Holidays seem to be synonymous with families trying to create traditions, but what I have learned is traditions don’t have to be grand scale family events, they can be little moments that you enjoy with a person in your family, the entire family or privately.
In fact, forced traditions really don’t hold the same meaning as those that occur organically.
Just last week, I was shopping with my oldest son, Wyatt, 20, and I saw some fruit cake. My mother, who died over seven years ago, loved fruit cake and would always purchase the small pre-sliced squares that you find at stores. Me and Wyatt had this moment remembering my mother and talking about her love of the holidays as we picked up fruit cake for the house. I thought to myself, ‘One day, Wyatt will have this moment with his children, buying fruit cake and talking about me and my mom with them.’ I smiled, because when so many people claim they hate fruit cake, that’ll never be the case for me or my children. It’ll be an unceremonious tradition they carry on. Later he brings baklava to the buggy. One for our house and one for his dorm room. Since he was in fourth grade, baklava has been a staple at our home for the holidays. I was in charge of his class’ Christmas party that year and I chose the theme, “Christmas Around the World.” We ate Greek baklava, played with dreidels and smashed a pinata, among other worldly food, fun and games that day. That was also the day that egg nog was introduced, and before Christmas, gallons will have been purchased for my boys to enjoy. There will actually be conversations about ‘who drank all the egg nog?’
In the years since, we have picked up the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day, Hanukkah and Jolabokaflod - Iceland’s Christmas Book Festival and Yuletide.
Throughout the month of December, activities in our house will include making Gingerbread houses, drinking hot chocolate, a holiday puzzle, making treats for our friends and neighbors, holiday movie marathons, Christmas decorations, including a tree in every room, opening British holiday crackers, mincemeat cookies and leaving Diet Coke for SanMo – which stands for Santa Mom.
These traditions didn’t happen overnight. They were developed and built upon from the time they were toddlers. When my children were little, I began making bucket lists to ensure that I would make the most of my time with them. As a journalist, you work a lot. It would have been easy to have let them entertain themselves whenever we were at home for the down time.
I didn’t want that. I wanted to ensure my kids had all the little and big moments I could afford them. To ensure we did a variety of things, I would sit down with them before each season and talk about all the things they wanted to try to do. We never did them all, but not for lack of trying. There were weekends filled with one activity after another. From blowing bubbles and flying kites in the spring to drinking hot chocolate and watching a movie, to visiting the Grinch’s Lair at Christmas. We set out to do as much as we could together. There were also weekends we’d unplug from technology and stay at home, playing games and enjoying life in the country. Those bucket lists help us create our family traditions for every season.
My boys, Wyatt and Walker, 20 and 16 respectively, have outgrown the bucket list, but they haven’t outgrown our traditions. I have let them lead and guide me with their requests of ‘when are we going to do...’ and ‘I can’t wait for ….’ and when they stop asking, I don’t push to continue. Nobody enjoys being forced into false merriment. Some things I still do on my on, just for me, and remember when. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll continue to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Like this year we will be having “Home Alone” and “Elf” dinner nights, eating the foods featured in the movie. I got this idea from the “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” we have annually, eating jelly beans, popcorn, pretzels and toast. I thought, ‘Walker loves cheese pizza, I like Diet Pepsi and Wyatt digs Tic-Tacs, we should totally be like Kevin in Home Alone one night during December.’ I always think this will be the last year we do Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and then Wyatt ask me, ‘so what night are watching the movie and eating jelly beans’ and my heart soars because its something he enjoyed as a child and wants to keep going. Just like the baklava, fruit cake and a dozen other things, one day I know Wyatt will be eating plates of jelly beans, toast, pretzels and popcorn with his family while they watch Snoopy and Woodstock make a feast for Charlie Brown and his friends. That kind of tradition is special. It’s one that will be a part of lives for generations to come.