Thursday, November 24, 2005

Old Traditions Die Hard

The Christmas shopping season is now in full swing. It began last week on Thanksgiving Day when at least one large retailer decided to jump the gun and open up on Thanksgiving with sales and special prices.

Most stores, however, waited until Black Friday, so called because it is the day after Thanksgiving and is usually hyped to be the busiest shopping day of the year.

Most large retailers have deeply-discounted specials if you get to their stores early enough. Many opened their doors at 5:00 AM.

People typically line up by the hundreds to be among the first ones to take advantage of the big deals. Waiting until later in the morning is dangerous for those who just must have a discounted item; it could be gone before noon.

I’ve never been one of those early birds who line up in the cold and dark in the wee hours of the morning to be able to shop for specials. But this year, I must admit, one item really caught my eye. It was a notebook computer advertised at only $378.

Another tradition that I have participated in on the day after Thanksgiving is the lighting of the so-called world’s largest Christmas tree at Monument Circle in Indianapolis. Last year, my daughter and I got to the circle early enough to get a good view. But we didn’t plan our bathroom breaks properly so we had to leave early.

It wasn’t easy. By the time we needed to leave, the circle was jam packed with wall-to-wall people. It took probably 30 minutes to finally work our way the 25 feet to the nearest open store and then out the back door.

If you don’t mind missing all the music and dancing on the stage, a good view of the lights can be had from the observation deck atop the City-County Building. The view is awesome.

Although I don’t go see the lighting every year, the tradition does go back many years in our family. When my dad was alive, he would often take us to Indy in our camper, which was a converted school bus. Later on, we got a real camper that wasn’t quite so long.

Parking is always an issue for those who go to watch the lighting ceremony. It’s especially problematic for a large motor home.

One year, we all piled in the camper and headed for Indianapolis. We managed to find a half-empty lot several blocks from the circle. It was manned by a Hispanic attendant, a rarity at that time.

The motor home would not fit properly into a single parking space, so the attendant told my dad with his thick Spanish accent, “This is long; it cost you double.”

He wasn’t too happy about it, but the rest of us kind of got a kick out of the whole situation. We had a good time anyway.

For years following the lighting ceremony, we would all pile back into the vehicle and head for the nearest Steak ‘n’ Shake restaurant. It was a tradition; eating somewhere else just wouldn’t do.

Traditions die hard, but they often do die. After enough years, we just got tired of spending an evening in the cold, wind, and huge crowds just to watch some colored lights on a monument light up.

Another of our traditions may be winding down this year. Ever since I was old enough to remember, my mom’s side of the family always had their annual Christmas family reunion. In recent years, since my grandmother and a couple of other relatives died, I find that not only is attendance down, but most of the people who go are strangers to me.

After somewhere around 50 years as an annual event, this could be the last Christmas reunion. The relatives who organize it are getting too old and tired to fool with it any longer.

But as the next generation in our families grow up and start taking charge, they start new traditions. Sometimes they even include the old folks.

Traditions are especially strong at this time of year. And I’ve always enjoyed them.

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