AROUND THE WORLD, December is a month full of holidays. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, the Solstice, Rohatsu, Mawlid el-Nabi, Kwanzaa, or another holiday I have not named, you most likely follow rituals and traditions handed down to you by your ancestors or religion. Perhaps you have created traditions of your own.
Your traditions are part of your legacy, which can be explored and kept alive through writing about them. In this post, I share a little about my Christmas traditions, where they came from, and why they’re important to me.
Below my story, I offer some prompts to help you write about and share your own traditions.
My Tradition Story
I grew up without much in the way of holiday traditions, and what traditions we did have pretty much disappeared when I was nine or ten years’ old, after my parents divorced. Before the divorce, I remember on Christmas mornings we children would wake at dawn — or earlier — and tumble downstairs in our pajamas. In a chaotic flurry of tinsel and paper and shouting, we would rip the wrapping off packages, quickly moving from one present to the next until everything had been opened, while my bleary-eyed father attempted to capture it all on eight-millimeter film and my mother held the lights. It would all be over in the snap of a camera shutter. What I remember most is, after all the anticipation leading up to Christmas, the feeling of emptiness when the packages had been opened, the sense of “is that all there is?”
After the divorce, my mother sold our house and took my little brother and me (her two youngest) around the world for a year. After we returned to the U.S., my mother decided to no longer bother with the holiday fuss. Sure, we still had holiday meals of sorts and presents were exchanged, and sometimes they were even wrapped. But our holidays were utilitarian, lacking any sense of organization or tradition.
When I married and became a mother, I determined that, lacking any family traditions of my own, I would have to create new ones. I wanted my family holidays to be a time of warmth and togetherness. I wanted presents to be appreciated, and Christmas mornings to be savored. I wanted everyone to feel the fullness of our shared abundance.
So I would make the children wait until the sun was up before opening their stockings. Then, we would have breakfast together — usually Swedish pancakes, a baked egg concoction topped with powdered sugar and lemon. After breakfast, the family gathered in the living room. As the adults chatted and took pictures, the children would open their presents in turn, from youngest to oldest, each present examined and passed around. After the children were done, we’d let them go off and play while the adults took turns opening ours, sharing stories while drinking eggnog or mimosas. As the family grew, this present opening ritual could last until noon; I loved it because, though the ritual was based on the opening of presents, the presents themselves took back seat to the relationships between us and the gratitude for all that we had. Later in the day, we would have a traditional Christmas dinner of ham or roast, followed by my (now family-famous) New York cheesecake.
My own Christmas has gotten smaller and quieter over the years, as my children have grown and moved away and had families of their own. And I have had the pleasure of observing how the traditions I created have passed on through my children to their families, evolved, and developed a life of their own. I wonder, sometimes, if these traditions will last and whether their purpose of fostering restraint and connection and gratitude will live on with them. I hope so.
What’s your tradition story?
Here are a few prompts to get you started:
- Describe a holiday tradition your family had when you were a child. How did you experience that tradition and where did it originate?
- Write about your favorite holiday story or movie. Why do you enjoy it? What meaning does it have and what other memories do you associate with it?
- Write about your first memory of snow. What was that like and what holiday memories do you associate with snow?
- Make a list of 100 things you like most about this time of year.
- What is your favorite holiday tradition? What do you like most about it?
- What about the holiday season is hard or difficult for you? How do you deal with this?
- Describe a holiday tradition you have created. If you have not yet created one of your own, describe what you would create if you had the opportunity.
- What meaning do your traditions have for you?