I’m not big on traditions. I don’t even like them very much. One reason is that I live a solitary life and most of the traditions in a culture involve the tribe (the family). I have no family. I’m not going to “gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing” and carve up a turkey on Thanksgiving. I’m not going to have a big family cookout on Memorial day.
Truth be told, when I was in a situation where these things were part of my life, I hated them. I think a lot of people do. Beyond what people have told me about their holiday experiences (shudder), there are many films made about family meltdowns at traditional holidays. “Let’s bring a bunch of people together who have NO affiliation beyond childhood history and blood and see what happens!”
But… None of this means I cannot be touched by traditions.
Though I don’t have much in the way of family, I do have a “family” though I’m not related to them by blood. One “branch” of this family is my stepson, his wife and their kids.
Long, long ago in a stone cottage in far away Southern California, it was Christmas Eve. S, the German wife of my stepson, B, had decided to make German Christmas Eve dinner because she was homesick for German traditions. She also loves me (it’s mutual) and as they had no other family pressures for that day (Mother-in-Law) they decided to bring Christmas Eve up the road to me. I was then living in the Cuyamaca Mountains about 30 miles east of San Diego.
I did not know what to expect, but I was definitely open to it. Many unexpected and superlatively cool things have happened to me on Christmas Eve.
They arrived with baskets and boxes and bags of food and — what? Presents??? They put the presents under my tiny (12 inch) living Christmas tree (that means they put the presents on the dining room table). S immediately set about organizing things (she is German). I said, “Why don’t we take a hike before dinner?” I had mentioned decorating a pine tree up in the forest in the nearby mountains on Christmas Eve. This was interpreted as putting birdseed on a pine tree in the mountains and S had brought bird treats. I also knew (and they didn’t) that up there in the higher mountains was…
My gift to S was a white Christmas.
We got in my car with Dusty T. Dog and headed to the Laguna Mountains. S couldn’t believe what she saw — a foot and more of snow on the ground. We got out and took a snowy walk. We hung a bird seed bell and suet rack on a tree, took some photos, and headed back for dinner.
Dinner was great, and after cleaning up we sat around in the living room and exchanged gifts.
Exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve is the tradition in my family. As I said, most of my family is dead. It’s a custom I enjoyed as a little kid with a huge extended family and in my own little family with my mom, dad and brother. There came a point in the Great Vanishing when it stopped. I think that was about 2004. I didn’t notice because it didn’t stop right on Christmas Eve, but choices I made in my life and events in my life, meant I wasn’t going ‘home’ to Montana (where the remainder of my family lives) for Christmas. Meanwhile, things were changing up there, too. I never thought about it. Never thought, “Well that’s it for the Christmas Eve exchange of gifts with my family. It was good while it lasted.”
So there we were, S, B and I opening gifts together on Christmas Eve in my little stone cottage in Southern California. The fire in the wood stove kept us comfy and warm. I felt deeply happy, connected, to all the years of tradition, my family, my grandma, all of them, that I love so much.
And that, folks, is the magic of tradition.