According to Henry James, “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.” And as much as I hate to admit it … I think he’s right. Traditionally speaking, my family is sort of weak at making traditions that stick. I have this idealized version of things in my mind, I’m a hopeless romantic who loves the idea of “something we do every year that NEVER changes.” But it’s just that – an idea. In reality, there is very little in my life, or most especially in my holidays, that repeat themselves.
I think I’ll blame everyone else. Why not? If I were just me and didn’t have to worry about anyone else I know I wouldn’t change my schedule. I’d do things my way … the best way of course. Just kidding, I’m not that pompous, but I do like to think that tradition would be much more of a tradition in my world if I could help it.
Sadly, I only have two things that I can truly label “tradition” in my family. The first is a Polish prayer that my grandmother passed down to my mother and then to my sister and I. Every time we have a birthday, we bless the cake in her “native tongue.” I put this is quotes, because although she may once have spoken Polish in the home, I stopped trusting my language lessons from Gram when she told me that “chest” in Polish was “tit-ska.” HA! Needless to say, I cannot speak it fluently, not even close, but I can bless a cake. And so will my children … thus tradition lives on.
The second ritual is fairly young as far as practices go, but it is eight years in the running. Every year my husband and I go to the same mall, to see the same “Santa” with our kids. Our oldest child is seven, so we’ve had eight years now of pictures with the same guy. Ironically enough, this isn’t the version of the “Jolly Old Elf” I would’ve chosen to place upon my mantle year after year. He’s a bit mangy actually! Some years his beard is puffy and white (and totally fake), some years it is scraggly and yellow-tinged. One year he (I kid you not) was missing a tooth, and yes – he still smiled with his mouth wide open! In another photo his hat is falling apart, the white(ish) cotton ball dangling from a string. But regardless, he is our tradition, and loves to hear every year that we come back just for him.
I had to really think about the statement, “Tradition wears a snowy beard, romance is always young.” Melancholy and yet endearing, this quote was said by John Greenleaf Whittier. (You know you’re bound to be a poet with a middle name like “Greenleaf” either that or an arborist, but I digress.) I think he had it right though, tradition is an old man, he’s been around forever, and when I was a kid, I did have that romantic notion that tradition was all around me. But youth has a long memory for a short experience. Doing something for a few years as a child doesn’t constitute ritual, but it feels that way at the time, doesn’t it?
On Christmas Eve we’d go to my grandmother’s house, then Christmas Day we would do NOTHING! And nothing meant everything to me. Hanging out, opening presents, putting on a fashion show of your new clothes or never changing out of your pajamas! Nothing was a miniature tradition that I fully expected to last; then I met my husband and realized that his family celebrated with everyone on Christmas Day. And as much as I loved seeing everyone, that was the end of nothing.
The funny thing is, now our families live all over the map, and there’s no such thing as a Christmas that repeats itself. We have celebrated in Colorado, North Carolina, Disney World and Hawaii all in the past seven years! I’m not going to lie, I’ve learned to roll with the “whatever, whenever, wherever,” mentality, but there is something to be said about the novelty of always. The thing is, I’ve realized the only always I can hold onto, is them. The family I’ll celebrate around the world and break traditions for. And can I note: they are worth every unexpected and spontaneous moment.
Here’s hoping you have lots of reasons to break tradition, and just a few you’re able to hold onto, even if all you’ve got is a mangy Santa and a Polish prayer.
Happy New Year,