seem to think of them as being about five years old, and that’s so wrong.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this in the back of my mind for a little while. I am still thinking about it.

    I have something to say about the comment just above. For me, I have a completely wacky view of the mental age of my kids. Sometimes I picture them as smaller and less capable than they are and at other times I forget (especially with my six year old) that they’re kids. Of course, neither is right and sometimes I really do see them at the age they are at. I wonder what the right balance is. I think sometimes it is good for them to be treated as aged differently from their real age. But, too much isn’t right. And, the timing has to be right. Hmm. I’ll have to think more about this too.

  6. You know, that is partially true, BGG. I think it’s more tender to think of them as young.

  7. This year my wife decided to have a dry run thanksgiving day to test out her recipes. We soaked the bird in a brine solution she got at William Sonoma it really kept it moist. OMG, the turkey was so good and I get to do it again in a few days!

  8. […] I forgot that I spent Thanksgiving putting up my Christmas tree. It’s an artificial one that I’ve had for fifteen years. (If you want to, you can read about it here: […]

  9. […] A really sad Thanksgiving […]

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