Sunday, December 09, 2007

What's Christmas without Traditions?

This is the season of paradoxes. Christmas is a time for joy, warmth, and family coziness. The key word in most Christmas traditions is family. It is the second time within the span of a month when families get together to eat, play parlor games, and re-bond with each other.

On the other hand, Christmas is a stressful time. Shoppers who love to shop are thrilled with all the bargains that abound this time of year. But reluctant shoppers who would just as soon avoid the hustle and bustle of the malls often become stressed. Thankfully, Internet shopping has helped those who hate getting out.

And then there are those people who have no families or who are unable to connect with their families during the holidays. Few things are more depressing than being alone during the time of year when you’re supposed to be with loved ones and friends. Is it any wonder that the holiday season elicits more suicides than any other time of year?

I am fortunate enough to have a large family, and a large extended family. Typically, on the first Sunday in December, we all take a road trip down to Kentucky where we have a large dinner and mingle with, well, mostly strangers. I assume most of them are my relatives of one sort or another, but they are strangers to me.

When I was a young adult, we had a lot of Christmas traditions going on. Dad loved to decorate the house. It was very festive, if somewhat tacky. A few of us would gather on Christmas Eve for hot chocolate and snacks, looking forward to the big family get-together the next day.

Our tradition was for a huge Christmas breakfast, even though we held it closer to noon. Then, after we stuffed ourselves with scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, and pancakes we would drag ourselves into the living room to open up the huge pile of presents that surrounded a tree that was once visible.

We would spend the rest of the day sleeping or playing with some of the toys the kids got from Santa. We might end the evening with some kind of game, such as Trivial Pursuit.

Most years, the guys would get together one day between Christmas and New Years and have a night on the town. My brothers and I along with a friend or two and perhaps Dad would crowd into someone’s vehicle, usually our school bus camper, and head to the Circle City for dinner, followed by a visit to some entertainment venue.

But, alas, traditions are usually not forever. People get older, some die, others just get tired. We haven’t had a boys’ night out in years. Our huge pile of presents has grown much smaller, since we all realized we could save money by just drawing names. And all the grandchildren have grown up. That also means fewer cool toys for us adults to play with on Christmas, too.

Christmas is still a wonderful time of year for me. There are lots of great memories, and some of our traditions are still going strong, like breakfast. But it is also melancholy as I hark back to the days when Mom’s house was filled with grandchildren, Dad was still with us, and I could enjoy my long vacation from college or, later, teaching high school.

In spite of all the changes that are obligatory parts of growing older, the time between Thanksgiving and New Years Day is still my favorite time of year. I enjoy listening to Christmas carols; I enjoy all the beautiful decorations, and I still enjoy what remains of our family holiday traditions.

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