Different people have different traditions—by which I mean a long established or generally accepted practice or custom. Now, if I were to be pedantic, I would have to point out that in order to qualify as “generally accepted” the practice or custom can’t be individual. Fortunately, most dictionaries put that “or” in there to bail us out. Anyone that has met me knows I can be extremely pedantic, so I don’t blame other people being that way, even if I may try to give them a different perspective. For instance, Christmas is, technically, a religious holiday, and many churches that observe Christmas has a tradition of calling the time period from the first Sunday in December up to December 23 as Advent, rather than Christmas. In such Churches, the Christmas season does not begin until December 24, and it continues on through Twelfth Night (sometimes also called Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day).
I was not raised in that kind of church.
I was raised in Southern Baptists churches: a good ol’ boy, redneck denomination (with an extremely racist origin) that took particular pride in eschewing liturgical traditions. And not just pride, it was an article of faith within the church culture that the more tightly another denomination clung to traditions and rituals and so on, the least likely they were to be part of the “true” church. This was a communal act of both projection and denial (otherwise known as gatekeeping). We had just as many rituals and traditions as anyone else, we just didn’t publish them in a liturgical calendar or give them high-falutin’ names.
I often describe myself as a Recovering Baptist, or Ex-Evangelical, or even Ex-Christian, so I rejected the notion that they (or any other institution) has a monopoly on truth or grace, but I am also self-aware enough to know that part of me always assumes that I’m right, and people who disagree with me are not. In any case, there are certain traditions around the Advent/Christmas season from my childhood that I adhere to:
- I don’t listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving dinner.
- I try to start decorating for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving.
- There are always lights on the tree and around the house.
- Presents should start appearing under the tree shortly after it goes up, and people are allowed to pick up presents tagged for them and shake/listen to/weigh in their hands/et cetera to their heart’s content trying to guess what is inside but must never try to peek under the wrapping.
- Any member of the household may move any ornament except the treetopper from one point on the tree to another if they think they see a bare spot; but also each member of the family may declare one ornament as theirs and not to be moved by anyone else.
- If you have reached the age where you realize that the truth about Santa is that Santa is all of us, it becomes your duty to help make sure everyone younger experiences the wonders of receiving a gift from the jolly old elf and if they realize it actually came from you you have failed at being a good Santa’s helper.
- There will be olives and a relish tray on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Just to name a few.
Other traditions are more personal that have evolved over the years, many of them at least partially caused by the six or seven years where I and my “friend” (there are some relatives even more than 20 years later who refused to call my husband anything other than “Gene’s friend”) were not welcome at family events.
A biggie is, that the height of the Christmas Season, the day that I consider my real Christmas, is the annual Holiday Party which I and friends have been having, almost always on the third Saturday of the month, here, and not with relatives. It’s the time that I get together with people I love (among Christmas decorations) to laugh, to share food, to exchange gifts—to fill our little corner of the world with light and love. Which just happened day before yesterday. This feeling that that event is my Christmas is so strong, that for many years now I have to be careful on the Monday after the party not to start asking co-workers how their Christmas went.
Since 1995 this event has also included the Christmas Ghost Story Challenge: I write and perform an original Christmas Ghost Story, and challenge other people to have something similar to share.
There are still several of my personal traditions that are related to my family. Every Christmas among the presents I give my mom, one is a box of that type of candy I have been giving her since I was about 14 years old. I keep an eye peeled for decorations or albums or other things that Mom loved to bring out during the holidays that have subsequently been lost or broken. This is why, even though I as a taoist married to a wiccan no longer celebrate this season as sweet-baby-jesus time, that I have purchased for Mom more than one Nativity scene, and when I can, additional figurines for the larger one.
Part of the reason is because, yes, I want my mom to be happy. Another part is because those things represent moments that we found something to be happy about in spite of living with an abuser. Things like the glitter on the Christmas angel or the Christmas albums we loved to sing along to were moments of light and love in a world of darkness.
And while I take great delight in unpacking and setting up the plastic Santa & Sleigh that for years graced my Great-grandparents’ home every Christmas, or hang up the three kitchsy glass ball ornaments that were on their tree every year, or hang up the embroidered Christmas tree that hung in Grandma’s home, these things also remind me of our mortality. There are people I loved who are no longer with us. We can never be sure how many happy times together we will have in the future with our loved ones that are still here.
So we should enjoy and be thankful for whatever bits of happiness we can give each other.
My friend, Krisin, wrote a nice essay that touches on similar themes that you might enjoy: Expectations.
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