I found myself thinking about traditions yesterday. With the mass of people about to descend on our house in a few short hours, I realized that this isn’t the tradition that will exist for Elle’s whole life (quite simply, it’s not sustainable and I’d be crazy to try to attempt this very often). But, I started contemplating traditions – the ones I know and the ones I want to begin as our family of three matures and grows.
In my contemplative state yesterday, I began reflecting on the traditions that I remember that have faded from my life, and the ones that still exist, along with the ones I want to create for Elle. And I realized that traditions and the way they change each year, the way they sometimes come to an end, that really that’s what is preparing us for losing — people, places, things.
Take the tradition that my Mom and Dad had for YEARS: heading out as a family to buy the fresh cut Christmas tree. I remember doing that fondly now — and I’m sure in my bitchy teenage years that I wasn’t as fond of the Christmas tree farm as my memory maintains, but still…we always went out, my Mom, Dad and brother and chose a tree.
And one year – not terribly long ago – we opted not to. It was a mess my parents didn’t want to have to care for, it was a weekend that it would be difficult to get everyone together in between school and games and sports and social life. And it was easier to set up an artificial tree. And with losing that tradition of the fresh cut tree, some other traditions were lost in a domino effect: decorating the tree together, remembering ornaments as we pulled them from the box, listening to a retelling of the history of the construction paper bell I made at Dandelion Day Care, jockeying for the best spots on the tree. Now, it’s a battle to get the tree decorated at my parents house and seems to take ages…until my Dad finally breaks down and just does it or my Mom coerces Trevor into doing it.
But I remember it warmly, the shopping for just the right tree, the hand saws at the tree farm, the standing in line to get the tree wrapped with that twine or plastic stuff…and it remains a tradition of my youth.
But it faded from my life and in some ways, I think, things like that loss prepare us for the bigger losses in life. Because I’m still sad that we don’t go out for the day anymore, but not as sad as losing people or friends…but losing that tradition taught me how to lose and how to appreciate that these traditions every existed in my life.
This struck me as I wondered how I would know if any of the traditions I want to start (and those that will come to exist organically in our lives) would be things that would be meaningful, that would continue to happen year after year. And I realized that it didn’t matter, because when the traditions fade, the memories don’t.
I also remember Thanksgiving’s up at Clear Lake with my grandparents and my Mom’s sisters, my cousins, uncles, and all our dogs. I remember the way the fireplace was lit and roaring one particular year, and I fell asleep after dinner on the floor in front of the fireplace. I was warm and safe and cozy and full and tired and for years after that, I’d lie down in front of the fireplace to try to feel all those things again. But it never happened, all those great feelings at once. But I keep sitting in front of fireplaces on Thanksgiving because it makes me remember all the good things about this holiday.It’s my own little tradition. And that feeling – I’d love for someone else to capture it, too.
So, I’m staring at my first season of traditions with my daughter. On the docket?
Thanksgiving in our own home with ALL of our family – and both the fireplaces lit and warm.
A fresh Christmas tree from the farm, cut down with a hand saw.
Decorating Christmas cookies and inviting over our friends to help (Andrea, Devyn and Drew – this means YOU!) and enjoy the day.
And even if these traditions cease at some point, even if next year Thanksgiving ends up being just the three of us, I’ll make sure to spend some time in front of the fireplace. If we don’t end up decorating cookies with friends, we’ll decorate them ourselves and give them to our friends. And some day, I’m confident I’ll look back at all the things that became traditions in our lives – the ones that happened on purpose and the ones that didn’t – and be glad that at the very least, I tried to pass on the powerful memories of my youth to my daughter, too.