Basking in the comfort of holiday traditions
They grow up so fast. Of all the clichés in the parenting handbook, this is the oldest and the truest. Among the things I love most about Christmas is that for a few joyous weeks, the inexorable march of time is held in abeyance by an even greater force: the hope, the peace, and the excitement of Christmas.
Our children are teenagers now, the oldest about to celebrate Christmas with us for the last time before she graduates and starts college in the fall of next year. Next Christmas is likely to feel different, be different, with her home for break. But that is not something we have to deal with today.
Today we are a family intact, stepping out of our routines, deadlines, and responsibilities to celebrate the season. We step through a portal and into the timelessness of our traditions, which includes the annual decorating of the tree. Nearly every ornament on the Christmas tree represents a specific memory, a particular time in the life in the family. Ornaments made in pre-school class, hand-crafted, some a little rough around the edges. Ornaments from years and years of vacations. Ornaments celebrating the kids’ participation in dance recitals, chorus groups, baseball. Even an ornament for Frody, our beloved, if increasingly cantankerous, miniature dachshund.
We savor each one as it is pulled from the box and unwrapped, laughing and remembering, finding just the right place on the tree for it. The tree glows as much with these assembled memories as it does from the multi-colored lights.
Another tradition, one that is especially dear to our daughter: the more or less constant playing of Ella Fitzgerald’s classic Christmas album, “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.” Over the years, I have occasionally slipped in some other Christmas music into the mix, but it is never long before Kayden will say, “Dad, this is nice, but it is NOT Ella. Please put on Ella.”
Our daughter, nearly grown and now taller than her mother, fusses over her Christmas list, feverishly adding or omitting items on a day-to-day basis, rushing in to tell her mother how amazing these fairy lights would look in her bedroom, which she and her mother recently remodeled.
One minute she is editing her list, the next she is upstairs painting pictures as personalized gifts for the girls in her friend group. These have to match the personality of each girl and will ultimately be paired with lotions she got for them at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The lotions also have to match their personalities. She’s like a chemist in the lab, figuring all of this out.
In the meantime, our son is working on the second draft of his letter to Santa, feeling as he does that his first draft did not quite fully develop two important themes: 1) his progress in his science class at school, with his clear understanding (and intense desire) for the need for similar progress in math; and 2) this year’s list, ambitious as it may seem, is not as daunting as similar lists from years past, when he admits he MAY have gone a little overboard. Relatively speaking, this year’s list is reasonable, even modest.
Even though he is not yet 14, he is also taller than his mother. He has spent the past year or two battling one of life’s most baffling and infuriating periods — the crucible of puberty. Every day is an unpredictable adventure, with soaring highs and staggering lows. Some days, conversation pours out like water from a bucket, in mighty splashes of words we can barely comprehend. Other days, it dries up altogether, nothing but dust. I pick him up from band practice, he slouches down in the passenger seat, head turned the other way, earbuds in place. In the eight miles back to our house, I might get six syllables out of him, each one like lifting a heavy stone.
For now, Christmas has lifted his teenage angst like the sun burning off the morning fog. He and his sister are getting along, jovial with each other and with us. They chatter amiably in the kitchen, boiling water for tea and hot chocolate. In a couple more days, they’ll see the cousins and compare notes on their Christmas bounty, just as they have their entire lives.
Tammy and I get caught up in it, too. We have our own memories of Christmas. Memories from childhood, memories of our earliest Christmases together as a family, memories we continue to make every year.
Here is wishing all of you a Merry Christmas. I hope you will take some time to count your blessings, to enjoy your memories and traditions, and to find the peace, hope, and joy of the season.